Ethical Shopping – Why You Should Be Bothered and What You Can Do – Lauryn Mcloughlin

Ethical shopping isn’t just about, and I quote my dissertation tutor here, bamboo socks and taking your tote bags to the supermarket with you (although bamboo socks are great and always take your tote bags to the shop). Ethical shopping is about making informed choices in your everyday life to be a responsible consumer, depending on your stance this can mean different things for each person.

It can mean favouring ethical products such as Fair Trade, cruelty free, organic products over say, battery eggs or GM food. But this can also stretch to positively buying clothing with the human rights of the garment workers in mind.

In recent years consumer culture or the fast fashion market has grown considerably with consumers under increasing pressure to participate in this lifestyle by purchasing based on desire rather than need. Media influences feature the latest fashions and in season looks which puts consumers under pressure to look a certain way and not been seen in the same clothes.

This fast fashion culture has reduced the price of clothing dramatically with 18 – 25 year olds spending up to £200 a month on clothes yet only wearing on average 10% of their wardrobe. Oxfam states that its research showed that 2 million garments are bought and never worn each year in the UK alone.

So… why should you be bothered about this, apart from it probably saving you a whole load of money? Well, issues surrounding the clothing industry can be considered a feminist issue with over 80% of the worlds garment workers being women. These women are regularly under-paid, forced into unsafe working conditions and often physically and mentally abused. The factories take on contracts for high street retailers but often can’t fulfil the demand with their workforce which increases the pressure on these marginalised women.

If clothing hadn’t become so disposable in the time of fast fashion this added pressure wouldn’t be put on the factories and in turn their garment workers would have better working lives. There is also environmental impact factors to consider within the garment industry for example it takes up to 10,000 litres of water to make a single pair of jeans.

Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 15.43.02What can we do about this? Luckily there are lots of things we can do to become a more ethical consumer. I have listed 5 tips below to get started: 

Charity or second hand shops – This is the old favourite for ethical shoppers and I have spent many a Saturday perusing the local charity shops looking for dresses, they never disappoint and you get some great bargains.

Its also great that the money goes directly to helping the charity and the shops often give opportunities to people who are finding it difficult to get into employment again, a really positive thing to be a part of. Charities also often have good ethical and environmental policies for their practices like treating their workers fairly and having responsible ways of reducing and disposing of waste.

Participate in clothes swaps – There are so many reasons why clothes swaps are a great way to be an ethical consumer. The clothing is often of good quality and the old cliché is true; one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. I, personally have found some great and unusual pieces at clothes swaps, in my experience its great for big, colourful winter jumpers. There is something quite special about giving a piece of unwanted clothing new life.

You may even get to meet the people you are exchanging your clothing with and hear a story about where the clothes came from or where they’ve been. The friendly, open atmosphere at clothes swaps are in stark comparison with the infamous scenes of sale shoppers. They are a really good experience to have and an opportunity to share ideas and skills with like minded people. This is the beauty of clothes swaps!

Its a new way of shopping which closes the loop in the life cycle of a garment and its just a really fun way to shop. Come swap some of your old clothes with Girl Gang Leeds on Sunday 13th August at The Social, Merrion Street, click here for the event page.Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 15.43.57

Shop locally from independent shops with good ethical policies and supply chains – Now this one may take a little more commitment and require some research but buying from local shops reduces carbon emissions from the transportation of products.

Reductions in food miles and processing of the products will mean that they are healthier to consume too. Also these shops tend to be more transparent in their supply chain and you will be directly supporting a small business which will be great for that area, again another plus point!

Think about what you are buying – Changing your buying habits is something that will most likely come in time. It can be difficult at first to change behaviours that have governed your purchasing choices for so long. 

When you are shopping try asking yourself questions like “Do I really need this?”, “Why am I buying this?”,  “Where has it come from?”. Take a step back and be objective.

This isn’t to say that shopping on the High Street is totally unethical but try taking a look into their policies on the Corporate Social Responsibility section of their website.  There has been lot of work done by organisations such as Labour Behind the Label to make these large corporations be more transparent with their supply chain information so that their consumers can make informed choices. Make yourself informed and you can make a more positive decision.

Upcycling and skill sharing – Learning a new skill will allow you to be a more ethical consumer, as you gain knowledge on how to sew up clothing, give new life to old furniture and maybe even grow your own fruit and veg you will find yourself buying less.

Girl Gang Leeds are setting up a series of skill sharing session for women and non-binary people so if you have a skill you’d like to pass on to others then sign up here. Alternatively, if you’d like to learn a new skill then keep an eye out on our social media (@GirlGangLeeds) for announcements on these skill sharing sessions.

 

If you would like to learn more about the issues discussed in this article here is some further reading:
To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World By Lucy Siegle
Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline
Or watch The True Cost documentary directed by Andrew Morgan (available on Netflix)

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Interview with Geek Girls’ Director Gina Hara

Geek Girls sounds like a film that would be right up our street doesn’t it? Well quelle surprise, it is! Director Gina Hara spent the past few years investigating the secret world of lady gamers, scientists and comic-fanatics, piecing her findings together in an insightful documentary that highlights the many barriers feminism still needs to do battle with. A self-confessed “geek girl”, Gina chats to Hannah Clugston about her heroes and how it’s a good idea to break the rules.

Plus, Gina would like to invite you – yes YOU – to the world premiere of Geek Girls this Sunday at Sheffield Doc/Fest, where Girl Gang Sheffield will be hosting the Q+A following the screening.

 

HC: How did Geek Girls come about?

GH: I studied film production and I did a lot of research on geek culture through anime and Japanese cinema, and I decided to make a film since I am not an academic. The film was supposed to be about geek culture in general but I started running into all these obstacles. I noticed I had very little access – a lot of men just didn’t want to show me this side of themselves. However, I had a very easy time with women and the feminist inside me said “oh my God, I have this amazing access to talk about all these wonderful women” – so I decided to make a point and make a film about how women are treated in this culture and how they experience being a geek.

 

HC: Would you call yourself a geek girl?

GH: Yeah I think so… No! The answer is “yes”.

 

HC: Why do you think the female side of the geek world is so hidden?

GH: I think, traditionally geek culture is something that belongs to men and women often don’t feel welcomed in this space because they are used to just representing the object of desire or some kind of object to motivate the player within the story. And that’s not necessarily a welcoming environment, so I feel like women were very quiet about being geeks. But, now that women are proudly saying “yes I am geek, I love comics, I love games” there has been a backlash – and we are speaking in very recent years. 2014 was a really awful year for women in games; there were lots of terrible threats and violence. Men and people against diversity within the gaming industry really spoke up against welcoming women. Now women are coming out of this geek closet, the problems are very apparent, even though that problem has been there the whole time.

HC: Do you think the tech world is a bit behind when it comes to feminism?

GH: I do think tech is behind, but it’s not alone. There’s lots more for feminism to do and lots more room for improvement in a lot of traditionally male-dominated fields. I think this includes games and science, and even film. There are a lot of feminist filmmakers that have been speaking up about the issues within the film industry as well.

 

HC: If there’s one thing you think could really break down these barriers, what would it be?

GH: I think it’s important to know that you can break the rules, because the system is not set up for women or people of colour so you can’t win a game that was not made for you. You can’t play the game of life – you can’t win – if the game was not set up for you.

 

HC: What do you hope audiences will take from this film?

GH: First of all, I really hope that they learn a bit about geek culture, and understand that it’s not some weird, creepy thing. The premise of the film is about the fact we all seek something, and everyone finds it in different things, so we need to understand our differences and celebrate them instead of seeing them as something to frown upon. I just want us to learn about each other and accept each other – I don’t think it’s just about “geeks”.

HC: Who is your geek girl hero?

GH: I have to say, I have been immensely inspired by the women I met through making this film – so all of them. And there are so many other women out there who we couldn’t include because the film is just an hour and a half long. But, if I had to pick one right now, I’d say Dr. Anita Sengupta – I found her story really uplifting and I really hope she becomes an astronaut one day because that would just be amazing.

 

HC: How do you feel ahead of the world premiere of your first feature film at Sheffield Doc/Fest this weekend?

GH: I am really excited and honoured, and I hope that we are going to have a lot of people come and see the film. I have received a lot of messages from like geeky and feminist groups from England, so I hope they are going to come and let other people know about it.

 

Geek Girls screens as part of Sheffield Doc/Fest, World Premiere + Girl Gang Q+A: Sunday 11 June 12pm, The Light Cinema 6, Second Screening: Monday 12 June 9am, Curzon Screen 1. Tickets here: https://sheffdocfest.com/events/5622

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“We are the mothers of this industry” – Empowering Women With Technology

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A room full of women is often a magical space. But a room full of women who are inspiring, passionate, fascinating and fiercely intelligent – speaking on their careers, their influences, and their heartfelt advice – is a truly uplifting space to be.

As part of the first ever Leeds International Festival, with themes of moving image, music and technology, we had the pleasure of attending the Empowering Women With Tech conference, featuring an impressive lineup of speakers – including the head of technology at Sky herself, Natasha, through to the legendary Lauren Laverne.

Here at Girl Gang, we’ve always positioned ourselves as ‘creative’ – our community is heavily made up of artists, writers, musicians, so a tech conference felt like it would be an unusual and alien space to be. We wouldn’t get it, we worried.

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One of the most important messages I took home from these amazing women was that working in tech is an inherently creative thing.

We learned that being a creative person doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an artist, a musician, a writer, and being an ‘artist’ doesn’t tie you to a stereotypically creative industry. Girls need to keep pushing to develop and share the skills and confidence to work in tech, and to feel like it’s a space that’s as much for them as anyone else.

Tech creators are creators too, just with a different set of skills – and it’s that set of skills that women often feel they can’t access. 

Anne Marie Imafidon co-founded Stemettes, a social enterprise for for the next generation of girls, gave some insight into getting hold of these skills, telling us they’re more accessible than we might think (see Skillcrush, She Codes, TreehouseCode School  and Ladies of the Round Table). She said accessing resources that teach skills such as coding is a great way to upskill and future-proof yourself.

Emmy Lovell, VP of digital for Warner Music, spoke on how the music industry goes hand in hand with technology, the industry shifting and developing with new technologies alongside it, and I felt this rung true of many industries. Technology penetrates everything we do and everything we consume, and it’s only right that women should be just as prominent in leading developments that impact all of our lives.

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We saw this even more when we heard Susie Bubble, a fashion blogger, self-proclaim that she was the ‘least technical’ speaker, but went on to speak about how she has expertly used technology throughout her career. Using social media and running a successful blog might not be what you’d traditionally consider a techy role – but it’s engagement with tech we could all relate to, and really hammered home how tech permeates all we do.

Debbie Waskow, founder of Love Home Swap and co-founder of Allbright, spoke on how many women want to start their own businesses, but don’t. They lack the confidence, or they lack the skills, or they feel the skills they have don’t measure up. She spoke on the importance of getting more women to invest in business, and shared her three-Gs mantra of success – graft, grace, and grit. Work hard, have patience and be persistent. 

Dr Sue Black OBE, founder of BCSWomen (amongst numerous amazing accolades!) talked about the codebreaking women from WW2 who are finally getting the recognition they deserve – google Bletchley Park if you want to find out more on this amazing story. 

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Sue also spoke on the value of creating spaces in which women are the majority – it creates an environment that’s so much easier for women to network than a male-dominated space, and therefore maximise the opportunities for businesses to meet and collaborate, simply by feeling more at ease in the room. We totally felt this, with the complete strangers we had sat down with quickly becoming friends.

She also spoke on having a family, and how mothers should be seen equally as amazing role models in tech – words which encouraged a well-earned round of applause.

However, one of the biggest take-home messages we saw repeated throughout the conference, which resonated so deeply with us, was that of mutual support. Find your girl gang. 

Finding women who support each other is probably the most important thing about what we do, and we were just so, so inspired to hear such powerful and successful women speak on this. 

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The incredible woman who organised the conference, Natasha Seyce Zelam (head of technology at Sky) says “help women up the ladder, and when you go up the ladder yourself – take other women with you!”

Communities like ours are integral to forming relationships and giving women opportunity to network, collaborate, meet and share skills. We came away buzzing with inspiration, and we’d love to see more opportunities to engage in a skillsharing narrative and see more women in technical, highly paid, managerial, fierce-as-fuck positions.

LIF_Day5 81 [Web]Do you have a skill you could share? We host workshops, please get in touch at girlgangleeds@gmail.com

A call to action – Hannah Collins

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So, Theresa May’s announcement outside Number 10 came early yesterday; just like the general election. Now that we’ve all had a day to process our initial feelings of shock, outrage, glee, or satisfaction, it’s imperative that – now more than ever – we distance ourselves from political apathy at this crucial time.

Seven weeks from now, you have the opportunity to cast a vote which will determine the UK’s political, economic, and social future. The importance of the young person’s vote cannot be overlooked or discounted by those vying for a position, nor can we afford to shrug it off as a waste of time. We owe it to ourselves to take action and exercise our democratic right. Moreover, it is our responsibility to demonstrate to future generations that voting is an effective action which facilitates change.

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Ok, let’s get it out there – Brexit. Brexit has pervaded British politics, the news, and social media for what feels like decades. At this point it is embedded in our daily lives as we see everywhere constant squabbling between political parties, the world’s reaction, the triggering of Article 50, even the ever-present #Brexit.

But this is not the only issue on the agenda: the NHS, education, defence, the environment, employment, and welfare all deserve our attention and consideration when deciding how to vote. Yes, Brexit is undeniably one of the sovereign concerns of our time but it is critical that we do not allow this to blind us to the multitude of other matters at stake. This is a general election, not a referendum.

Be curious, find out about what various parties stand for in relation to the aforementioned issues. Google the Conservatives, read Labour’s manifesto, follow the Liberal Democrats on social media, look up the Scottish National Party’s website. Think about what is important to you and see which party (and not just the ones listed here) seems to fit you best.

Cast your vote with confidence by reading widely, knowing that you did everything in your power to be informed before scribing that all-important ‘x’.

 

I implore you to (always) think critically and consider the source. The Guardian and the Daily Mail are probably going to differ on how the events of the next seven weeks are portrayed. Even broadcasters which claim to be impartial can sometimes show the cracks in their veiled bias. Arm yourself with knowledge and ask questions.

Perhaps the most important part of this process —  register to vote. Whether it be in person, by post, or by proxy, get yourself on the electoral register.

We cannot afford apathy. Cast your vote.   

https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote  

 

By Hannah Collins @hunkamunka

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): how to loosen its grip – Tara Rawson

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When I was a little girl, winter was my favourite time of year. Sure, summer was great for water fights and bike rides but as far as I was concerned, winter had it all: Christmas, Halloween, Bonfire Night…. all of the sparkly, quirky, over the top fun!

But after my grandparents died and my parents divorced, towards the end of the summer, I would feel this huge sense of dread washing over me, knowing that the sadness was coming and there would be nothing I could do to stop it. I had always assumed it was the familial loss at Christmas that hurt me and bled into the change of the seasons, but I realised later on, it was much more than that.

SAD is a depressive illness, causing a wide range of unfortunate symptoms including lethargy and sadness, caused by the lack of daylight as a result of the shortened days. Whilst reading up on the subject, I had a flashback of going to work one evening at 6pm, the sky pitch black, and feeling a terrible moment of panic and claustrophobia. The more I read, the more vindicated I felt. I wasn’t a scrooge! My brain wanted the sunshine!

These days I know that it’s coming, I know how to handle it and I actually look forward to all the cosiness and fun that the winter months can bring.

There are some habits I’ve picked up over the years to make winter more bearable.

Get outside

When the winter starts to creep in, we all have a tendency to hibernate. After all, who really wants to go traipsing out and about in the cold and wet.  When winter gets into full flow, it’s likely you’ll be waking up in the dark and coming home in the dark – so use your breaks wisely.

Pack some lunch, wrap up and get out of your workplace over lunch…even if it’s raining! A brisk walk blows the cobwebs out anyway. For those less able bodied, find somewhere outdoors where you can sit and watch the world go by.

And see your friends! Nothing will make you feel better than a natter with your besties. Force yourself to leave the house.

  

Exercise

I’m not suggesting running marathons (unless that’s your bag in which case I salute you) just something to keep you active, as strenuous or as relaxed as you like, or, as much as you are physically able.

It’s true that the real endorphins kick in after a really good work out but I always feel fabulous after a pilates session or a relaxed swim. Plus, it’ll get you out of the house and give you something else to focus on.

 

Roll with it

Looking over the precipice of winter and trying to figure out how many days you have left to go before the days get longer can be incredibly daunting. As hard as it is, try and look only at short segments at a time.

My favourite thing to do after Christmas is to start timing the darkness creeping in. This might sound terrifying but you’ll soon notice each day it arrives a little later. We’ve already got past the shortest day – so the only way is up!

 

Buy a UV lamp

I work in a recording studio with no windows and they give us a UV bulb to simulate natural daylight. It’s made a huge amount of difference to me and I really recommend getting one for your home or desk. Some of the appliances are a little pricey but definitely worth it.

 

Get support

Don’t try and get through this on your own. Speak to friends, family and your GP if you think you need medical help with it. There are lots of online support groups as well so don’t suffer in silence.

Check out SADA as a starting point. They are a charity who deal specifically with SAD and have plenty of information on their website. If you think you might be suffering with SAD, why not take a look at http://www.sada.org.uk/index_2.php

Stay smart and stay happy, fierce Femmes and ally gems!

 

On world mental health day – Vanhessa Longley

To honour World Mental Health Day, we’d like to extend a special hand of strength, love and solidarity to anybody affected by mental health issues.

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It’s been 3 years since i was properly diagnosed.
16 months since my last hospital trip.
5 months since my last “incident”

Mental Health is a tense relationship to have, one that I genuinely believe is a curse and a blessing simultaneously.

It’s a shadow that lurks in the darkest places, quietly waiting to drag you away from the light, but it’s the impetus that makes me crave the light and run, arms open, towards it.

It’s kept me hidden, but allowed me to reach out.

It’s taken my independence, but given me freedom.

It’s stifled creativity, but has been the catalyst for new ventures.

It’s taken my identity, but allowed me to create a new one.

It’s made me selfish, but generous with whatever I have left to give.

It’s destroyed my body, but forced me to find new ways to love it.

It’s broken relationships, but given strength to new ones.

It’s made me insecure, but allowed me to seek out confidence.

It’s made me weak, but helped me to be stronger.

It’s made me silent, but allowed me discover my voice.

It’s taken away my purpose, but given me a new one.

It’s made me grieve, but allowed me to heal.

It’s stolen precious memories, but added importance to the things that remain.

It’s made me impatient and angry, but it’s given me a greater depth of love and understanding.

It’s given me a reason to not live, but given me more of a reason to keep going.

My mental health is something I have spent the majority of existence trying to avoid, but will spend the rest of my life trying to embrace. It is, without a doubt, the essence of who I am and the driving force of who I want to be.

So today, like most days, I’m thinking of everyone who feels the weight of mental health issues, wherever you fall within the vast spectrum of it.

Whether you’re someone who has suffered or you continue to do so, whether you care for someone who does, or have never been exposed to it, we should all be fighting for better access to support, understanding and help.

Everyone deserves the chance to be happy.

Power and strength to everyone.

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Feeling Myself: reclaiming the flesh – Anonymous

Content warning: contains references to sexual assault and the emotional impact of sexual assault.

Throughout my life I have always been conscious of my body and its proportions, its changing shape and dimensions, but I have never been obsessively, acutely preoccupied with my flesh. That is, until I was raped.

My once (mostly) positive relationship with my body became barely an acquaintance; my entire physical being was now a stranger, it was foreign, unfamiliar, and hollow. I had always enjoyed my classic hourglass figure, my shapely strong legs, and my full breasts. I would look at my naked self in mirrors and cock a cheeky smile at what appeared: I was solid, voluptuous, and – perhaps most importantly – pleased.

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This was never vanity but merely an acceptance of and appreciation for my physical form. After the sexual assault, however, this practise stopped and my body became just a vessel for the torrent of thoughts and emotions that plagued me relentlessly.

“I can’t look at myself”

“My body is tainted, it’s trash”

“I’m dirty”

As trivial as it may seem to some, I couldn’t even face applying make-up. It felt as though I was banned from that now, that I was somehow marked with the shame of what had happened and therefore couldn’t participate in such a ritual. Fitted clothes, heels, anything traditionally ‘feminine’ (whatever that means, it’s open to your interpretation) was completely off limits to my used flesh and, what’s more, I didn’t want any of these things.

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I remember the first time I went to meet a friend in a public place and had chosen to make an effort, or at least attempt, to present myself as I used to: full face, bright lips, flowing hair, heeled black boots, a bodycon dress. This was what I used to look like.

Not long into the outing I was defying the tears I could feel collecting in my eyes. I constantly looked around to check if anyone was looking at me, I pulled my coat closer to cover my chest, I kept my gaze down. My body was taking up too much space in the world, space that I felt I no longer deserved.

Of course, these feelings of shame and disgust were nothing to do with me – I had not done this to myself – and it took time for me to not only realise this, but to really come to terms with it. I came to realise that this ugly cloud of negativity and self-doubt that engulfed me was one of the ways in which this person, the man who raped me, continued to assert power over me.

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His actions had overpowered me before and now I was living in a vice-grip, restricting myself from my self. Once this thought occurred to me I was furious. How dare he. How dare he not only use my body, but also take it away from me? This flesh was mine and I wanted to reclaim it in the most assertive, powerful ways possible.

I could go outside.

I could walk home alone.

I could drink.

I could be loud.

I could take selfies.

I could dance round my flat in my pants.

I could touch myself.

I could fuck boys.

I could face myself in the mirror.

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I have never considered myself a ‘victim’ in relation to all of this and, truthfully, I’m not keen on the labels of ‘brave’ and ‘strong’ either (though I have no problems with others using this terminology).

What I did – with much healing and support – was take back what’s mine.

I will be kind to myself, give myself time, let my body rest and recover. I will not allow this unthinkable experience to stifle me.