Postscript & Polyurethane.

In the last few weeks of 2011, I wrote a post entitled a tale of a pretty green dress in which I describe my experience of buying a dress from the  Wellington clothing store Goodness. I’d bought the dress primarily to wear to a wedding and everything went according to plan (i.e. I enjoyed wearing it) until while searching for the washing instructions, I discovered a little white label which simply said ‘Made in China’. Unable to find any further information, I promised myself – and any of you who read the original post – that I’d go back and speak with the gals at Goodness. I did. However Christmas, time away from the computer and the beginning of a busy year have intervened and it’s taken me a while to provide you with a postscript.

The owners of Goodness, Justine and Chris, were helpful and generous with information. The green dress was apparently made in a very small factory in China and both women have visited the factory several times. In Chris’ words “all of our clothes are manufactured in very short runs by a small family business, owned and run by two of the loveliest women you could hope to meet.  They are sisters”.

In response to my query as to where the fabric came from, the response was “We buy our fabrics from a couple of  local markets in Shezhen China.  The store owners are all small family businesses also.  I’m sorry I’m not able to tell you exactly (because we dont know) where the materials are manufactured or whether they are certified only that we are very careful to support the local people and their families“.

Knowing more about of the dress does undoubtedly alters my experience of wearing it. My perception of the little white label simply saying ‘Made in China’ shifts with awareness that ‘two of the loveliest women you could hope to meet’ own and run the factory in which it was made. I still have questions (yes, concerns) about where the factory was made and how, the process and the people. But it certainly makes a difference knowing that the designers choose their suppliers with care.


Still on the subject of ‘looking at the label’, last week I walked into work in my gym gear forgetting to take the appropriate bra for the dress I had to change into. The sports bra wasn’t an option and so I had to make a quick bra purchase. I wore the Berlei bra happily for the rest of the day but  – and you may have some sense of where this is going if you’ve read the original post on the pretty green dress that night I looked at the label on the inside of the garment and the first thing I read was ‘nylon polyester elastene with polyurethane padding’.


A quick google search confirmed my initial thoughts on polyurethane, ‘a synthetic resin in which the polymer units are linked by urethane groups, used chiefly in paints and varnishes’. Not something, I have to say, which would leap to mind if asked to list the materials used to make a bra.

However, it turns out that polyurethane, in a number of forms, including foam, is used in a very large number of consumer products. And a couple of hours of online research turned up the following information on the website of O Ecotextiles, a Seattle based company created by two women who wanted to ‘to change the way textiles are made by proving that it’s possible to produce luxurious, sensuous fabrics in ways that are non-toxic, ethical and sustainable’. This is from their page addressing foam for upholstery cushions:

“Polyurethane foam is a by-product of the same process used to make petroleum from crude oil. It involves two main ingredients: polyols and diisocyanates:

  • A polyol is a substance created through a chemical reaction using methyloxirane(also called propylene oxide).
  • Toluene diisocyanate (TDI) is the most common isocyanate employed in polyurethane manufacturing, and is considered the ‘workhorse’ of flexible foam production.
    • Both methyloxirane and TDI have been formally identified as carcinogens by the State of California
    • Both are on the List of Toxic Substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
    • Propylene oxide and TDI are also among 216 chemicals that have been proven to cause mammary tumors. However, none of these chemicals have ever been regulated for their potential to induce breast cancer.


Let me be very clear, I’m not a scientist, let alone a chemist. I have, as I’ve said, simply spent a few hours researching online but frankly I’ve read enough to lead me to say that I’d prefer not to wear a product made from polyurethane next to sensitive tissue.

Where to from here?

Three things. Firstly, I’ll keep abreast of the issue. Sorry, couldn’t resist. But I will. A class action was launched a couple of years ago in the U.S. against Victoria’s Secrets with respect to their use of polyurethane padding in bras and I’ll be interested to see where that goes. Secondly, because of my two recent experiences of being surprised by the label I will endeavour to consider my consumer decisions a little more carefully and even when moving at speed, pause and check the ‘ingredients’. Finally, I’d really like to hear about any enlightening consumer experiences you’ve had!

Connect our dots, create a campfire, find our way.

Once upon a time, but not all that long ago, we used to find our way by connecting dots…

It has taken me many years to understand that what I love to do and what I’m good at, is connecting dots. It’s taken me even longer to say that out loud…’Hello, my name is Tink Stephenson and I’m a dot connector’.

Why do I find it so hard to say? Because while I’m in my element connecting and instinctively feel that it is worthwhile, I’ve struggled to see, let alone articulate, the value. Largely because that value lies in the space between two or more dots. In creating something where before there was simply potential. Also, because quite frankly it’s hard to quantify in monetary terms. When the action lies in the realm of potential and connections of future value, it’s really hard to know how to put a price on that…But in the last few weeks, the foundation for valuing my dot connecting has begun to take shape and the catalyst has been the word navigator.

Two weeks ago I went to the Carter Observatory to hear Paul Curnow, a lecturer at the Adelaide Planetarium, talk about Aboriginal night sky knowledge and indigenous navigation. Then later that week, during a conversation about ‘super powers’ I described mine to a wise and smart friend Nick Potter as the the ability to gather a whole lot of ingredients, pull back in order to have a panoramic view of them all, connect the dots and then then zoom in to synthesise. Or something to that affect. Nick’s response was “Maybe you could describe that as “navigator” – super powers – an ability to see the constellations and draw connections among different points of light, create an image or story that connects them and use those images to guide the way”.

I believe you can tell when people are in their element or in touch with their own super power, because they light up, their eyes shine brightly. What gets me positively fizzing with excitement is watching other people light up and then connecting their spark to another and another and so on… Magic lies in connecting people whose spark has been lit. Create a campfire, connect people whose eyes are shining and there is potential for something alchemical.

So to last week and another talk at the Carter Observatory. This one with Dr Julie Teetsov who talked about the history of Western Navigation and her own experiences of celestial navigation as she and her husband sailed from the United States to New Zealand. Early on in her talk Julie mentioned ‘connecting the dots as a way of navigating‘ and I sat up straighter. She went on to talk about the certainty of stars and their capacity to, in some way, allow us to connect with our inner selves. How in these days of sophisticated GPS systems, we may not need the stars to get from a to b, but we still need them. My spine tingled.

In my last post, I referred to Carl Sagan’s comment ”we are all star stuff” by which he meant that nearly every atom inside our bodies was once inside a star. In previous posts, I’ve talked about this point in history as a convergence of crises and a time of massive global transition which will require us all to work together and connect to our selves, each other and nature.

Here’s the thing. You’re all stars. You truly are. Not only are you made of star stuff, but each of you has an element, something that you’re naturally good at, something you love doing and being, something that makes you radiant.  And yet you shine even more brightly in relationship to other stars. When you’re connected to other dots and when you share your story. The power, the potential, so much possibility, lies not just in who we are individually but who we are collectively. The stories our constellations tell.

In learning about ancient ways of navigating, yes, I’m connecting more of my own dots and beginning to seeing its value. Which is good. But what feels great, is this dawning realisation that we really do still need stars to find our way from a to b. If we are to find our way to a brighter, collaborative, infinitely more sustainable future, now more than ever before, we need to connect dots. Your dots. And the potential in that is is making this little star shine very brightly indeed.