An Interview with Lydia Marshall of Lana Bambini

Lana Bambini is a family-run business offering high quality clothing for children which is all made from lovely natural – and mostly organic – fibres which are either unbleached and undyed or coloured with completely safe GOTS (Global Organic Textiles Standard) approved dyes.

Lydia Marshall

Lydia Marshall

Tell us about yourself – familial/personal story, education, and prior work.

I’m originally from NZ, married to an Italian and have one daughter. I’ve lived in my adopted home in the UK for the past 13 years and spent many of my previous years living and working on boats from small cruising yachts to huge luxury ‘super yachts’.

How did you get interested in ethical and sustainable fashion?

I prefer the term ‘clothing’ to ‘fashion’. Fashion implies everything that’s wrong with the garment industry, where the seductiveness of cheap throwaway clothing has completely taken over any interest in the quality or longevity of what we buy; and caused the near-extinction of the skills such as weaving, spinning, and sewing in the developed world.

I started to feel something was terribly wrong when I realised that I could buy a dress for barely more than the price of a coffee. A Greenpeace report on toxic chemicals found in clothing was the inspiration to start Lana Bambini.

Scrumptious organic wool, silk and cotton mix bobble hat  from Lana Bambini

Scrumptious organic wool, silk and cotton mix bobble hat from Lana Bambini

How did your educational/professional experience inform fashion work?

None whatsoever. It was simply deep concern about the heavy use of pesticides and toxic chemicals by the textiles industry, oppressive conditions for workers and the throwaway culture that sees landfills bursting with unwanted clothing. We just wanted to offer consumers safe and ethical alternatives.

What is the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion designers and companies?

Genuinely ethical companies are like the abolitionists of the 19th century. We’re all trying to end slavery, bonded labor, abuse and exploitation in the garment industry.

There are more enslaved people now than at any point in history and many of them employed making clothing. Choosing to work in ethical clothing means working with much lower margins and a smaller customer base so it’s very much a radical position to take in terms of business.

Who is a personal hero or heroine within the ethical and sustainable fashion world for you?

Carolyn Whitwell who founded and ran the Bishopston Trading Company for 30 years.  She was a pioneer.

What is Lana Bambini?

Lana Bambini is a family-run business offering high quality clothing for which is all made from natural and mostly organic fibres which are coloured with completely safe GOTS approved dyes and free from toxic chemicals.

We specialise in organic wool and on our site you will only find products that have been made in an ethical and environmentally responsible way. Our ethical policy covers human and worker’s rights, animal welfare, use of dyes and chemical inputs and environmental impact.

What are some of its feature products?

The beautiful boiled wool clothing from Disana which is ethically made in Germany from organic materials.

Organic Boiled Wool Coat

Organic Boiled Wool Coat

Lovely natural socks from Hirsch Natur in organic wool and made in a production facility that uses solar power to drive its knitting machines.

Organic Wool Fairisle Socks

Organic Wool Fairisle Socks

GOTS certified accessories by Bauer of Germany

Organic Knit Children's Hat with Wool Fleece Lining

Organic Knit Children’s Hat with Wool Fleece Lining

What is your customer base – the demographics?

Mostly 30-something mothers with 2-3 children and a middle income level. Most of our customers are into ‘natural parenting’ and are specifically looking for natural fibres, clothing free from toxic chemicals, and organic certifications. A smaller number are ‘ethical consumers’ motivated how and where they are produced.

What topics most interest you?

We believe strongly that moving all manufacturing into developing countries in order to produce things at lower prices has negatively affected the standard of living both the country of production and in The West. We are suffering a loss of jobs and centuries old skills, while those growing cotton and working in garment factories are suffering and dying. Most of our products are made in Europe and have short and transparent supply chains.

 

What are the importance of mentors in the fashion world for professional, and personal, development?

No one can prepare you for the challenges of running a business and there are times when you really want to give up. I’m sure a mentor could really help you through the rough patches and dark moments.

There have been large tragedies such as the Rana Plaza collapse, which was the largest garment factory accident in history with over 1,000 dead and more than 2,500 injured. Others were the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (1911) and the Pakistan Garment Factory Fires (2012). What are the importance of human rights and worker rights in this new movement?

Most brands claim to place great importance on human rights but the real problem is caused by the complex supply chains that allow them to rely on exploited workers while maintaining a clear conscience. There needs to be an industry-wide initiative that companies can sign up to ensure complete transparency in the supply chain and expose ‘green washing’.

Women and children are the majority of the exploited and violated work forces. What is the importance of the status of women’s and children’s rights in the ethical and sustainable fashion world too?

Every worker deserves to be treated fairly but women often need extra protection in the workplace because of their inherent vulnerability and lower social status in developing countries. Child’s rights can only be upheld when we begin to respect the rights of their parents.

Child labor will be eradicated when there is decent pay and better opportunities for adults. By paying far too little for clothing we are supporting a system where children are forced into menial jobs, and continuation of the cycle of poverty.

Children are the most vulnerable population. Women tend to have less status than men in societies including the right to decent working conditions, decent pay, to vote, and so on. What is the relationship between the need to implement women’s rights and children’s rights, and the fashion industry?

Many of these problems are cultural and not related specifically to the garment industry, but by adhering to good practices as set out by the ILO (International Labour Organisation) the industry can definitely help create social change in those countries.  

Child labor and slavery are problems, major ones. These include children throughout the world. Tens of millions of children in the case of child labor. A few million children in the case of child slavery. How can individuals get the word out about these extreme rights violations?

Regular press coverage is really important. Personally I’d love to see hard-hitting advertising campaigns on prime-time TV slots, YouTube videos and on Social Media. Celebrities have great power of influence and engaging them to help educate people would be a powerful tool.

Schools could also be approached by pressure groups and persuaded look at this as a topic with pupils.   It would be great to engage children in these issues from a young age.

Ultimately change will only come through consumer pressure so educating as many people as possible is important. Such a campaign totally decimated sales of continental veal in the UK. Once people learned about the horror of veal crates the market for European veal totally disappeared and has never recovered

How can individuals, designers, fashion industries, and consumers begin to work to implement those rights so that these vulnerable populations in many countries of the world have better quality of life? 

Consumers perhaps have the biggest part to play because the industry reflects what consumers want. Clothing prices have been pushed to unsustainably low levels because of consumer demand.

If people want change, they must demand it by voting with their wallets. An example of this increasing consumer awareness is reflected the ‘conscious’ range at H & M, a brand never previously associated with ethical production.

From personal observations, more women than men involve themselves in the fashion industry by a vast margin of difference at all levels. Why?

The rarefied world of high-fashion is very much a man’s world in my opinion. There are more male designers leading the top brands and their influence filters down across the whole industry.

This mirrors many industries where men occupy the very top jobs despite their being more women in the lower ones. At the bottom end, 80% of garment workers are women probably for the simple reason that they cost less and are more easily exploited by employers.

Most garment production occurs in countries where women have fewer rights and fewer employment options available to them and the garment industry benefits directly from this.

What personal fulfillment comes from this work for you?

It’s satisfying to offer an alternative to clothing which has been made on the back of human misery.  We know we are supporting jobs in where people are paid fairly, and helping to keep European production industries alive.

What we sell is also very high quality. People will tell us that one of our coats has been handed down through 3 children and is still going strong.

Nui organic merino blanket

Nui organic merino blanket

What other work are you involved in at this point in time?

I live, sleep and breathe this business so nothing! However, we are soon launching a home-wares site which is devoted to high quality, ethically produced products of all types which are fit for purpose and made to last.

Any recommended authors or fashionistas (or fashionistos)?

I avoid shallow fashion blogs which appeal to the ‘like generation’ and are heavily dependent on inducements from the industry but do read Lucy Siegle’s column for the Guardian.

Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion based on the conversation today?

It’s always great to hear about organisations who are working hard to change the lives of the poorest and most exploited. It restores my faith in humanity.

Thank you for your time, Lydia.

Visit the Lana Bambini store online at Lanabambini.co.uk

 

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About the Author

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping and gardening, and runs In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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