Really Upworthy?

10th September 2014 by

Every day I get updates from Upworthy into my email inbox. I’m not alone – the site has almost 7 million likes on Facebook. Sometimes I read the updates, sometimes I don’t – but generally it’s good to know that when I do open those emails they are full of videos and infographics that challenge much of the oppressive status quo that exists in our society today. Prejudice and oppression based on gender, religion, sexuality and race are regularly tackled, and there is often input about serious environmental issues – like climate change for example. Not only that, but the content tends to have a feel good element, and inspire some hope that things could be different! True, there’s the occasional advert posted as an inspiring video, which jars a little, because I don’t think equality should be a selling point (it should be a given), but all in all it’s a pretty inspiring job they all do.

computingYesterday, I opened an email from Upworthy – it was about about the upcoming UN Climate Summit and Upworthy’s involvement. I was just a teeny tiny (read: huge) bit surprised when I noticed a ‘U’ in the corner. The ‘U’ was none other than Unilever’s logo, announcing their sponsorship. In Unilever’s own words “[o]n any given day, two billion people use Unilever products”. Two billion people?? That’s quite a lot, almost a third of the whole world’s population. What do Unilever make, you might ask, and why are they sponsoring this? A quick look on their homepage shows me the following brands: Lynx, Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, Knorr, Dove, Surf, Persil, PG Tips, Lipton, Wall’s, Colman’s Mustard… the list goes on. In essence, purveyors of highly processed products. There are any number of reasons that these types of products could be questioned – health impacts, treatment of workers, transparency, the environment. To find out more I’d recommend a read of  this report ‘Behind the Brand’: it’s a report by Oxfam on the ethics of ‘Big 10′ food companies, of which Unilever is one. Although Unilever is better than some – they still have a very long way to go.

As our topic is climate change, let’s stick with a couple of the environmental concerns. Body and cleaning products are usually derived from oil and chemicals – aside from the environmental impact of fairtradetheir manufacture, their impact once used, and their packaging (from plastic to aerosol cans) can be highly damaging. (Luckily their are lots of low impact ways to make your own – try this link.) A thought on some of the ‘food’ produced and marketed by Unilever doesn’t inspire a huge amount more hope. At Otesha our purchasing policy is to buy Fairtrade and organic tea and coffee. PG Tips bears the Rainforest foundation mark, which goes someway to protecting biodiversity, but doesn’t guarantee fair trade for the producers. But I’ve heard that non-organic food products, reliant on chemical pesticides and fertilisers, and usually grown in monocultures – are not great for biodiversity and again there is a big impact from the manufacture and use of chemicals. Industrial agriculture has massive carbon outputs too – a really good read to find out more in this area is Stolen Harvest by Vandana Shiva.

There’s so much more I could add here, but I think you catch my drift. So why am I writing all of this? I guess I’m just worried when companies so involved in creating the environmental crisis devise projects and sponsorship to ‘change the world’ when it’s really the core of their business operations that needs to change. I get the need for business to change, but I don’t believe that what they’re doing is changing their business. In their own words, they’re worried about climate change because they’re worried about profit. When smaller or charitable organisations take support from such organisations  and advertise it – whilst the companies continue to manufacture products in environmentally destructive ways – the word greenwash creeps to mind. Companies, cooperatives, organisations that produce and trade in environmentally and socially ethical ways don’t need their logo plastered onto other people’s projects – because they are already part of the solution. As individuals let’s support these positive alternatives to build a future that is healthy for people and planet (if you’re in Hackney try Growing Communities for food!) and let’s support other organisations to take a similar stand against greenwash!

Hackonomics – who’s questioning cash?

18th December 2012 by

Our monthly challenge for December has already had some really interesting feedback, so thank you!  Inspired by our visits to Trade School, we asked you to let us know about what other projects out there are trying to hack the system by experimenting with ways to trade that don’t depend entirely – or in some cases at all – on money changing hands.

Your responses have taken us to some really interesting ideas.  Here are some of them:

Means of Exchange

I haven’t quite figured out quite what this is going to do, as they’re at the stage of having “some exciting plans”, but the idea appears to be to mobilise techies to make possible people’s ideas for how to exchange, promote local resource use and build resilience while avoiding the mainstream economy and its conventions – “we’ll build the tools so you can make it happen wherever you are,” they say.

In the meantime, it’s a good place to go if you want to explore some of the thinking being done around these ideas for challenging “our default relationship with money, how most of us understand so little about it, and how we might use new approaches to encourage a more healthy mix of time sharing, swapping, bartering and purchasing between one another”.

The Bristol (and Lewes, and Brixton, and Totnes…) Pound

This system does, in fact, depend on money, but it’s an entirely new kind of currency. Each Bristol (or Lewes, or Brixton, or Totnes…) Pound is worth one pound sterling, but because it is only valid in a very local area, it means that the money only circulates within the community.

Whereas a regular pound spent in the local supermarket will end up in the bank account of Tescbury’s corporate HQ, a local pound will stay in the area, helping to keep the exchange of goods and services flowing.  If it can only be spent locally, then it also means that local suppliers have an advantage over goods that might have been freighted a long way – in the end, hopefully, adding up to a stronger, more diverse and more resilient economy. If that agenda sounds familiar, then yes, you’re right – local currencies in their most recent forms sprang from the transition towns movement.

If it sounds like a cute but naive idea that can’t work in the real world, well consider this: the newly elected mayor of Bristol is being paid entirely in Bristol pounds.

Pay What You Can

This one is based on money changing hands, too, but it is a departure from the convention of ‘We set the price, you pay it’.  You may have come across this idea yourself in any number of settings.  I first heard of it many years ago: Clapham Junction’s Battersea Arts Centre would – and still does – have some productions, or some nights, where they throw caution to the wind and let their audience members stump up what they feel like paying, or what they can afford.  It’s also the principle at the People’s Kitchen, where quality food that was going to go to waste is turned into a regular communal feast – not only putting assessment of the meal’s value under your control but also tackling one of the big environmental ‘externalities’, i.e. food waste, that conventional economics woefully fails to take into account. A related idea is ‘pay what you think it’s worth’ – you can do this for your meals every Wednesday down my local.

The Amazings

This is brilliant.  “The Amazings was born out of a single, simple idea. Society has always learned from its elders. But somewhere along the way we have lost that connection between generations – which means losing rich, valuable, and rare skills. We’re on a mission to fix this.”

Unlike Trade School, this one does mean paying up with cash in return for classes, but it at least taps into a valuable idea that we’ve abandoned too hastily – listening to and learning from the experience, skills and knowledge of those who have been around long enough to know a thing or two.

Which leads me on to…

Men In Sheds

This Age UK brainwave is a win-win.  There are jobs that need doing in every community. There are not always the resources and knowledge to get them done.  But there is an army of retired blokes who have time on their hands, who have spent decades putting up shelves, laying paths, fixing wiring and plumbing and generally banging nails into wood – and who want to be useful, stay active and healthy and have a good natter with others over their workbenches.  And so Men in Sheds was born. Got a community project that needs some practical fixing up?  See if there’s a Men In Sheds group in your area, and make sure you stock up on tea and biscuits for these beezer geezers.

I’ve a feeling we’ve only scratched the surface of the world of hackonomics that is developing out there, creatively filling the cracks in the crumbling mainstream economics – so do use the comments section below to let us know about others, or about ways you get by without the traditional exchange of cold hard cash.

Swap til you drop! December’s monthly challenge

6th December 2012 by

Laura and Gavin have both been to Trade School in the last month – a really interesting idea through which you can sign up for an hour’s tuition, workshopping or general learning in anything from ‘Clowning and dance’ to ‘Growing food in the city’ or ‘Accounts for non-accountants’.

The twist? You don’t pay a fee, you barter with the tutor, who provides a list of things they would accept in return for giving the class – it could be a loaf of bread, advice on decluttering, a surprise or, well, anything.

Inspired by this lovely idea – particularly in this season of wild-eyed hyperconsumerism, our challenge to you this month is to find out how the ‘gift economy’ – barter-based or generosity-fuelled moneyless means of exchange – is emerging in your area. Is there more than just the (admittedly wonderful) Freecycle? What exciting experiments near you are hacking the economic system? We’d love to hear about what you find, so do let us know!

And if you’re disappointed by a dearth of moneyless innovations in your area – why not start your own Trade School?

Living Wages at Otesha

6th November 2012 by

Living Wage Week is here! This annual celebration and  promotion of employers who pay Living Wage runs from 4-10th November, and as a Living Wage employer Otesha is pleased to take part.

What is a living wage? Unlike the national minimum wage, a Living Wage is calculated according to the basic cost of living in the UK. A Living Wage is enough to allow people the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families. The Living Wage campaign was launched in 2001 by parents in East London, who were frustrated that working two minimum wage jobs left no time for family life. Over 15,000 families have been lifted out of working poverty as a direct result of the Living Wage.

What’s the financial difference? UK national minimum wage is currently £6.19. The new UK Living Wage is £7.45 – an increase of £1.26 an hour or £10.08 over an 8 hour shift. But in London, the Living Wage is now £8.55 to reflect the significantly higher costs of living in the Capital. This week the Mayor of London launched the new 25p increase in London Living wage, arguing that “It makes economic sense for us as a city”.

So what does Otesha do about it? We put our money where our mouth is! All Otesha internships are paid at London Living Wage. These year-long posts organising our cycle tours and other programmes are learning roles, in which interns are given real responsibility and decision making powers, whilst being supported and offered training to increase their professional skills. A lot of other charities only offer expenses for these sorts of roles, but the expectation that people can or should work without pay goes against what we stand for.

But sadly we can’t employ everyone so we want to spread the word amongst Otesha’s friends about the benefits of paying Living Wage for employee and employer, courtesy of our friends at the Living Wage Foundation – SPOILER: paying people a fair wage for their work is highly motivating!

  • An independent study of the business benefits of implementing a Living Wage policy in London found that more than 80% of employers believe that the Living Wage had enhanced the quality of the work of their staff, while absenteeism had fallen by approximately 25%.
  • Two thirds of employers reported a significant impact on recruitment and retention within their organisation. 70% of employers felt that the Living Wage had increased consumer awareness of their organisation’s commitment to be an ethical employer.
  • Following the adoption of the Living Wage Price Waterhouse Cooper found turnover of contractors fell from 4% to 1%.
  • 50% of employees felt that the Living Wage had made them more willing to implement changes in their working practices; enabled them to require fewer concessions to effect change; and made them more likely to adopt changes more quickly.

If you’d like to learn about how we moved over to London Living Wage and would like to do the same, get in touch!

Where’s Milo? Q&A

25th September 2012 by

Here at Otesha, we’re always trying to take small actions in our lives to contribute to a cleaner and greener world.  Some days, our paths cross other inspiring people and Tristan Titeux is certainly one of them.  He so kindly offered to tell us his story and explain the Where’s Milo? project.  Read on…

My name is Tristan Titeux and I was born in London in 1976 but very shortly moved to the Belgian countryside for 13 years. I lived in the oldest house on the street made from local flint stone – the walls were the thickness of your lower arm; We had one cold tap in the whole house, 2 wood fires, no fridge, no tv, an outside detached loo and bathroom, a garden full of food, and animals that gave us eggs, honey, cheese and meat.  The wild around us gave us flowers and leaves for our salads, the best mushrooms, fruit and medicine when I was ill. My dad never went or took me to the doctor.  The rest of our food was brought from the health food shop in Maastricht in Holland just across the border from where I lived.

My dad used to talk on the radio for years, every Sunday about wild plants.  He had a great following and published three books on plants, their history, folklore, medicinal and value as a food. From these beginnings, close to nature, I learned where resources came from, where the wood came from and not to waste it.  My dad would also tell us not to waste water – turn the tap off when cleaning our teeth, bathing in just enough water, not a sea.

Ever since leaving Belgium I have carried on the values my parents gave me, I have always eaten organic food, my house and business has run on 100% renewable electricity from Good Energy for the past 13 years now. I was a photographer for 12 years before I decided to live in France.  In preparation for this, I did all sorts of courses such as basket and cider making, Permaculture, straw bale building and many others including carpentry. I never went to France and instead started riding around Notting Hill with my tools in two bags hanging on each side of my bicycle, a screw box on top and a ruck sack.  And so began my career as a handyman.

People asked me to do bigger and bigger projects in their homes and now for the last 5 years my business specialises in bespoke fitted furniture.

In January 2011 I decided to start an eco friendly option for my customers. I went to a day seminar a couple of months back with many people talking, mostly ethical business people.

One in particular made me think about what I really wanted to do. I was happy making money in my business, but deep down it didn’t entirely fit my true passion, which is the environment. From then on I decided that I would become a pioneer in my field and so I started researching eco materials, and designing and building some fitted furniture that, with no compromise, demonstrated the ultimate eco friendly fitted furniture you could currently make if you had the desire to.

What is eco furniture?
Simply put, eco furniture is furniture that is made from materials that are less harmful to the environment by using raw ingredients that can decompose back into nature without polluting it and its inhabitants in the process.

This definition is broad and can branch out into several other discussions:

  • using sustainable materials that can be regrown or reused again and again with as minimal impact on nature as possible
  • making furniture that will last as long as possible and not easily break, and if it does break, it will be easy to repair and maintain
  • thinking about the way it is initially put together for example, if it’s screwed together with no glue, then it makes it possible to take it apart with minimal damage to either be rebuilt, modified or even deconstructed with the pieces reused and recut to make other furniture
  • extending the piece of furniture’s life by thinking carefully about the design; it must be as multi-purpose as possible, with adjustable shelves inside a cupboard for example, or a unit that can be changed from a TV media unit to a wardrobe or a storage cupboard just like I demonstrated in my project “Flexi Straw
  • have an eye for beauty and design which is quite different from being fashionable. Fashion is an enemy of sustainability because it encourages constant change. Good design is timeless and does not rely on fashion. If something is simple and beautiful, people will love it for longer.
  • Finally, when all the mentioned options have run out, the materials must be easy to recycle and lastly harmless if burned to heat our homes. Waste in the future will not exist, everything will be reused, just like nature has always told us to do.

The Milo Project
Milo came about soon after I decided to look into eco materials. I never liked waste and would keep spare waste materials until they were degraded and no good to use any more. So I decided to tackle this problem and designed Milo, a small coffee table made from all these small pieces. The materials dictated the design, and I made it in a way that would use up the smallest of pieces, making use of much more wood. Milo was born in April 2011 and his name was inspired by the birth of my third son a month before.

#WheresMilo is a photo project which combines my love of photography and the eco coffee table.  I’m always looking for interesting people, celebrities and locations to shoot pictures with Milo and feature it in the photo project.  Search Google or social media for #wheresMilo and see what he’s up to.

What’s the best reaction you’ve had so far for the work/talks you’re doing with Milo?
Milo has had nothing but positive reaction and reviews, people are not only interested in the design of it and say it is beautiful, but also the materials it is made of.  Because of the way it is designed, in layers where you see all the different materials, it encourages people to get right up and close.  I love this because my aim is to educate people about what these materials are made from, where they come from, how they affect our world and what the solution is. People are surprised and not pleased to hear that many plywoods are made using non replaceable trees from the Rainforest.

What’s your stance about design and the designer’s roles in shaping consumption patterns and behaviour?
Like I mentioned above, it is important for designers to be aware of and separate design and fashion clearly in their minds and not design something that will be obsolete in one year – that defeats the point of sustainable design. Designers are in a very strong position to make change because they design something not just for themselves but for many others. I hope that other designers can learn these rules of sustainability so that they can pass these onto the consumer.

For those of us who wouldn’t necessarily be able to afford eco furniture, what else could we do to support it or get involved?
Eco fitted furniture is very labour intensive and the materials can be costly, but so is traditional fitted furniture, so the difference isn’t much on the whole. But for those who can’t afford it, you can support it by helping to spread the word about why it is important to use eco friendly options, not just with fitted furniture, but in all the shopping choices you make. It is better to do without for longer and buy quality than buy cheap; we are all sucked into the notion that we have the right to have what we want when we want it.

Some people can’t afford fitted furniture, or eco paint to paint their houses, but they save up and then invest in a way that makes them healthier, and happier for making a positive choice. Buying any eco friendly goods makes you feel very good mentally, you get a feeling that you are not just buying something for yourself but you get that satisfaction that you are, bit by bit, making a difference in the world. You have to spend your money, you might as well use it to make a difference.

Another alternative is the idea that you don’t even have to spend any money at all!  If you are a bit practical, look in the streets and you will see so much stuff thrown away.  You can easily revive it with a new coat of paint or take the many pallets and use your creative mind to make any amount of furniture. If you are into sewing, cut up some old clothes and make some patchwork throws or cushions for your new furniture. Don’t believe that you can’t do it because you can.

And finally, buy second hand furniture instead of new.  There’s nothing more eco friendly than buying second hand.

What’s next for you and Milo?
I am looking to help young people in schools build Milo tables.  I’d like to educate them about sustainability in furniture and give them something creative to do and hopefully pass on the passion that drives me to do what I do.

What’s your future vision look like?

I hope that one day all bespoke fitted furniture will be totally natural and recyclable and that I was part of that process.  I am trying to spread the word through practical examples, exhibitions, networking, blogging and through a book I’m currently writing. I am developing a new eco website called that will bring together local crafts people who use sustainable materials, organic carpets, fair trade curtains, clay plasters and natural paints, eco fitted furniture, upcycled furniture etc. for customers to be able to create their ultimate eco home.


My Drastic Plastic Fast part 3 – Heroes!

19th June 2012 by

As I write it’s Day 8 of my month-long plastic fast, and as someone who hates shopping I’m surprised to find myself buzzing even two days after my weekend shopping trip.

Following countless recommendations from colleagues and from the brilliantly helpful comments people left at part 1 and part 2 of this blog series, I made my way to Unpackaged - which does what it says on the tin (tin not provided).

Run by Kath Conway (far right, with Michael and Bridget), Unpackaged began as a simple market stall and then, when it became clear that there was a hunger out there for minimum-waste, packaging-free grocery shopping, it graduated four and a half years ago to its cute premises on Amwell Street, north London.

All along the inside of the windows, as well as taking centre stage in the main room of the shop, are great square tubs of dried goods, from pasta to nuts, lentils to risotto. You bring your own containers and scoop as much as you need before the Unpackaged team weigh and price your goods. If you haven’t brought your own containers you can invest in the shop’s selection of jars and swing-top bottles so you’re well-equipped on your next visit.

Along a high shelf sit gleaming metal vats of oils from which you can fill your old empty bottles. Certified ‘anti-mafia’ wine can be decanted from wooden barrels beside the counter.








Refills of eco-friendly Ecover cleaning products were available, but unusually the Unpackaged team will even do toilet cleaner refills – one of the plastic-banishing innovations I thought I’d never find.

And one of the best surprises was that you can even bring your jars to get refills of jam, pickles, chutneys and mustard. Oh, most important of all: Unpackaged has solved the coffee problem too. So anyone who has to spend time with me of a morning will be relieved by that news.

The shop should be upping sticks and moving to Hackney in east London later in the year, with plans for a bigger premises and an on-site cafe. And ultimately? Kath’s clearly passionate about doing her bit to destroy the grubby paradigm of waste, disposability and overpackaging we’re all herded into taking part in, so her ambition is to see Unpackaged branch out into other parts of London, and then possibly still further as a replicable ‘social franchise’. If you know Otesha, you’ll know the idea of replicating socially and environmentally positive ideas gets our juices flowing, so this was great to hear.  Taking this beyond a niche and middle-class market is essential, and that is definitely on Unpackaged’s agenda.

To answer a couple of common questions about Unpackaged: No, the bulk dried goods don’t generally arrive in plastic before being decanted into the tubs – most of them are delivered in large paper sacks. And is it more expensive to buy groceries this way? Kath says it depends on what you buy: the produce is high quality, so of course your organic Unpackaged muesli won’t compete on price with a Tesco Value equivalent – but if you compare like with like, with comparable quality, a lot of it works out cheaper than your overpackaged products elsewhere, she says. And though Unpackaged helps its customers to reduce their waste, what about the shop’s own garbage footprint? Well Kath says they put out perhaps half of one regular refuse sack per week, which is pretty incredible – and compares well with the five left out by a nearby shop.








Next it was on to Lush, inside Liverpool Street Station, to try to solve some more thorny plastic-avoiding conundrums: shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste. How am I going to keep my curls luscious and my pearly whites pearly white without plastic containers?  Lush – and its amazingly well-informed staff – had the answers.  For shampoo and conditioner: solid rather than liquid products, and wrapped in paper. Oh, and deodorant too. And for my teeth? Well, no paste but instead…

… ‘toothy tabs’. Looking, frankly, like something you might be offered in a dodgy nightclub, these round tablets are a solid equivalent to toothpaste, packaged in a matchbox-like cardboard container. The idea is that you give them a bit of a nibble, get brushing – and they should foam up. I got one (Fairtrade) ‘Atomic’, which is clove and ginger flavoured, and one ‘Dirty’ spearmint-flavoured version.  If I’m honest, I’m not looking forward to this – I might be pleasantly surprised, but at this stage I’m not rushing to try them. I’ll definitely report back afterwards – watch this space.  The solid hair products I’m actually looking forward to trying (though I do wish Lush would tone down the scents and offer some unperfumed products). But hats off to Lush for answering a lot of the plastic problems I thought might scupper the plastic fast – and hats off to the staff for their knowledge and passion, which was infectious.

One last hero to namecheck today: Looking for a breakfast snack in Otesha’s neighbourhood, I came across Loves Cafe at 20 Gravel Lane, London E1. This plastic fast means nipping out for an impulse snack is really challenging, but this place wraps at least some of its sandwiches in a plant starch-derived ‘eco-wrapper’. They sit alongside a fair bit of actual plastic, but the owner, Peter, is clearly thinking about what his business can do to tread more lightly than the average caff. Nice one.

So lots of progress, lots of alternatives found.  But can you help with these?

  • Compost – where can I get this without carrying home a plastic sack?
  • Medicine – if we get sick and need a prescription, or want a quick headache cure, now what?
  • Stationery – and, if we’re going to nitpick (and we are, as this experiment is all about nitpicking), what about the plastic cylinders inside even wooden ballpoint pens?

That’s it for now.  Next update might be a confessional, I’m afraid…

Disclaimer: No freebies or any other benefits were received from Unpackaged, Lush or Loves for being mentioned here! Just good vibes, inspiration and really interesting conversations.


My Drastic Plastic Fast part 2 – Have I bitten off more than I can chew?

14th June 2012 by

It’s reached Day 3 of my Drastic Plastic Fast: my quest not to buy any plastic or plastic-packaged thing for one month. Part 1 explains why. And if you still need persuading that this is a subject that demands attention and action, have a look at this astonishingly beautiful but devastating video by Chris Jordan (who is trying to raise crowdfunding for what looks like a film well worth supporting).

My decision to try this plastic fast was a sudden one that I hadn’t given much thought to, and on the evening of Day 1 we sat down to figure out what it might mean for our household.

At first glance, it seemed like a piece of (unpackaged, home-baked) cake, which would need a wee bit of planning and few minor tweaks to our habits. So we wouldn’t buy plastic-wrapped vegetables? No problem! We tend to avoid them anyway.

But the more we thought it through, the more we realised just how much we’d bitten off – just how much plastic has pervaded our lives and our buying habits, including what we tend to think of as necessities as well as a lot of our favourite luxuries. Cutting down? No problemo! Cutting it out altogether? Ay caramba!

So here’s a list of the things that on Day 1 we quickly came to realise were going to present serious headaches if we were to find plastic-free alternatives. If you’ve got tips that will help, please get thee to the comments box below.

  • Coffee! Our Fairtrade organic coffee, bought from Oxfam, comes in a plastic pouch. We’re going to have to find a paper-wrapped alternative – but would it also be Fairtrade and organic?
  • Parmesan - aaargh!
  • Hair products – are we facing a month of dirty, fluffy hair when our shampoo and conditioner run out?
  • Saturday’s newspaper – we’re going to have to cancel it thanks to that plastic bag the magazine comes wrapped in – so no lazy Saturday morning in bed with the paper.
  • Cleaning materials – yes, we do already get refills of old bottles for our laundry liquid and washing up liquid – but have you ever seen toilet cleaner refills? Me neither. And what if we hadn’t wanted a plastic refill bottle in the first place?
  • Cooking oil and olive oil – even the glass bottles come with those plastic glugger things under the caps.
  • Compost – our organic peat-free compost comes in… plastic sacks of course.
  • Contact lenses!
  • No more money-saving big tubs of peanut butter
  • Cigarettes and lighters (obviously this is A Good Thing and a hurdle that I welcome!)
  • Washing up sponges – we’ve been using those plasticky foam ones (they’re so cheap, a pound or two for 10), and go through them quickly.
  • Our staples: couscous, rice, pasta.
  • Medicine – if we get sick, is it possible to have pills dispensed loose?!
  • Toothpaste – I’m stumped…
  • Bike bits – parts, tools, accessories.

To cut a long story short, we’ve got a lot of research to do, possibly a lot of travelling to find what we need in the packaging we need, and probably a bit of heavy lifting, for example if we need to upgrade to those massive hessian sacks of rice you can get in cash’n’carries (though aren’t even those sacks mostly plastic now?).  But it’s going to be really interesting, hopefully a lot of fun, very revealing and, I feel pretty sure, inspiring.

I’m sure we’ll come across some amazing alternatives that will take us by surprise, and I’ll be sharing those here when we find them.

So here’s find number 1: the washing up sponge issue is resolved already, thanks to a trip to Otesha’s local organic shop at Spitalfields. Here you see poor Sam on the right unhappily modelling the oil-derived, plasticky sponge of old. The happy fellow on the left, however, is sporting a luffa sponge. A fairly traded product from the Philippines, the label says it’s made of “a plant material that locks in carbon then biodegrades”, and grown without petrochemicals. The claim is that they last for up to a year, so I’ll be curious to see if that holds true. The cherry on the cake is that the makers encourage me to “recycle in your compost or wormery”. Happy to oblige.

 Head to Part 3 for some inspiring solutions

Significant Others

7th February 2012 by

Millions of couples will celebrate Valentine’s Day next week. Already this poses major issues for me:

1.  Isn’t this just another capital way to spend more money on stuff you don’t need? ie. roses… which in reality are sh*t.

2. On a general basis, there’s an assumption that you only have one heterosexual partner.

3. And is this only a celebration of partners? What about all the single folk? Surely nothing’s wrong with celebrating your singlehood, right?!

So it got me thinking – why not celebrate my love with an alternative celebration? Something a bit quirky, entertaining, and a bit of a challenge.

So I’ve been working on The Significant Other Festival, which aims to do just that.

The Pensive Federation asked seven writers to create a seven-minute play in seven days with the theme of the Significant Other. They handed the scripts over to a director and a company of two actors and gave them seven days to stage it. The result will be performed this weekend – just before Valentine’s Day.

By creating theatre in a confined period of time, they hope to capture what real people think and feel about love and relationships in the 21st century. Through this format, they were able to draw together a company of creative people from different backgrounds, and experience.

Full details and links for the shows at the foot of this post if you’d like to come and see.

Another element which is key to the company’s success are the volunteer participants. From writer to stage manager and even the poster designer, everyone is passionate about the festival and is keen to volunteer their time.

This also opened another door for service exchanging. Calu Lema (superhero Otesha cycle tour co-ordinator) so kindly offered her services to design the poster. This tied in incredibly well to her own blog, which challenges her to take on 12 new tasks for 2012. You can read all about her gift economy ethos as well as how The Pensive Federation poster design was Task number 1.

I leave you with something to chew on:

‘Significant other’ is colloquially used as a gender-blind term for a person’s partner in an intimate relationship without disclosing or presuming anything about marital status, relationship status, or sexual orientation.

So what does the significant other mean to you?

Come and see the show!

Dates: 11 and 12 February
Times: 3pm and 7:30pm daily
Tickets: £7.00
Location: Camden People’s Theatre, 58-60 Hampstead Road, London NW1 2PY

For more details, click here and to purchase tickets click here.

Reduce, reuse, recycle… up-cycle!

8th December 2011 by

Guest blogger and friend of Otesha Alice Nicol gets us up to speed on the world of up-cycling, and argues that designers and businesses must put reduction of resource use at the heart of their work

In a world where we are continually putting strain on our resources, I have come to question what my role and impact is as a designer. For me, this means taking a holistic view and acknowledging the social and environmental impacts my choice of fabric has on the world. Which fibre did it start off as? Does it have longevity? Where will it end up?

One place to start is by working with what we already have, as using a material that already exists is more sustainable and environmentally friendly than buying new. Our stage of mass consumerism and fast fashion provides a mountain of perfectly usable cast-offs, for example… I am hinting at ‘Up-cycling.’

So what is up-cycling? In a nutshell, up-cycling means using materials with a low value to create a new product with a higher value. Essentially giving something old a new lease of life.

My up-cycling venture began whilst in my final year of printed textiles at the Glasgow School of Art. I wanted to print onto knitwear, yet knitting my own pieces (even from lovely chunky hemp/wool blends) was too timely and buying too costly. What could be used that, in both senses, didn’t cost the earth? My resolution to this conundrum was to venture into a charity shop, where suddenly I found many sizable pieces of knitwear for bargain prices. At the same time buying from charity shops means re-using a product, reducing shipping to external markets and supporting many a just cause through the likes of the Red Cross, Barnardo’s, Oxfam and Shelter, so much more than just bargain knitwear…

A few samples of printing onto re-claimed knit

But the material is only one part of textile design. My design work has been inspired by the bicycle ever since I wandered into the Glasgow Transport Museum and set eyes on the most beautiful penny-farthing I’d ever seen. Whilst I was influenced by the aesthetic design of bicycles (in all shapes and sizes), they also go hand in hand with reducing negative impacts on the environment. Bicycles have negligible carbon emissions, use few materials and resources and make us all that much fitter and healthier! (Though perhaps not all of us will ride a penny-farthing to work!)

Digitally printed silk handkerchiefs

But back to the knitwear… after using jumpers as material for my designs I began to think of other creative ways to use them. This started an enterprise of making hot water bottle covers from the sleeves and cushion covers from the main body. I also became curious about other designers in the world of up-cycling. This led me to discover Goodone, a company which I have been working for this year.

Goodone was established by Nin Castle in 2006 and has appeared at London Fashion Week for the past 6 seasons. Nin has recognized the need to address the environmental impact of the fashion industry and developed a method that is informed by the use of recycled fabrics, but not restrained by it.

The majority of materials are sourced from a textile-recycling unit in East London. Many of the garments are 100% recycled materials, others are mixed with faulty or end of the line fabrics. All garments are made to order in the studio in North London, with a bespoke option, so that only the fabric needed is used.

Despite already using end of the line materials Goodone has even gone a step further, or several leaps, when thinking about its own post production waste. Jerseys/T-shirts are used as cleaning rags, a children’s toy project is on the go and all those jumper sleeves… you guessed it, hot water bottle covers!

Hot water bottle covers made from Aran jumpers

These are inspiring examples of how the role of a designer can help make a more positive impact on our planet: up-cycling; made-to-measure; managing post production waste. Clare Farrell’s article, ‘Peak Fibre?’, on the goodone blog, highlights the necessity of such business models.

Should you wish to discuss your own ideas of up-cycling (or just come for a chat and see what we do!) there are a few events on about town that you can visit:

Full on Fairtrade

3rd October 2009 by

This month we challenge you to buy Fairtrade. And if you already buy Fairtrade, to buy even more Fairtrade, and if you can’t find Fairtrade to ask for Fairtrade.

Then we want you to tell us what you bought Fairtrade, and what you fought for Fairtrade. So send your lists of lovingly produced and laboriously sought out goods to We also want to know if you’ve been looking, long, hard, high and low for an elusive Fairtrade item that no-one can provide. We want Fairtrade phones.

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