Friday, May 23, 2008

Bon Voyage to "Junk"

On June 1st, Dr. Marcus Eriksen and Joel Paschal from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation set sail from Long Beach to Hawaii on Junk, a raft they built on 15,000 plastic bottles. Why? To alert the world to the growing problem of plastic fouling our oceans. If you don't know about the Pacific Ocean Garbage patch, please get to know this gnarly floating plastic island TWICE the size of Texas. Yes, Texas! For the last 50-odd years, every piece of plastic that has made it from our shores to the Pacific Ocean has been breaking down and accumulating in the great Pacific Garbage Patch (more of a continent than a patch).

It's a huge problem and shameful how much of our plastic has been dumped and swept out into our seas. Unlike naturally occurring compounds, plastic in the ocean does not photo-degrade, it simply breaks up into ever-smaller pieces and lingers in the environment as an invisible toxic dust. Sea turtles and birds are ingesting it and even worse--tiny fragments of plastic act as sponges for persistent organic pollutants such as DDT and PCB’s, oily toxins that don’t dissolve in water. Plastic pellets in the POGP region have been found to accumulate up to one million times the level of these poisons – and they are entering the food chain from the filter feeders up. One day it is we who will be ingesting these toxins (sushi is sounding pretty good right now, huh?).

The only immediate solution is to drastically cut down on our use of plastic - NOW - plastic shopping bags and bottled water must be phased out as soon as possible. Of the 15 billion pounds of plastic the US produces each year just 1 billion is recycled. [Greenpeace] Recycling is only part of the puzzle as many complex products like cell phones and computers have so many different plastic components that sorting out the various types has been prohibitively expensive. Since the 1950’s plastic usage has increased tenfold every decade so that in 2001 the average American used 223 pounds of plastic. By the end of the decade it is estimated that our average yearly use will be 326 pounds. [Los Angeles Times] Every hour Americans use and discard 2.5 million plastic bottles, totaling 22 billion a year.

This is going to take a yeoman's effort to dismantle our global plastic addiction (and let's not forget about our friend and gateway drug OIL), so start your own personal plastic elimination commitment by coming to wish the crew of Junk a safe and media crazed "bon voyage" on Sunday June 1st, from 2:00-3:00 at the Long Beach Aquarium. Wave them well on their monumental 6-week journey, and take a stand to help solve the plastic plague.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

NAU you see it...

Sad news about the demise of NAU, a sustainable fashion/outdoor clothing company who recently announced its intent to close. Just 14 months after launching, the Portland based retailer claims a "combination of less than ideal market conditions and lack of venture funding."

I was one of it's many fans who loved their sleek designs with great attention to detail (including no logo), performance and sustainable textile use. I was actually excited to venture to their new Beverly Center (my first trip there in 2 years, mind you!) store to attend the grand opening and witness the green ethic extended into its store interiors which featured displays made from reclaimed wood and dressing rooms with curtains made from recycled material. I somehow missed the cancellation email and the store manager told me that they had called an emergency meeting at their headquarters. The next day, they're done. What happened? Good question. First year's sales expectations were exceeded and plans for four other locations in San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, and a second Portland store were in the works and Nau planned to open 140 stores by 2010. Previews of the Fall '08 collection were set to be released, as well.

My guess is that they may have jumped to expand too quickly into to many retail outlets. I've learned that it took $35 million of capital to get through its first year of sales. In the midst of a scary economy especially for retail, they struggled to find new investors and were forced to cut back its planned number of store openings this year from 20 to 5. The Beverly Center location couldn't have been cheap although they did have an inspired model of keeping inventory in stores at a minimum, offering 10% discounts to customers who had their purchases shipped to them. That fit Nau's concept for a smaller, lower-cost store footprint albeit a risky one due to the emotional nature of purchasing apparel. In a mall-setting and an instant gratification culture, that's a tough ask. Though the apparel was extremely well conceived, it wasn't cheap as a pair of jeans cost $138.

Regardless, they are to be applauded for their pioneering efforts including offices and stores built to LEED Gold standard and 5% of purchases given to non-profit organizations. In less than a year Nau was able to donate $223,000 through its customer-directed giving program, they tagged "Partners for Change." Their fierce loyalty (myself included) and a mantra of 'unfuck the world', will be sorely missed. A now haunting elegy to the company can be found as part of Sundance Channel's 'Big Ideas For A Small Planet' series with a great segment on the idealogy of the upstart company.

What's left to be appreciated is their pioneering spirit as eco-fashion and sustainability march forward in the messy process called evolution. Here's some of the amazing standards Nau put upon themselves that will undoubtedly inspire others to follow:

• Apparel that adhered to the credo of ‘Beauty, Performance and Sustainability’
• Multipurpose apparel equally suited to weekend in the hills or a night on the town
• No external logos or branding on apparel
• Impressive tailored designs and construction detailing
• No paper catalogues
• LEED Gold standard offices and retail shops
• Purchase of Forest Stewardship Council certified timber for fittings
• Third Party verification of workers rights and conditions through Verite
• Restricted Substance List of materials not to be used in products
• Over 30 custom designed fabrics, using only recycled polyester, certified organic cotton, PLA corn, lambswool or merino wool
• Purchase of equivalent yield conventional corn to offset any GMO corn that might be in their PLA
• Use of high grade componentry like RiRi zips and Prym fasteners
• 5% of purchase price donated to customer-directed not-for-profit organisations
• Webfront retail stores promoting direct-from-warehouse-to-customer shipping
• Recycled content flat pack shipping bags, instead of space wasting boxes
• Carbon offsets for shipping and corporate travel
• Renewable energy certificates (wind and solar) for office and shops
• Acting as an agent for change through their blog
• Sponorship of environmentally and socially oriented online videos.
• Customer prizes and Flickr postings for photos of the clothing in action.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

When pigs fly

Another trip to the desert to dive into the pioneering U.S. music festival Coachella. I've heard a lot of complaining about the event over the years, but I'm grateful that we Angeleno's can make an easy two-hour trek to one of the best festivals in the world. I had never experienced such a diversity of acts in one place before my first journey out there in 1999. There's something magical about the desert land site that translates to 'the city of eternal sunshine.' The history of the event stems from a 1993 Tool and Pearl Jam show that summoned 25,000 fans to this first time concert venue location. Radical thinking has been part of the mystique from the get-go as that show was forged to boycott Ticketmaster's monopoly on all Southern California auditoriums.

Six years later, the inaugural '99 Coachella was one of the greatest musical experiences that I've ever had. Gil-Scott Heron, Detroit electronic music legends Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Carl Craig, Beck (touring my favorite album Mutations), Ben Harper, Roni Size, Spiritualized, The Chemical Brothers, Morrissey, Nightmares on Wax, Underworld and Banco De Gaia to name a few that blew my mind. I'll never forget coming out of the dance tents and onto a sun drenched 100 degree polo field and feeling almost chilly. Coming from NYC where upstate a disasterous Woodstock a few months earlier featured rapes, fires and $4 bottled water, Coachella was evolutionary with two peaceful days, 25,000 people in attendance, few arrests and free water.

Fast forward to 2008 where one day suits me well as the crowds have grown large and my full speed stamina capacity maxes out at ten hours straight. I would've loved to have seen Prince and Portishead on Saturday, but made the call to witness 64 year old legend Roger Waters embed 'Dark Side of the Moon' into a glorious set. I've read a lot of bitching in the media about his 'bloated' 2+ hour performance, but I say bullocks. Yes, he's been touring the "Dark Side" theme for years, but to see the cohesion and the mastery in the desert was truly remarkable. I guarantee you that kids who wouldn't have otherwise ever checked out this show will never forget it. The surround-sound was the best I've ever heard in an outdoor venue. It was a full-on multi-media experience with great storytelling, incredible visuals, floating inflatable astronauts, pyrotechnics and the infamous flying pig (who got away, had a $10k reward for his return and was returned shredded by the prickly desert). Waters’ night ended with songs from The Wall, with fiery virtuosic soloing by violinist (and sultry Angeleno) Lili Haydn taking over Gilmour’s original leads on “Comfortably Numb.”

Kudo's to Goldenvoice for spending the cash to make Waters performance one of the most memorable ones in it's storied history. Coachella has always been a place of inspiration rekindling old flames like The Pixies, Iggy and the Stoges, Janes Addiction, Rage against the Machine, Siouxie and the Banshees, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Bauhaus and one of my fave acts this year Love and Rockets. It's also been a place where radical art is showcased to people who make the journey here from all over the world (who ain't ever going to make the more complicated trip to Burning Man) by amongst others, the Do Lab, Lucent Dossier and Michael Christian.

They've also improved their recycling program a ton since the early years where the field was literally a wasteland of plastic bottles. Teaming up with with Global Inheritance and The Energy Factor to implement various environmental initiatives has been smart, but there is definitely room to improve to catch up with the green initiatives of Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits. Best of all though, the festival offered free Amtrak train service to and from LA to on-site campers.
Ahhh, to be 23 again, cruising in the Amtrak bar car and partying for three days in 100 degree heat in the reverential musical pinball machine in the desert. When pigs fly...