Christmas Gift Guide 2016

2016 has been *quite* the year, hasn’t it? But the end is in sight, and we can start to comfort ourselves with the familiar warm glow of Christmas. Mulled things, cinnamon-spiced things, cosy nights, fairy lights and presents.

Presents are one of those things – for some people (me included) they are the best bit of Christmas, finding the ideal gift for the people you care about the most. For lots of us, they are one of the most stressful bits, and so we wanted to put together a guide to helping you find pretty and good presents whether you’re giving Santa a run for his money, or just hoping not to add to the re-gift pile come Boxing Day.

If you’re after a cosy hat for the winter, you can’t go far wrong with Hoodlamb. A totally vegan company making products from hemp and recycled plastics, you’ll be amazed at the quality of their craftsmanship. At 69 Euros for this Men’s Ruderalis Hat it isn’t cheap, but the quality is so good it’ll last you a lifetime. You can see a more detailed look at Hoodlamb’s handiwork in our recent video review of their Men’s Nordic Parka

One of our favourite finds of the year, Solkiki Chocolate is a vegan-run company making some of the very best chocolate we’ve ever tasted. They have a huge range of well-deserved culinary awards, winning out over some of the most well-established and highly-regarded brands out there. The Marañón 68%  (£4.95) is particularly stand-out for the chocolate lover in your life (or as a reward to yourself for getting through all that gift wrapping…).

There’s nothing quite like a super rich boy cream with a delicious scent to make you feel just a tiny bit luxurious. Lulu & Boo have a wide range of organic, vegan friendly products, including our new favourite Elderflower & Orange Blossom Body Cream (£29)

There’s nothing quite like a cosy night in with your favourite Christmas movie, some tasty treats and a delicious scented candle. Our current favourite is the Camp Fire utility candle (£25) from Essence + Alchemy. They do a range of scents in jar candles, a bunch of botanical candles, and little sets of tealights too (perfect for bath time!).

So it turns out that a majority of those designer sunglasses we all covet are made by a single company, who also own several retail brands. That means they control the whole value chain, including setting prices. This doesn’t sit quite right with us, but there’s a stylish solution: Finlay & Co.  (from £140). Their sunglasses are gorgeous, and they have a big range of styles and materials, including some bamboo frames which float – perfect for the pool!

If you follow us on Instagram or Twitter, you might have noticed that we love a pootle round London at the weekends, and coffee is a key part of our pootling! Our favourite London stop for coffee is probably Workshop – the staff are friendly and total experts, and the coffee is always delicious (and served in beautiful cups!). This year, they’re offering a fantastic gift for the coffee lover in your life – a selection pack of their current filter coffees (£20). We’d definitely be chuffed to find this in our stocking!

So, we know organic cotton is kind of a must, but it can be pretty expensive and hard to find, and often favoured by the more designer-y end of the market. Help is at hand from the smart people at Rapanui, where you can get a 5 pack of organic cotton t-shirts for £35. They offer full traceability from cotton field to delivery, and the products are made in a ethnically accredited eco-powered factory. Ticking *all* our boxes, and they offer a bunch of other products too.

You want to get something sparkly for someone special, but you’re reluctant to choose diamonds because it’s difficult to be sure that they’ve been ethically mined and sold. Brilliant Inc. have the answer, producing beautiful simulated diamond jewellery (from £50). The sparkle is indistinguishable from natural diamonds to all but professional gemologists – we got engaged this year with a beautiful solitaire from Brilliant Inc. and can confirm that this is true, the compliments (and the sparkle) prove it 🙂

We’re loving watching a new vegan business go from strength to strength in All Glamour No Guts. Right now, we’re particularly excited about their new character, Autumn, featuring on a range of their merch. A cute sticker (£1) or two would make a perfect stocking filler!

We are *obsessed* with the incredible cakes coming out of Heart of Cake – a one-person vegan business turning out amazingly beautiful custom cakes. Think it’s time to give traditional Christmas cake the heave-ho and get one of these beauties instead!

The times they are a’changing, and one of the places that is most evident is the supermarket shelves! There are a whole host of deliberately and incidentally vegan treats out there this Christmas, new and old. Some of the things that have caught our eye for this year include: Tesco free-from selection box (we can be kids again!), M&S gold creme brulee liqueur (move over Baileys!), Oatly cream (bring on the hot mince pies), Tesco finest chocolate fondant truffles (we’re making our own tin of choccies this year), Divine 70% dark chocolate coins (our favourite stocking filler last year and now a firm fixture).

It’s been an amazing year for new and growing ethical independent businesses, so there’s no reason not to have a fun-filled festive season, and be the change we want to see in the world. We’re so excited about what 2017 has to offer – it’s got to be better than 2016…

Merry Christmas!

Product Review: Soap Nuts

I have read varying views on the effectiveness of soap nuts ability to clean. Given the uncertainty surrounding them I thought best to try them once and for all. Sapindus, commonly referred to as soap nuts, are a native shrub to India. It is a natural surfactant which can be used to clean ones hair, skin, laundry and as a household cleaner generally. They’re vegan and suitable for those with allergies. If this wasn’t enough it was claimed a 1kg bag – costing £11 could wash 330 loads of laundry. That’s 3.3p a load. Given the mixed reviews I thought best to sit down with a cup of tea and learn how to use them properly. The first test was laundry. 

Within the bag are two small mesh bags where you place the soap nuts for washing clothes. Having read up I noted you need more soap nuts in hard water areas. As London has horrific water I placed 10 soap nuts into the mesh bag and put them into a small jar with tap hot water and shook them up. They formed suds straight away. After watching an episode of South Park I return and placed the mesh bag with soapy water in with the clothes.

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1kg bag of soap nuts

I didn’t use fabric conditioner but the clothes felt far softer than normal. There was not scent and the clothes were really clean. At least as clean if not more than usual. I’ve used them quite a few times now and they’re done the job. The only thing I may do is add some essential oils to add some fragrance. The soap nuts can be used four or fives times. To test them put them in a jar of warm water and shake. If they foam up you’re good to go. I’ve also used them to wash my hair and beard.

The cost of laundry cleaner and conditioner wasn’t too pricy. However, buying organic, vegan and ‘nasty’ free shampoo and conditioner is rather costly. Given I have 1kg of soap nuts I made my own shampoo. I filled an old empty bottle of shampoo with five soap nuts, some organic cold pressed argan and jojoba oil along with tea tree essential oil. Given the softness of the laundry, the addition of the oils negates the need for conditioner. I tend to leave the homemade shampoo on a little longer. My hair is left clean and soft. For my kind of hair this works better than shop bought shampoo.

For household cleaning I’ve used 10 soap nuts and placed them into an old bottle with some lemon essential oil and filtered water. I left the mixture overnight and found it turned brown. This has been used to clean worktops / dishes. It cleans effortlessly on all the household tasks I set it to. I was most surprised by its ability to clean around the house. Having read negative reviews it seems, at least anecdotally, people didn’t first soak the soap nuts.Given its cleaning ability and relative cost I’d like to continue using them. Supports highlight their environmental benefits. I’m unsure on this point. Of course there are environmental / welfare concerns with commonly used laundry products.

The nuts must been transported to the UK. There are also farming impacts to consider too. Given they are not commonly used in the UK – finding information on them have proven challenging it. I will update this post in due course and have posted it in the hope people may have answers to the following; working conditions of those involved in the supply chain, farming techniques  – organic.  environmental impact of growing and in relation to ‘mainstream’ products. Given they are able to carry out general cleaning duties it negates the need to consume multiple products, each produced and shipped in turn. On the face it would suggest the environmental impact would be less. Below is a video documenting the harvesting process in Nepal:

All information on prettygood  is meant for educational and informational purposes only. The statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Medicines and Healthcare Regulator / EU body. Products and or information are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease. Readers are advised to do their own research and make decisions in partnership with their health care provider. If you are pregnant, nursing, have a medical condition or are taking any medication, please consult your doctor.

 

Wool: What is it Good For? Not The Environment

Individuals interested in an ethical and sustainable lifestyle come from different perspectives. We all realise that our actions have an impact  on the environment, and based on this, abstain from consuming products that perpetuate climate change. Surprisingly, I have seen a number of progressive shops selling ‘sustainable’ wool. It has been pitched as a renewable product, which fails to understand the reality of global factory farming and the environmental devastation it leaves in its wake.


Environmental Impact

There are over one billion sheep in the world. Australia, China, UK and New Zealand dominate the market. A government reports puts the number of sheep in the UK at around 23 million. Each one produces 20 litres of methane a day simply by burping. The issue with methane is that it is 19 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide, over a five year period. Alarmingly, methane has a Global Warming Potential  (GWP) rating of 86 over a 20 year period.

Each year 90 million tonnes of methane are produced by all ruminant livestock globally. Shockingly, sheep account for 90% of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. This is due to the large amount of  burping that ruminants do. The impact of wool needs to be considered within the wider context of the farmed animal industry. There is serious dollar to be made out of exploiting non-human animals. Livestock occupy 26% of the Earth’s ice-free land and account for 15% of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Meat, wool and other animal fibres are apart of an interdependent system of environmental devastation. The lamb in your kebab as you make your way home in the wee hours could have once literally been connected to your Uggs.

Polluting rivers near farmland is a concern to local wildlife and people alike. Sheep may be treated for parasites by being dipped in a chemical bath. After dipping these substances may find their way into local waterways. Contamination of rivers by livestock faeces / carcasses pose a health risk to people too. Experts stated that the parasite detected at a water treatment facility Lancashire  over the summer was likely caused by this.

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Ebony and Ivory say  ‘leave our wool alone’. Image from Flickr user Maurice Koop

Merino Wool

The global wool industry is barbaric.There has been sustained coverage regarding the mistreatment of merino sheep in Australia. This is due to 80% of global merino wool being produced there. It is often seen as a high end luxury product. Sheep are not indigenous to the continent, much like the European invaders who brought them to Australia in 1796. Sheep initially used for wool are sent to slaughter, once there is no further economic value in maintaining them.  The industry  employs  a number of efficient practices as illustrated with the merino breed.

The merino has been bred to yield the maximum amount of wool and not to shed their wool. They have been bred to have wrinkly skin. More skin equals more wool.  Sheep may become overloaded with wool and die due to high temperatures. The wrinkles encourage excrement and urine to be trapped in the folds. This attracts blowflies which leads to flystrike whereby flies lay eggs. The maggots hatch and, if untreated will literally eat the sheep alive. To prevent this farmers employ a practice called mulesing. It involves cutting out chunks of skin from the groin area. No anaesthetic is used.

At the point of shearing the sheep are typically handled roughly. They may be deprived of food and water up to a day before shearing, to make them easier to control. The shearer is paid by volume and not hour. Sheep can be left with bloody wounds which are routinely stitched up without anaesthetic. When sheep are no longer economically viable to maintain, they are transported to slaughter. The Merinos from Australia are shipped to the Middle East without food or water. But this cruelty is not confined to far off distant lands. In the UK it has been reported that 15% of lambs die in infancy. Should they not die, they face tail docking and castration, which often takes place without pain relief if done before sheep reach three months of age – which is routine. This is due to the time needed to administer the injections and the cost of medication. The practices of farming in the UK and elsewhere are necessarily cruel.


There have been suggestions that organic wool is the solution to issues of sustainability. The core issues raised above are still present in all forms of non-human farming. Organic methods are to be championed, but no method is justified when a Being who wants to live, is killed. If small scale farms are able to clothe the world then the issue of methane is back on the table. It has been said it may be possible to reduce the levels of methane produced. This reminds me of the story of NASA producing a pen that could be used in space, whereas their Russian counterparts used a pencil. Though the story is an urban legend it does make one think. The answer is simple. Wool / animals’ bodies generally are unsustainable, so we ought to stop using them –  for the benefit of our children, and their children.

The organic wool green-washing machine allows those who don’t want to know, not to know. Sheep are abused in conventional / ‘humane’ slaughter houses as documented by Animal Aid. Abuse has been reported at facilities linked to progressive  bcorps. Workers on Ovsi 21 farms, who supplied wool for Patagonia, skinned sheep alive. The wool from these farms was sold as sustainable and responsibly sourced. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Patagonia has cut ties with this supplier.


Instead of being complicit in the cruelty of wool, you may wish to make a donation to the Fleece Haven sanctuary in Devon. They rescue sheep from the farming industry and allow them to live out their lives in peace.

 

SLS

If you’re starting to take a keen interest in the ingredients in your most regular purchases, you might have noticed some cosmetics boldly proclaiming to be ‘SLS free’. But what is SLS? Should we be concerned about it?

SLS stands for Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, and may also refer to Sodium Laureth Sulfate (aka SLES) – ‘SLS’ can be used to refer to either; although they aren’t identical chemicals, they’re pretty similar, and their uses and functions are largely the same. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is one of several ingredients found really commonly in all kinds of cosmetics and cleaning products. It can also be used as a powerful pesticide, though producers were denied an application to recognise SLS as an organic pesticide, because of its poor credentials when it comes to pollution and environmental damage.

It has a couple of functions:

  • It makes loads of foam
  • It disperses grease
  • It is a ‘penetration enhancer’, meaning it helps other chemicals find their way onto your skin (and beyond)
suds
Image via Flickr user frankieleon

Its ability to make foam and disperse grease means you *feel* clean, even if it makes no real difference when compared to a less-foamy cleanser. This is especially appealing to budget or low-quality brands which aren’t especially functional. If SLS is present in your creams, it’s probably to make them spread out better. None of this sounds so bad, except for the fact that SLS is a known skin irritant. If you struggle with psoriasis or eczema, or very bad dry skin, for example, SLS will probably make that worse. If your shampoo is making your scalp itch or blister, you might want to check whether SLS is an ingredient. If you’re as cynical as me, you’ll suspect that cosmetic companies know this, and know that they can upsell an intensive moisturiser to soothe all that irritation from your nice foamy face wash! A few well-known beauty journalists have started to advise against foaming face washes and SLS, but many of us still reach for well-known brands when we want to feel ‘clean’, without thinking too much about those unpronounceable ingredients listed on the back. There have been rumours that SLS increases cancer-risk, but these are unsubstantiated by any scientific study, and SLS is classified as a non-carcinogen.

If you’re a regular on the blog, you won’t be surprised to hear that the main reason SLS is so widely used is that it is incredibly cheap to produce. SLS can be derived from palm oil (or coconut oil), so if you’re working to buy palm-oil free products, this is worth bearing in mind.

So, SLS is bad news for our skin, but what about the environment?

SLS is toxic to aquatic species including fish, molluscs, and crustaceans and, as a pesticide, finds itself in waterways and groundwater more often than it should – a 2008 review by the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) “strongly advised not to let the chemical enter into the environment”. It isn’t always picked up by water filtration processes, meaning it works its way into our drinking water too.

How easy is it to go SLS-free?

I have pretty sensitive skin, and my scalp is prone to irritation (and my hair is prone to frizz), so I phased SLS out of my routine about 2 years ago. Initially, the hardest thing to get used to was the lack of suds. I have pretty thick (and very long, until recently) hair, so I had to find a new way of distributing shampoo all over without the foam to help me. I also had a few false starts with products which were great for Lewis, but just didn’t quite work for my longer, finer hair. I’m now pretty settled, so these are my absolute favourites, and regular fixtures on my bathroom shelves.

Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 – great as a body wash although wasn’t great on my hair, and can also be used as a laundry detergent and even washing-up liquid!

Washed Out Soap – such a lovely brand, I love a delivery from Washed Out! Their Barista soap is the ideal thing for waking up in the morning, and has done wonders for my combination skin, as it gently exfoliates and isn’t too harsh on the dry bits.

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One Village Soap – one of our early discoveries, and great for handwashing (though not quite right for hair washing, I found). Gets a pretty good foam up too.

Green People Shampoo & Conditioner – the hair products dreams are made of! I have curly hair that’s prone to frizz, and the Green People range means I now have the shiny manageable hair I always envied on TV adverts. Not cheap, but you only need a tiny amount and it works really well. I tend to go 2 or even 3 days between hair washes, so I haven’t noticed a big difference in cost over time.

Green People have a really big range, and are also my favourite for deodorant. I’ve yet to sample their wares, but Pure Nuff Stuff have a really big range of products which are all SLS free, and free of other nasties too. Both worth a look, especially for those in the UK who are keen to find options which don’t come with hefty shipping from the US!

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Environment: Cotton

The globalised world makes things, on the one hand, more accessible and at the same time  isolates us from one another. The impact of our consumer choices has far reaching consequences. It affects the lives of people all over the world and contributes to climate change. This is true when one buys everyday clothing goods. I wanted to illustrate this with the humble cotton t-shirt.

Cotton is the most widely used fibre in the world. This can be attributed to European colonisation of America. Crop production in the Southern states was the foundation of the American economy. Eli Whitney patented the cotton gin (gin is short for engine) in 1794. This greatly reduced the time it took to separate the cotton boll from the seed. In turn this created an explosion in demand for Black slaves. The US produced 750,000 bales of cotton in 1830, due to the cotton gin this rose to 2.85 million bales in 1850. The English economy equally profited. Textiles were a main export, thanks to technological advancements in the 1760s. The US and English supply chains were unified when the English opted to buy cotton from the South instead of India. The economies of European nations were built by the labour of slaves. Since this time cotton has been an internationally profitable industry which explains its wide use.

cotton aral sea 2
Image courtesy of David Stanley via Flickr

Sadly slave labour is still a feature of the cotton trade today. In Uzbekistan, a major global exporter, the government forces millions of its citizens, including children, to pick the crop or face state oppression. The citizens make little money, if any, for carrying out this labour-intensive work. In contrast  the government and their inner-circle  make US$1 billion in annual profit. The Cotton Campaign seeks to raise global awareness to force governments and institutions to put pressure on the Uzbek government. We too can play a part by raising awareness, and using our purchasing power to buy goods from progressive companies.

Many companies state they do not know where their cotton comes from due to the complexities of the trade. This may be a case of wilful blindness. The US government subsidises its farmers in order to ‘dump’ their cotton crop on the global market, below cost-price. Farmers in developing nations are undercut and locked into the cycle of poverty. It falls upon NGOs and informed consumers campaigning to call out the practices of large companies. Driven by the scale of global cotton production, questions have been asked of the environmental impact it has. Cotton accounts for 2.5% of the worlds farm land and uses 16% of global pesticides – more than any other crop.

The process of producing a cotton t-shirt is resource intensive, requiring  2700 litres of water to make just one t-shirt. With 73% of global cotton farming requiring irrigation, the impact upon communities and the surrounding area can be disastrous. The Aral Sea is a well known example. Overuse of the rivers leading into the lake led to it dramatically reducing in size. The use of pesticides on the farmland lead to run off, which sees pesticides enter the surrounding rivers. This leads to  the loss of species and the contamination of fresh waterways.

cotton aral sea
Aral Sea 1989 – 2008 Image courtesy of UN Development Programme via Flickr

Conventionally grown cotton is an intensive business. In order to maximise yield, and thus profit, insecticides are used. It is said that seven out of the 15 most carcinogenic chemicals in the world are used in cotton farming. Defoliants are used to force leaves to fall from crops to speed up the harvesting process. The Americans used Agent Orange, a defoliant, in  the invasion of Vietnam to remove forest cover. These substances enter the soil, waterways and vegetation generally. The impact, as is too often the case, falls disproportionately on poorer people in developing countries. The use of chemicals is not limited to the field. In the finishing process; formaldehyde, sulphuric acid and caustic acid are used. It is worrying that harmful chemicals are used on this massive scale and that this practice isn’t routinely known. There is, at least, a better alternative to this method of farming that seeks to address these concerns.

‘organic methods save 95,000 Olympic size swimming pools of water against conventional farming’

Organic cotton farming is growing in popularity as people learn about conventional methods. In terms of environmental impact the facts are staggering. As the Soil Association state, organic methods save 95,000 Olympic size swimming pools of water against conventional farming. Due to the levels of insecticides and pesticides used, it takes a conventional farm three years to transform to meet organic standards. Organic methods reject multinational GMO seed creation. Farmers, and not business people, are at the heart of the production stage. As a result the farmers, their communities and the environment are not exposed to carcinogenic material. Organic cotton is 98% less pollutant than conventional cotton. In order to ensure the fertility of the soil, farmers plant  a variety of crops. This biodiversity improves the quality of the cotton and diversifies the income farmers are able to generate. Less water is used, which safeguards all of our futures. Organic cotton farming is able to use less water as the soil is better able to retain water, thus irrigation is not required.

To ensure the goods you purchase are organic certified look for the GOTS and Soil Association labels. It may be claimed that organic cotton is more expensive than conventional / cruel cotton. However, this is due to the practices inherent in fast fashion. The low prices, much like chemicals used, are artificially manufactured. It is abhorrent that farmers / communities are forced to endure life on the bread line so that I may have a cheap t-shirt. When one factors in the environmental destruction caused by conventional  cotton we are all paying a high price for those low costing goods. The answer is to change our relentless consumption. Buy less and Be more.

There are a number of companies who adhere to the organic cotton ethos (not all companies are vegan);

The White Shirt Co.

People Tree

Braintree

Beaumont Organic

You can also find a list of companies who support organic cotton on the Cotton On and About Organic Cotton websites. NB Not all of the companies featured are vegan.

Below is a short documentary about how a t-shirt is made and the people who make them.