Environmental showdown: Natural vs. Synthetic

Line up of mens shoes in a shoe shop.
Who will win…

We all want to do our best for the environment, but when it comes to choosing new shoes and clothes, should you go for leather or faux leather, cotton or polyester, wool or acrylic?

The environmental choice is not always obvious. Natural materials sometimes require large quantities of chemical fertiliser, place huge demands on water resources, and their processing can cause pollution. But synthetics don’t necessarily biodegrade, and can use a lot of energy during production. And then there’s the shipping…

We don’t pretend we can speak for all fibres produced in all countries, but here is a guide that will at least explore some of the things to think about when buying new clobber.

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Pull your trousers up!

Sagging trouser trend
Image source: The Liberty Beat
Look away!

Known as ‘sagging’, it’s been banned in some places, rock stars have been thrown off flights because of it, and even Barack Obama has had his say on the issue!

To many of us, it’s a mens trouser fashion disaster, to some it’s downright offensive, but why do they do it, and why hasn’t this fad ‘bottomed’ out by now?

Here we take a look at the saggy trouser brigade – and their penchant for pulling their pants down.

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No socks for summer

Bare feet
Image source: Pressmaster
Sockless style

Tempted to go sockless this summer? Go for it!

Where men’s shoes are concerned, the bare ankle is one of the coolest fashion trends around.

But as with all crazes, there’s a way to go about ditching your socks; not all shoes look good without them, and when it comes to turning up your turn ups, how many turns is the right number? And then of course,  as well as looking the part, you’ll want to smell the part too!

Here’s our guide to a hosiery-free summer…

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Go go gadget trousers and other wearable tech

Wearable tech
Image source: Family First Life
Combine the two!

Integrating cutting edge technology into clothes and jewellery sounds like the work of top secret boffin ‘Q’ of James Bond fame. But today, technology has never been more wearable.

Here we’ve scoured the Internet for some of most innovative products coming, or about to come to the market.

They don’t explode, burn their way through steel doors or in any other way, help secret agents foil the plots of dastardly megalomaniacs – but they will keep you entertained, and connected in ways never before possible…

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The pros and cons of green energy

Green forest
Image source: Oleg Kalina
What do you think of green energy?

Are you plugged into green energy or do you think environmentally friendly power is a costly gimmick?

Do you think wind turbines are an elegant addition to the countryside or a blot on the landscape? Are solar panels a sign of positive change or a way to make your roof look ugly?

Here we take a look at some of the most popular forms of green energy, and ask – is all it’s cracked up to be?

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How to keep your house clean without housework

How to keep the house spick and span without housework?

It’s the challenge that’s kept inventors tinkering since the dawn of time – and it’s the holy grail of time pressed families everywhere. So just how close are we to achieving the unachievable?

How soon will it be before we can finally relax in the knowledge that dust and dirt have been conquered? Lets take a look at some of the latest ideas and technologies bringing the housework free home just that little bit closer.

Dirt repelling bathrooms

Modern bathroom
Nanotechnology uses liquid glass to repel water and dirt.

We all know that running a dehumidifier, together with adequate heating and good ventilation can help stop your bathroom turning into a mouldy mess. But now you can finally dispense with detergents, bleach and elbow grease – the self cleaning bathroom is here!

Nanotechnology is a modern day industrial revolution. Engineering at the microscopic level, it’s enabled scientists to create intelligent coatings that when applied to a bath, toilet or wash hand basin, allows it to clean itself. The microscopically thin layer of ‘liquid glass’ is super hydrophobic – it repels water and soiling in any form – no matter how long he’s been digging the garden!

Robot floor cleaners

You’ve bought the man in your life a pair of men’s slippers, but still he tramps a tide of filth into the house. If you’re fed up with cleaning up after him, fear not – get a robot to do for you!

Floor vacuuming robots have been around for a while, but now they’re super intelligent. Not only are they programmed to clean every inch of carpet or hard floor, they also have side brushes that dust along walls. Cliff sensors ensure your floor slave doesn’t drive itself down the stairs by mistake, and because of their low profile, they can even do under beds, chairs and tables. Oh and you can also program your robotic vacuum cleaner to clean when you’re out – and don’t worry, if they run out of power, they simply drive themselves back to the charging point.

Stain resistant walls

Cleaning tiles
Image source: Naumoid
High tech tiles could mean no more scrubbing.

Cooking residue, nicotine stains, dirt and odours – just the things household detergents are designed to tackle. But what if you didn’t need them any more? What if you could simply wipe your walls with mild soapy water, leaving them perfectly clean?

New self cleaning ceramic tiles may be just what you’re looking for. Unlike standard ceramics, these high tech tiles have an ultra thin coating of a material that attracts water. Combined with sunlight, the humidity from the air condenses on the surface, preventing dirt from drying and staining. No more scrubbing!

Streak free windows

Window cleaning
Image source: Flynt
Forget chamois and squeegees forever!

Are you tired of buckets and chamois and those annoying smears squeegees leave behind? Or perhaps you’re petrified when your partner climbs ladders to clean the windows? The solution used to be to pay a window cleaner to keep the glass sparkling. But now thanks to new technology, you can buy windows that literally clean themselves.

It all comes down to the active ingredient, titanium dioxide. It’s the ingredient that makes freshly applied white paint dazzle, but when applied to glass in an ultra thin layer, it’s invisible to the naked eye. The coating reacts to sunlight causing chemical reactions that break down dirt particles. And when it rains, because the titanium dioxide attracts water the raindrops spread evenly over the surface, washing all the dirt away without leaving unsightly streaks. Magic!

You don’t even have to cook…

3D Pizza
Image source: Natural Machines
Would you eat a 3D pizza?

Your bathroom, wall, floors and windows are squeaky clean, and all without you having to do anything. But surely there’s no way around some chores? Surely somebody has to cook the dinner? Not necessarily…

You’ve heard of 3D printing – the new technology that’s revolutionising industrial production processes? Well now, it’s coming to your kitchen where you’ll be able to print your meals!

The Foodini is due to be launched very soon. Connected to the internet, you tell it what you want for tea – it tells you which ingredients with which to fuel it. Simply press ‘go’ and let the machine do the rest. It’ll make anything from intricately detailed chocolate creations to printed pizzas. Precision engineering for food!

Living shoes: the future has sole

Imagine the perfect shoe. It conforms to every ridge and contour of your foot. No blisters, no soreness, no pressure points; light, flexible footwear that breathes.

These perfect shoes mend themselves, adapt to the terrain and offer dynamic, real time support for every part of your foot.

Science fiction? The new science of ‘protocells’, and cutting edge design, mean the footwear of the future are just a step away.

Leap forward

The amoeba surface adapting trainer
The amoeba surface adapting trainer
Source: This is alive

Take some scientists, some of the most cutting edge designers in the world, and what emerges is a shoe unlike any seen before. Enter the Amoeba Surface Adapting Trainer.

3D printed biotechnology creates a shoe fashioned from ‘protocells’. A second skin for your foot made of semi-living material; cells that divide and multiply to repair themselves, adding support where needed.

And when you get home, instead of kicking your shoes off inside the front door – you feed them by placing them in a tank of nutrient rich chemicals.

Vital signs

Alive or dead?
Image source: Z I B I
Protocells blur the distinction between alive and not-alive

The distinction between animate and inanimate used to be clear. A cat is alive, a table is not.

But now scientists searching for the origins of life have discovered that the journey from the primordial ooze to the complex organisms and ecosystems of our world, is less clear than previously thought. The result: living shoes.

From a salty soup

Martin Hanczyc created protocells in a laboratory
Martin Hanczyc created protocells in a laboratory
Source: Trans961

It takes three things to make a cell: a body, a metabolism and some inheritable information. Simply mix, add energy and you have the stuff of life.

A single living cell can contain around 1,000,000 molecules – but to create a structure that looks and behaves like a basic cell takes as few as ten.

Scientist, Martin Hanczyc has succeeded in creating synthetic structures called protocells, groups of molecules that self assemble, move, replicate and consume energy to maintain themselves.

The origins of life on earth? Perhaps. Not living entities, but life-like structures that can be programmed to behave in specific ways.

Future shoes

The brain behind the incredible Amoeba shoe is Shamees Aden. She studied Textile Futures at the prestigious Central St Martins College, London.

The course encourages students to engage with cutting edge research to create concepts for the products of the future. Interacting with Martin Hanczyc’s findings, Shamees created a range of footwear that makes leather shoes look positively prehistoric.

And that’s not all. The ability to control DNA means that in future, engineers will be able to control semi-living material in the same way that software engineers write apps today.

Think strawberry plants that grow lace from their roots – even edible solar cells – we’ll be limited only by our imaginations.

If this sounds like pseudoscience, think again. Textiles Futures at St Martins has already worked in collaboration with the Medical Research Council, Nissan and the VF Corporation, owner of brands like North Face, Vans and Wrangler. The future is alive with possibility.

Famous slippers lost and found

We’ve all managed to lose our slippers at some point, but normally, they turn up pretty quickly.

Either the dog took them or someone lovingly tidied them away, but omitted to tell you where they put them.

Here are some slippers that were truly lost only to turn up decades or even centuries later.

Gandhi’s slippers

Image source: Wikimedia
His artefacts and slippers sold for $1.8 million

When Mahatma Gandhi was gunned down in New Delhi by a Hindu nationalist separatist in January 1948, the new nation of India went into deep mourning. Gone was the ‘great soul’ who through peaceful protest brought about the demise of the Raj and hastened the fall of the British Empire.

When Gandhi fell, some of his few belongings went missing and despite Gandhi’s life of poverty, immediately became very valuable. In 2009 Gandhi’s glasses, pocket watch, plate, bowl and leather slippers came up for auction.

Despite Indian government attempts to stop the sale, the artifacts were won for a ‘staggering’ $1.8million by Indian entrepreneur Vijay Mallya.

Marie Antoinette’s slippers

Marie Antoinette was Austrian and never particularly popular with the French. On 16th October 1793 they made their feelings crystal clear by chopping off her head. The execution took place two weeks before her 38th birthday but in truth, Marie Antoinette was already a very sick lady, suffering from tuberculosis and perhaps uterine cancer too.

Added to this, she was in deep mourning for the loss in the same fashion of her husband, Louis XVI. She must, truly have cut a tragic figure as she was wheeled through the streets of Paris to be Guillotined.

Belongings of the the former Queen came up for sale at an auction last year, the day after the anniversary of her death. A pair of her slippers – green and pink silk – sold for €50,000 – five times the estimate.

Napoleon’s sister

Our next pair of lost slippers turned up in a trunk of old clothes at the University of Aberdeen. Marked, ‘Pauline, Rome’. They turned out to have belonged to Princess Pauline Borghese, the petite, younger sister of none other than Napoleon Bonaparte.

A child’s size two and very narrow, the slippers reflect the diminutive size of their former wearer. Pauline was so small in fact that she often preferred to be carried from room to room rather than walk.

Infamously unfaithful to her husband, the shoes were gifted to the museum by 19th century traveller, Robert Wilson who got to know her in the 1820s.

Ruby slippers

Only four pairs of Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from the 1939 film Wizard of Oz are known to have survived. So when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences got the chance to buy a pair, they jumped at it.

They’re refusing to say how much they paid for the pair of Judy Garland’s sequin clad slip-ons.

The purchase for the Academy’s museum was funded by among others, Leonardo DiCaprio and Steven Spielberg. One of the other pairs is in the Smithsonian Museum, another is in private hands and the last was stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Minnesota.

A good investment or a slip up?

Slippers don’t have to be long lost to be worth a small fortune. Way back in 2001, a pair of slippers belonging to British artist, Tracey Emin made £5,500 at a charity auction.

The items are hand embroidered by the artist herself, perhaps as she lay propped up on her unmade bed.

As to whether the slippers will still be worth anything in the long term is anyone’s guess – but a pair of slippers, embroidered by a famous person or not – always comes in handy.

The Pope’s leather slippers and other priestly footwear

Pope's slippers
Image source: Anthony Majanlahti
Mistaken for a pair of Pradas

There was a rumour that the last pope, Benedict XVI wore Prada.

No matter how swanky his bright red fine leather slippers looked, the truth is they were made not by the fashion house famously favoured by the devil.

The Pope’s personal cobbler made the shoes, and what fine slip-ons they are.

Pope John Paul II

Andriano Stefanelli is the man who made it his business to make sure the pope’s feet were well shod. It’s a task he had undertaken since 2002 when prompted by Pope John Paul II’s illness, he resolved to do what he could to make the then pontiff more comfortable.

It was he who fashioned the red leather slippers we are so used to seeing adorning the feet of the leader of the Catholic church.

The shoes – loafers – are made from the finest nappa leather. Although the papal shoes are traditionally ruby red, Pope John Paul II had discarded the brightly coloured shoes in favour of more reserved cordovan brown walking shoes.

The slip ons made by Stefanelli for the ailing pope were also cordovan brown – a deep burgundy named after the town of Cordova in Spain.

Pope Benedict XVI

When Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI in 2004, he revived the practice of wearing bright red slip ons, and Stefanelli was again the man of the moment. He managed to present the Pope with a pair of his spectacular ruby creations during a public audience in Saint Peter’s Square in Rome in September 2005.

This not only put paid to the rumours that the Pope’s shoes came from Prada, but presumably gave a welcome boost to Stefanelli’s business too.

Andriano Stefanelli may not have been motivated entirely by the obvious kudos that comes from being able to say you’re the Pope’s shoemaker. A staunch Catholic, he has said that he finds the business of making the Pope’s shoes, a deeply spiritual one.

However, he also made shoes for George W Bush and more recently for Barack Obama. One wonders whether he had the same spiritual uplift while making the presidential footwear.

Pope Francis I

A shoe maker since the age of 14, Andriano produces his hand made leather loafers at the family workshop in Novara near Milan. But whether he continues to be supplier of shoes and slippers to the pope is now in some considerable doubt.

Following Pope Benedict’s surprise resignation earlier this year, and the subsequent election of Pope Francis I, there have already been a few changes at the Vatican. Formerly known as Cardinal Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, the new pope is Jesuit with a passion for the simple life.

Well known as an advocate for the poor, he said his first papal mass wearing plain black shoes. The shoes were apparently re-soled for him by friends before he journeyed to Rome for the Cardinals’ enclave because his shoes were so shabby looking.

Could it be then that the new guardian of souls is an ordinary soul who prefers soles more ordinary?

Why my Dad has a halogen oven

Halogen technology has been around for some time, but now it looks set to take the cooking world by storm.

That’s because halogen ovens are effective, efficient and most importantly, cook super tasty meals fast. All good reasons why my dad swears by, rather than at his.

Clifford James halogen oven
Halogen oven
Source: Clifford James

Dad has never been much of a one for cooking, so when Mum had a hip replacement last year, we assumed we’d be responsible for feeding the invalid.

But as it turned out, Dad had done his homework. Instead of us making the thirty minute journey to their home, carrying pot roasts to keep my parents alive, my husband and I found ourselves invited to dinner.

Great for entertaining the family

“This,” said dad, patting the lid of a space age device on the kitchen counter, “will now cook our dinner in under forty minutes.”

Well fine, I thought – if it’s a vegetable stew – we might just escape unscathed. I was far more sceptical when my septuagenarian father opened the fridge and took out a raw chicken.

Mum hobbled forward to take a look but was brusquely waved away as Dad filled the bowl around the chicken, with potatoes and carrots.

“Right. Stand back everyone.”

Anyone would think he was a test pilot about to take to the skies, but as he turned the ‘machine’ on, we all craned our necks to take a look.

What followed was a revelation. As Dad told us later – several times – though a halogen oven has a similar power rating to a normal oven or microwave, it has distinct advantages over both. It’s much faster than a conventional oven.

The halogen bulb in the lid produces instant heat and a fan circulates it as high speed, ensuring an even temperature throughout.

The chicken really was cooked in less than forty minutes and it, along with the roast potatoes, was crispy to boot. Not at all like the insipid results you tend to get from microwave cookery.

Ideal for roast dinners

And the results? I admit, my first taste was tentative, but the food really was delicious – moist and tender chicken and perfectly cooked vegetables. But that wasn’t the only surprise Dad had in store.

No sooner had we put down our knives and forks than he was off to ‘bung a pudding in the oven’. Five minutes later and our pre-prepared sticky toffee pudding was ready.

Perfect for puddings

After dinner, the oven bowl went in the dishwasher and that was that.

Mum is well and truly back on her feet now and Dad has once again been banished from the kitchen, but the halogen oven story didn’t end there. Mum is a complete convert – the halogen oven defrosts, bakes, roasts, steams and even fries – and she finds it so much easier to use than the conventional oven.

The halogen oven’s clear bowl means she can see exactly how the food is coming along and she doesn’t have to bend down to open the oven door.

A halogen oven is a fraction of the cost of a conventional oven and needless to say – it’s a case of like father like daughter because I now have one too!