Killer Cotton

The devastating impact of the cotton supply chain that dominates much of the textiles industry is often brushed under the carpet. Luxury or mass-market, this natural fibre has been exploited to the point that not only the environment is permanently damaged, but the people and animals that keep the industry going are physically and mentally deteriorating too. 

This article is inspired by a lecture by Dr Sue Thomas of Heriot Watt University. You can watch her TEDx talk about ethics in the fashion industry here.

First up, how does a fluffy little plant in a faraway field end up as a crisp white shirt, perhaps oversized and worn layered under a cropped sweater or corset for SS17? It starts with a seed, and it ends with a landfill site, and there are problems at every stage of the life cycle, from sexism, sizeism and racism, to animal rights and environmental impact.

Growing and Harvesting

Pesticides and fertilisers don’t just affect the crop in question. Now that mechanical vehicles spray vast quantities of these chemicals over unimaginably huge expanses of land, they are spreading to water supplies and nearby fields. Animal and human cruelty is also a massive factor in the collecting of cotton crops. In many societies, unregulated child labour is utilised, or working people, including doctors and teachers, are forced to take unpaid leave to help out during harvest season. Where modern machinery isn’t available large livestock like oxen or cattle are used to drag heavy combine harvesters and do not receive proper veterinary treatment.

Fibre Processing

In the cleaning of cotton (called ginning but nothing to do with gin), spinning it into yarns and weaving, knitting or felting it into fabrics, waste products are a huge issue. From large quantities of dust and dirt being inhaled by unprotected workers leading to lung problems, to toxic carcinogens like Formaldehyde (which FYI is also used to preserve dead bodies…) as well as dyes and treatments being washed away into rivers and lakes, threatening these ecosystems. All processing of cotton requires vast quantities of water, particularly the dying of denim jeans. Fashion is a thirsty business.

Garment Production

Worker rights are simply not protected or valued in the manufacturing phase of the fashion supply chain, whether its cotton or silk. Factory workers work long unsociable hours without overtime pay or paid holidays, spend time in unsafe and insecure buildings filled with health hazards, are forbidden to form unions or strike, and receive salaries that don’t even cover their own personal expenses, let alone support their family.

One of the most alarming consequences of the cotton supply chain has been the degradation of the Aral Sea Basin. This lake, once one of the world’s largest, completely dried up between 2000 and 2014, due to the irresponsible irrigation of water for cotton crops. Find out more here.

Here are some quick statistics about the cotton industry:

  • 47% of chemicals used in cotton production are known human carcinogens.
  • 10 tonnes of water can be used on cotton to make just one pair of denim jeans.
  • 95% of cotton garments that go to landfill could be recycled.
  • Over 8 million acres of land in the US alone is used for cotton farming. This is land that could be used to grow fresh produce for the global food shortage.
  • The huge amounts of pesticides used to grow cotton cause 350,000 farmer deaths a year and a million hospitalisations.

The good news: 

  • Cotton is  a natural product therefore it is biodegradable. The average cotton garment can take as little as 6 months to completely biodegrade if correctly recycled. In comparison, a nylon or polyester garment can take more than 50 years.
  • Quality of production varies greatly, and it is not always to do with brand names, whether its fine Egyptian Pima cotton or standard American Cotton, whether its Prada or Primark. Do you research, and look for transparency in the the supply chain.
  • 42% of fashion brands use, or aim to use, organic cotton in their products.
  • There are eco-friendly alternatives available as well as organic versions of cotton. Take for instance Lyocell, a sustainable man-made textile. Or emerging waste-free fabrics like Pinatex (pineapple leather)!

Overall, many of the problems in the cotton supply chain for the fashion industry can be traced back to long-term, systematic issues with the global politics and western culture. If the rules were more efficiently regulated and there were more serious consequences for corruption, perhaps developing countries would no longer produce cotton for developed countries that is toxic an damaging to the environment and human health. If fashion followers and retailers decided to value quality over quantity and started paying more for their consumer products, perhaps workers throughout the supply chain would receive fair wages and fair treatment. The fashion business is about supply and demand. So long as we keep demanding cheaper and cheaper garments faster and faster, these dangers within the textile life cycle will continue.

Recommended reading: 

The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade by Pietra Rivoli

Where Underpants Come From – From Checkout to Cotton Field – Travels Through the New China by Joe Bennett 

Ruth @ Urbanity xxx

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Ladyboss Collective #girlgang

Since opening in May 2016 in Edinburgh’s old town, Ladyboss Collective, founded by Amber Vermeulen, has gathered a reputation for being the local go-to for locally, female-made art and fashion while creating the coolest nail art in a totally kitsch atmosphere (with Beyonce blasting in the background of course). I popped in yesterday night for a chat with Amber and a quick gel manicure, and left totally inspired by the creativity and the aesthetic. A young, independent business that supports not only other young independent businesses, but also homeless women, LGBT rights and female creative empowerment.

Amber grew up in Edinburgh, and always dreamed about opening her own little boutique. She studied fashion marketing at Northampton  before finding her calling in DIY nail art. While working in hospitality she realised there were so many talented creative people that had nowhere to sell their work, so after a pop-up stint over Christmas, the time, location and demand were exactly right to launch Ladyboss Collective.

Its great to see that smaller shops are taking the lead from the likes of experiential retail experts Anthropologie, Topshop and Harvey Nichols, and adding a central element of service to their offering. Ladyboss Collective is focussed around a cornucopia of nail polishes, glitter and stickers where they offer gel manicures and custom designs using new and independent nail products from all over the world. I got myself some Chrome Nails, the latest trend amongst art aficionados. The stuff is magic- a layer of special black nail varnish, then a sparkly silver powder is rubbed over with a soft brush, creating a unique metallic surface.

I love the DIY, crafty feel that the store embodies. Displays are made from lollipop sticks, glittery string, wire baskets and cute pastel coloured everything. Some of my favourite Scottish fashion brands including Dreamland, Yellow Bubble and Thrifty Little  are stocked at Ladyboss, as well as adorable homemade clay earrings (got myself a pair of grey marbled studs…couldn’t resist!). cards and prints from talented illustrators like Alice Carnegie, Japanese gifts and Korean beauty. Loads of the products on sale are up cycled, reworked or remade, which is fabulous for sustainability snobs like me.
Amber has exciting plans for the brand’s future, including an online shop, regular girl gang meet ups,  artist collaborations, music festival stalls, and very excitingly, press on fake nails with creative custom designs, and other product lines like nail decals and cuticle oils. Keep your eyes peeled for news and events, and be sure to follow the Ladyboss instagram @ladyboss.collective.

 Ruth @ Urbanity xxx

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Miss Vicky Viola: Vintage Style

For the past 6 weeks, I’ve been creating a 1950’s inspired magazine as part of a group project for Fashion Communication at university. We’ve done some fabulous photoshoots and interviews which will all be coming up on the blog at some point, but for now, as we frantically prepare for the final deadline next week (eep!), check out a little editorial we did with the wonderful retro style blogger Miss Vicky Viola ( in Edinburgh. Photos by the lovely Emma Balfour. Let us know what you think in the comments!

Ruth @ Urbanity xxx

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Money Fashion Power

Fashion Revolution is launching pre-orders for the first in a series of collectible fanzines uncovering the stories behind clothing. The inaugural issue is called MONEY FASHION POWER and explores themes of transparency, sustainability, inequality and ethics in the fashion industry. Through poetry, illustration, photography, editorial and playful games, readers will discover hidden stories behind their clothing, what the price they pay for fashion means, and how their purchasing power can make a positive difference.


Illustration by @alecdoherty
Before they reach the shop shelves, our clothes have been on a very long journey, and made by many different people. What do you know about where your clothes come from? Do you know who made them, in what country, and in what conditions? And do you care? Have you ever wondered #whomademyclothes? Or what you can do to make sure my purchases are empowering the people who make my clothes, rather than exploit them? Do your purchases empower or exploit?

Illustration by @thedrawingdoor 
It takes a garment worker 18 months to earn what a fashion brand CEO makes on their lunch break. Shocking, I know. And the complexities of power make it disheartening to wonder if you can make a difference in this exploitative supply chain. But Fashion Revolution have started a movement to empower consumers like you and me to actually change things for the better.

Illustration by @tyler_spangler

“Fashion Revolution is a global movement that works for a more sustainable fashion industry, campaigning for a systemic reform of

the industry with a special focus on the need for greater transparency in the fashion supply chain. Fashion Revolution is a non-profit organisation with presence in more than 90 countries around the world. Our vision is a fashion industry that values people, the environment, profit and creativity in equal measure. Fashion Revolution works all year round to raise awareness of the fashion industry’s most pressing issues, advocate for positive change, and celebrate those who are on a journey to create a more ethical and sustainable future for fashion.”

Illustration by @chrissieabbott
Find out more and order your print copy of the fanzine at:
Ruth @ Urbanity xxx
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Style Concierge: Personal Shopping at Harvey Nichols



As some of you may know, early last year I worked for Menswear at Harvey Nichols in Edinburgh, and recently I’ve been delighted to be invited back as a blogger to explore some of their efforts to become a style destination for truly experiential retail. Last week I had the chance to take part in Style Concierge, a dedicated personal shopping service offered at the department store, to style some outfits with the latest designer collections in store.


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