Save the Bees in style

For anyone who thinks fashion is vacuous and superficial, I challenge thee! If used wisely, fashion is an excellent tool for raising awareness of the big issues of the day. Some of us choose our uniform symbolically – the Suffragettes famously wore purple, white and green to denote dignity, purity and hope respectively, whilst others dress to stand out from the crowd. Whether we dress in solidarity, to highlight the plight of others or to express (or disguise) our inner self, what we wear says a lot about who we are and what we believe in.

The slogan t-shirt has become a popular tool for activists, campaigners and even community projects. As so many of us quite literally like to wear our heart on our sleeve, a t-shirt is an easy way for wearers to spread a message whilst sales generate revenue for the cause. But it’s also a tool which can be overused, under-designed and unethical. A garment may be sold to support a ‘good’ cause, but if it’s ill-conceived it is a waste of resources (how many t-shirts with random logos do you have sitting in a drawer somewhere that you’ve worn once for a work event / fun run / hen night / festival that haven’t since seen the light of day?). There is a certain irony in a UK community project creating a slogan t-shirt to raise funds for a local good cause if the garments have been bought at a discount price online or on the high street and produced through sweated labour in the far east.

Save the Bees women's t-shirt by Rapanui for EJF, £24.95

Not so with the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) who are adept at bringing in the big guns from the design world to create garments with style and substance. EJF's t-shirts allow the wearer to say something, and enable them to look pretty darn good whilst doing so, plus they are about as ethical as they come. Not only do they have excellent eco credentials (100% organic, carbon neutral and fairly traded cotton), say something worthwhile and raise money for a excellent cause, but their design is the antithesis of incidental. Whether a simple slogan like Katharine Hamnets’s iconic ‘SAVE THE FUTURE’ or a beautifully designed Vivienne Westwood shirt, they beg to be worn. Yes, people buy them to support their campaigns and to dress in solidarity with the cause, but they also snap up these shirts because they are eye-catching, good-quality and stylish too.

This summer EJF have teamed up with clothing brand Rapanui who have designed t-shirts in support of EJF’s Save the Bees campaign. The massive decline in the bee population over recent years due to toxic pesticides and environmental factors is highlighted in this new collaboration which features a giant bee wearing a gas mask. But it’s not only about saving the bees – the UN FAO estimates that 71% of the most common crops which provide 90% of food for 146 Countries are pollinated by bees, so there is a very real need to save them for our own food security. Plus it is estimated the bees’ contribution the UK economy alone is up to £200 million annually. As Rob Drake-Knight, Co-Founder of Rapanui, put it:

“This project between Rapanui and EJF gives us the opportunity to create a t-shirt for an important cause. It’s vital for us to make the world aware that many of the foods in the shop would simply not exist without bees. It’s not just honey that would leave the shops; 71 of our top 100 crops are pollinated by bees.”

Save the Bees campaign at the EJF pop-up shop ‘JUST… BIG TREES little bees’ in London. Image: Josh Chow for EJF

On top of all that, EJF and Rapanui are also raising awareness of issues around the garment supply chain such as forced child labour and deadly pesticides in cotton production. EJF’s ‘Pick your cotton carefully’ campaign encourages consumers to think about where cotton comes from and provides us with information about how we can support fair and safe labour.

We’ve talked a lot about traceability on The Good Wardrobe and it’s exciting to see that when you buy a bee t-shirt, you can visit Rapanui’s site and follow the whole supply chain, from cotton fields in India to the garment wending its way into your (reusable) shopping bag. Rapanui are true innovators in this area - their award-winning, groundbreaking traceability deserves a blog of its own.

EJF’s and Rapanui’s collaboration further underlines the importance of a style AND substance when trying to change the world. Long gone are the days that a hemp shirt with a sparse ‘save the animals’ slogan will suffice. After all, it’s only in recent years, since eco fashion activists have visibly raised the style stakes that the world, and the clothing industry, has really sat up and taken notice. (I feel I must add here that I am not dissing hemp t-shirts – THTC are a pioneer in the field of fashion-activism and work with artists to create super cool hemp and cotton t-shirts.)

War/Peace t-shirt by Vivienne Westwood for EJF, £20 in foreground of 'JUST...BIG TREES little bees' pop-up shop. Image: Josh Chow for EJF

You can see these bee-utiful t-shirts for yourself all summer at the ‘JUST… BIG TREES little bees’ EJF pop-up shop in London at 20 Fouberts Place, Soho, W1F 7PL

The sale features the new range of bee t-shirts, as well as the classic ‘Save the Future’ design by Katharine Hamnett and Vivienne Westwood’s War/Peace t-shirt which is exclusive to EJF. If you can’t visit the store you can browse and buy online at www.ejfoundation.org/shopforejf.

Header image: Jason Flemyng by Stephanie Sian Smith for EJF.

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Founder and Director of The Good Wardrobe. Lover of charity shops and mending stuff.  New to Bristol. Follow on twitter

Update - the pop-up has moved!

We've just been told that the EJF pop-up has relocated to G3 Kingly Court, Carnaby Street, London, W1B 5PW, where it will be until 10th September. Well worth a visit!

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