Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Welcome to the first Unchained Podcast

Oooh look at us getting all multimedia! First Lea posts a video of her being interviewed together with Rob from Qype and now I post our first podcast. You can listen to it right here using the player above. Or if you've got an iPod (or anything that plays enhanced MP4s) you can get the fancier version with pictures and stuff here.

So let me tell you a bit about the audio extravaganza we have for you. On Saturday I headed off to Crystal Palace with my daughter to go to a ‘love our shops’ day that had been organised by Annette from Vintage Hart. The day was absolutely fantastic with a lovely atmosphere and lots of activity. So, with the help of my eight year old sound engineer, I strolled around the area talking to shopowners and punters to see what they thought of it. And you can hear some of these amazing people on the podcast.

Here's a quick name check for the shopowners kind enough to talk to us:
Liz at Smash Bang Wallop
Jonathan at The Bookseller Crow on the Hill
Colin at Planta Health Foods
Annette at Vintage Hart
Andy at Bambinos

We're planning to do some more podcasts in the next few weeks. So please tell us what you think of this one and tell us if there's anything you think we should be featuring.

2gether08 here we come

Supporting small, local and excellent from David Wilcox on Vimeo.

Monday, 16 June 2008

I am really, really sorry (that we got caught)

The Guardian today reported that Primark has dumped its unethical suppliers in Asia. The clothing retailer said it "felt very let down" by the discovery that the clothing were sub-contracting embroidery work on dresses to child home workers.

You can read the full story here.

Now I hate to bring my cynicism our to play, but hey, we are talking child labour, £1 t-shirts and some of the gravest wrongs of this capitalist century. So, on that note, here goes:

Perhaps most interesting of all is the fact that the suppliers had been audited by the chain three times in the past year and half - clearly their audits aren't as thorough as the BBC's journalism. With these ills uncovered in such a public way, I guess Primark felt their usual way of dealing with such issues (i.e. "working with manufacturers to fix practices they don't like") would be a little inappropriate. Hear, hear.

Remember being a kid and doing something you'd been warned not to do? And then being caught red handed? Were you really sorry, or just sorry you were caught?

What do you think? And what of the other High St mammoths who - according to the article - are buying the same stuff and charging way more? Comments dear readers, send me your comments.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Thank you Qype and Tsuru

Our lovely friends at Qype invited us for a night of sushi and sake tasting on Wednesday night. Qype are great at taking all their site's virtual good vibes into the real world. Dave and I were chuffed to be part of it all and in such good company with Annie Mole, Mex, Chris & Hazel from Londonist, Niamh, Tim and of course, Rob and Sabrina from Qype.

Our destination was a little corner of Southwark, tucked behind the Tate. We arrived and found ourselves in a new development of offices and retail units. Now (if you allow me to jump on my soap box for just a moment), if there's one thing we hate at Unchained it's the property developers who think housing decent independent places in their granite, steel and glass creations is too risky. Bah to them. It seems that every new place being developed in this city brings with it a newfangled cocktail of homogenised dullness.

So imagine my relief when we found Tsuru nestled in amongst it all. For anyone thinking Japanese food consists of sushi and soba think again. Our hosts Tsuru restaurant with Akashi-Tai Sake Brewery created an evening of Japanese joy that would make the hardest amongst you melt. We enjoyed a 5 course feast with sake pairing. Take a look at the menu (with the paired sake in brackets):

Eadamame and cocktails (Kappa Saketini)
Carpaccio of Seabass (Daiginjo)
Roasted Aubergine (Honjozo)
Free-range chicken yakitori (Genmai Aged Sake)
Sushi platter (Honjozo Genshu)

Learning about sake was really interesting. My favourite story of the night is that of the Genmai Aged Sake. Apparently their first attempt at creating the sake wasn't very good. In fact, they completely forgot about their creation for a couple of years - allowing it to age in its cask. When they tasted their aged brew they realised they were on to a winner. I have to agree, it is definitely one of my new tipples of choice. If you'd like to sample some of this good stuff, visit drinkshop.com

To read the reviews on Qype click here.

Big love to Qype for the invite.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Heritage vs. Hangover. You tell me.

I love Savile Row.

The poise and innate elegance of the street. The unconscious pomposity of it. The refined, understated, good taste that reeks of equally good breeding. The very British-ness of it. I love, love, love Savile Row. And if I was a man -forgetting for a moment that I'd probably be a casually dressed man, just as I am a casually dressed woman - I would invest in Harris Tweed, made-to-measure, bespoke suits that flatter and flaunt like no other.

Savile Row has a heritage that spans hundreds of years, a privilege customer base, an infamous name, a desirable brand and more. Why then, dear reader, do you think they'd give two hoots that Abercrombie & Fitch were to become their neighbour?

Surely the jeans and T-shirt brigade were no threat to the quality craftsmen who have inhabited the row for centuries? Alas, 'tis not the case.

You see, independent tailors on Savile Row face the same issues all the other independent stores in London face. On a cultural level, there is a danger of lost heritage. A danger that Savile Row may be the next Fleet Street or Spitalfields, homogenised by big, multi-national business (as pointed out in the show). But also, on a more fundamental, tangible level, there is a direct correlation between big business moving in and rent moving up. And when you're in the business of luxury materials, hand-made to suit every single customer, profit margins are nothing like the massive American chain that now sits at the top of their road.

So I watched the show last night, gripped and passionate about all the wrongs in the world and prophesising about who should and shouldn't be given planning permission. When suddenly, I began to feel huge amounts of utter annoyance at the tailors.

Instead of being incredibly proud of their heritage and doing everything they can to keep Savile Row alive and relevant for new generations of British men, I found these men to be stuck in the rut of their own legacy, too proud to move with the times. One tailor boasted, "we employed a salesperson once... to keep people out of the shop".

"We never advertise", said another, as the horror music played and the camera panned the A&F billboards of naked young things. While another tailor never advertised in the UK, but was happy to exploit Savile Row's good name during visits to NYC to meet customers he'd attracted through advertising over there.

Here's the thing, if you're a tailor on Savile Row, it is your priveledge and responsibility to keep this most noble tradition alive. Patrick Grant of Norton and Sons seemed to have a more business-savvy approach to his A&F neighbours. Not only does he create bespoke pieces for the owner of the company, but he understood that all the kids shopping for jeans and t-shirts today may one day be in the market for his superior product. I had the pleasure of meeting Mister Grant a couple of months ago and knowing a bit about his story, I'm not surprised he's seeing the opportunity in the A&F arrival.

Savile Row is lucky. The street is already famed as the best place in the whole, wide world for a bespoke suit. I suspect though, that people know it as the place old, stuffy guys go to get suits made. Savile Row, the brand, needs to be re-positioned as the status item of this new century - though not through advertising (because that really wouldn't be right). The truly independent Savile Row tailors should come together and work to uniquely capitalise on all movements towards sustainable, responsible, luxurious products. But I guess, in order to do any of that they'd need to figure out which parts of their amazing legacy is heritage, and which is just hangover.

I'd love to know what you think. Did you see the show? Am I giving the tailors too much of a hard time? Should they keep schtum about themselves and only allow those who know, to know?

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Crystal Palace - feeling the love

Everyone I meet these days - or so it seems - raves about SE19.

They tell stories of what great community spirit is, about how they've avoided gentrification and of course, they all talk about the dinosaurs.

Needless to say when Annette at Vintagehart offered to give me a guided tour of Crystal Palace's much-famed 'traingle' I was delighted. Finally, I got to see what all the fuss was about.

Having been on my tour and chatted to Annette about the joys of SE19, I'm pleased to say that I get it.

There's nothing obvious about Crystal Palace. It's not an obvious shopping destination (though it should be) and the shops themselves don't present themselves in an obvious way. The atmosphere is unique to the area and created by the residents and shopkeepers who all seem pleased to see each other.

There is a high concentration of lovely, unique independent shops, run by people like Annette who love what they sell and the people they sell to. The shops are great, funky and very stylish, and they're also very real and incredibly affordable (scarlily so when compared with what one might pay for the same products on Upper Street or Brick Lane).

It's no wonder designers, photographers, fashionistas and young families are all moving there. The only unfortunate by-product of its well earned popularity is the density of estate agents on the triangle. With their glossy sign-writing, carefully choreographed window-displays and faux charm, they're nothing at all like the wonderful shops they're lucky to be surrounded by.

As a real testament to the community spirit in Crystal Palace, the shopkeepers have arranged a day of all the best the area has to offer and more. I can't make it unfortunately, but Dave and Pedro will be there - be sure to say hello if you see them.

Of course, Annette's shop Vintagehart is now listed on the guide, as is Bookseller Crow on the Hill with Glitter and Twisted (a fab vintage home accessories store) to follow soon. Let me know which shops you love in Crystal Palace, I'd love to give them all the chance to shine.

Cavass your MP

Ahh democracy, the much-discussed, rarely exercised political utopia of the modern world.

Democracy often translates into electing someone into power who then decides things on your behalf. I think very few of us continue to use our rights as citizens in a democratic land to influence the decision making process on the other side of our vote.

The next installation of the story that started in Westminster last Monday is here and it's very democratic. Exactly one week after our Black Swan Event, our site went live and the canvassing commenced. Turning around strategy, website, admin, design and various other things in 7 days is no mean feat. It has taken buckets of effort and hard work from a passionate group of people.

Over the weekend, no fewer than a dozen emails were sent between the group as the team at Make Hay worked their faces off to get the site up and running and the rest of us collated all the info needed to allow people to:

1. Find their local MP
2. Find out how to get in touch and when the next surgery is
3. Report back on whether their MP was going yay or nay

The result is brilliant. A testament to democracy, environmentalism and citizenship.

I encourgae you to pay your local MP a visit, exercise your right to be fairly represented by them. If you need reasons for why we need an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 visit WWF who have also been campaigning for the amendment.

If you want to hear more about the story and get other points of view, be sure to visit my fellow bloggers' sites:

Beth Eats Local
People Against Dirty

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Black Swan Event in Westminster?

A former colleague of mine, David Zolkwer, shared the theory of Black Swan Events with me a few weeks ago. For those of you who aren't lucky enough to have worked with such brilliant people as Mister Zolkwer, and therefore have no idea what a Black Swan Event is, here's are the three characteristics that define it:

1. It is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility.
2. It carries an extreme impact.
3. In spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.
[Taken from the New York Times]

The notion of it is incredibly fascinating. I find the third characteristic especially intriguing. In fact, it's made me question things in life that seem to have an obvious cause - could the cause actually be a Black Swan?

All of this thinking accompanied me to Westminster on Monday night.

A group of bloggers (you can see the lovely group in the picture - links to blogs at the bottom of this post) were invited to join an MP to discuss the vote on CO2 emissions taking place later this year. The vote will decide whether to replace the 60% targetted cut in CO2 emissions by 2050 with a tougher 80% target, which is supported by environmental groups and leading scientists.

There are umpteen reasons for MPs to vote for this tougher target. But according to our host, Steve Webb, these reasons are not enough. In fact, he told us that apart from those who were going to vote against the amendement, there were others who are still unsure of how to vote and there are a few who wouldn't vote at all. Together, we worked on how best to target MPs by using the one thing that really influences them (i.e. their voting block) to make them do the right thing.

We haven't reached a final conclusion yet (and I will continue to post updates as we solidify our thinking) but we know that it will include some of the things that we were surprised to learn. Like the fact that anyone can make an appointment to see their local MPs. And how voting on things like this really works: which is more about fitting in than standing out for those MPs trying to climb the "bureaucratic ladder".

Of course, I was delighted to be involved in such a democratic conversation and would like to thank Steve Webb and Mark Hanson for making it all happen.

As I left I couldn't help but think we could have all just attended a Black Swan Event. You see, if we do work together - and what we do actually works - 2050 will be a very different world to the one we're aiming for at the moment.

And I guess, in 2050 people might talk about the bill and remember how people 'voted to do the right thing', when in fact a large part of what happened started when a group of citizens/bloggers got together in Westminster to talk about how they could influence the vote of the people who represent them.

Here's the list of fellow bloggers - do pay them a visit:

John Grant
Chris Anderson
Beth Tilston www.betheatslocal.org
Tom Fishburne www.peopleagainstdirty.typepad.com
Judit Jakab
Dave Birss
Asi Sharabi www.greenguysglobal.com
Leonora Oppenheim