dear annie

This may Be too dull a question for your splendidly frilly column but here goes... Is there a way of checking that the clothes I buy are not made by some poor child (or adult) in horrendous conditions? I used to be glad of a bargain, but now I'm aware someone is probably paying the price. Are even M&S really in the clear? I do hope that "Traidcraft" isn't the only answer!

Kathryn Rignall, Cheshire

Nothing is too dull, especially when it is as important an issue as this. The answer, in short, is to ask. One can't really expect the poor old shop assistant to be up on this, but if you shop somewhere regularly you can write to them. This will be good for two reasons: it will give you an answer, and it will make them think. I asked M&S what their policy was and they said this: "Marks & Spencer sources over 75 per cent of its merchandise from the UK, almost pounds 5.4 billion of British-made goods. Of the remaining 25 per cent, the major source is western Europe. A small proportion comes from developing countries. When sourcing overseas, it is our practice to use existing UK suppliers to manage the process. Their long-standing relationship with Marks & Spencer means that they are well aware of the code of conduct we require relating to factory standards, merchandise quality, sound human relations and high environmental standards. In addition, we have a team of technologists who spend a significant proportion of their time visiting factories both in the UK and overseas. A large part of their role is to check that the standards in these factories are being maintained to high levels. We treat, and always have treated these issues very seriously and they are under regular review." The Office of Fair Trade in London knew no way of advising consumers on this subject, ditto your local council trading standards office. Traidcraft, however, were extremely helpful. They are involved in an initiative called "Labour Behind The Label", which aims to raise consumer awareness about this issue, (0161 247 1760). Another useful contact is the Oxfam information team (01865 313600). They are involved in the UK version of an international "clean clothes" campaign. Hope this helps and thanks to Imogen for all the sterling work she did while I soaked my poor swollen feet in a bucket.

Do you know where I could buy those expandable nylon string bags that are so popular in France? My house is being taken over by supermarket carrier bags - please help. (I'll be doing a shopping trip to London next month - I doubt if they're available nearer to me.) Thanking you in anticipation.

Ms F Langdon, Watford

I couldn't find nylon ones, but much prettier and more eco-friendly are cotton string bags, which are available from the Conran Shop (0171 589 7401) for pounds 3.95 - in red, yellow, blue, black and natural. If you don't travel to London they can send it to you (pay by credit card, p&p extra).

I am having a few problems finding American-type "skate gear" and was hoping you could help. I am a 16-year-old girl and a size 6-8. I live in Preston but will travel to Manchester or nearby, I will also be visiting London sometime in the summer. I would be so grateful if you could inform me of stockists in these areas, as I desperately need some new clothes for summer, and college in September. Pleeease help!

Suzanne Marsden, Bamber Bridge, Preston

Exit (Unit 1, Affleck's Arcade, Manchester, 0161 832 4028) stocks "hardcore" skate labels, straight from America including E America and DC. They stock X-Girl, which is exclusively for girls, (T-shirts cost around pounds 27.95), and Holmes, Suchi and Lush, which are available in girls' sizes (small is probably about an 8-10). In London, the place to go is Slam City Skates (16 Neal's Yard, London WC2, 0171 240 0928), which stocks Stussy, Volcon, X-Girl, Holmes and Lush for girls. They do a mail-order service, if you know exactly what you want, and you'll also need your ma or pa's credit card (yeah!!). Before I get complaining letters: I am aware that these are big prices for a teenager, but skate gear is expensive. Okay?

You are all so bloody fantastic! Mrs J Lockwood of London wrote in to say that Sarah V's gusset can breathe easy (22 June)! Thank goodness, Woman In Mind (01204 525115) make all sorts of hosiery ("Ventights"; "Open Crotch Tights"), to ensure that there's a supply of fresh air to your holey of holies.

On 15 June, I correctly told you all about 'hide away', a company that does hand-made leather goods. Last week, however, I made a howling error and mentioned them in the same breath as Vegetarian Shoes (a company that makes non-leather shoes) and 'hide away' are very cross, because their "time has been wasted by people who are under the misapprehension that we make man-made or plant-material sandals and then they in turn are disappointed because they can't get what they want." Quite. So, I am happy to set the record straight here.

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