Clothiing with conscience

Clothing labels may tell you the fabric type and washing instructions, but they don't say how the garments were produced or at what cost to the environment. By Katy Evans

Clothing labels may tell you the fabric type and washing instructions, but they don't say how the garments were produced or at what cost to the environment. With Fair Trade fortnight coming up, Katy Evans found out about a clothing range combining classic style with social awareness.

Photographs contributed from The Earth Collection.

SEVEN years ago, Sheree Parker discovered a brand of clothing which was to change her life. While on holiday in the Canary Islands, she came across the Earth Collection label. Initially it was the quality and feel of the garments that attracted her (she built up her wardrobe over subsequent holidays) but a few years ago, Sheree decided she wanted to set up her own business selling Earth Collection clothes. And it was then that she became more and more interested in the ethical side of the business and how the clothes were produced.

“It's made me more aware of what we are doing to the planet,” explains Sheree.


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“I believe people want information about where things come from. I'm interested in the factories making the clothes and how the people working there are getting on.”

Earth Collection operates on a philosophy of respecting the environment and all the people involved with the business, from producers to retailers.

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The company was started by a Danish duo in 1993 and the clothes are made in China. Today, Earth Collection is sold in 420 shops in 20 countries worldwide.

There are only two productions runs a year, which are shipped globally, meaning transport costs are kept down.

“I can say hand on heart that there is no prison labour used in the production of the clothes,” says Sheree, who cares just as much about foreign workers as she does for her own four employees.

Sheree, who lives with her husband, Ken, in Hintlesham, set up the Earth Collection shop in Colchester two years ago. Having visited the wholesalers - a family run business up in West Yorkshire - she went from the initial idea to finding a location and opening up the shop in little under two months.

But even with virtually no advertising, the shop became a success and has a growing customer base.

“Even though we have many regular customers I'd say we have new clients every day,” says a smiling Sheree.

“Lots of ladies who come in to the shop say they heard about us through word of mouth. And because the clothes are so comfortable, the customers almost always come back again,” she adds.

“The outfits can look equally good at a wedding reception or worn walking along a beach as they are very versatile,” explains Sheree.

“The clothes are made in natural fabrics which allow the skin to breath. There is no lycra or polyester to make you hot. Materials used include cotton, silk, ramie (China grass) and hemp.”

Colours always include natural and stone hues, with a few brighter tones for summer such as vibrant orange (as seen here).

“The dyes used are non azo colourants, which are natural and non-synthetic,” explains Sheree.

“Another benefit to using natural fibres and dyes is that people with sensitive skin may find them beneficial,” adds husband Ken, who is equally enthusiastic about the clothing.

Even the buttons are natural and made with coconut and bamboo shell (from a factory in China that used to discard them - an example of recycling what was once rubbish into something beautiful and useable).

The range of accessories is also made entirely of natural products, including beaded necklaces, also with bamboo shell, and 100% cotton handbags, which are functional, stylish and very good value for money.

In the changing rooms hang signs explaining where the fabrics come from and how they are made. “So many people were interested and would ask questions, so it was easier to make a list for them,” says Sheree.

And although there are a few new additions each season, styles tend to stick to classic lines, meaning you wont be 'in' one season and 'out' the next.

“Before Sheree started the shop, I was a typical bloke and not really interested in clothes,” says Ken, “but now I have become interested and actually come into the shop to have a look at what's arrived.”

Ken is as full of enthusiasm for the clothes as Sheree, and owns plenty of tops from the men's range, including his brown jumper of which he is particularly fond.

“The clothes are just so comfortable - I can relax in them but they are still smart at the same time. During the day I wear a suit for work but for leisure time I chose the tops from here.”

He also praises the fact that the clothes still look as good after numerous washes. Sheree agrees: “I've still got jumpers I bought seven years ago that look just as good now.”

“When I opened the shop, it tended to be mainly women visiting but now so many men are coming in that I had to create a separate section for them. And it's all age ranges too,” says Sheree, who will be expanding the menswear collection this season.

“I've got such a passion for the business and enjoy every minute; and it's become a way of life now.”

The Earth Collection is at 42 Tacket Street, Ipswich (01473 215309); 4 Hythe Quay, Colchester (01206 861177), and another shop is soon to open in Bury St Edmunds at 56 St John's Street. For more information on the Earth Collection, visit www.theearthcollection.com.

And if you care as much about food as fashion, you might be interested to know that Fair Trade Fortnight begins on March 6. For a list of products from coffee and chocolate to fruit and flowers, log on to www.fairtrade.org.uk.

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