No Sweatshop, No Photoshop
Join us for an evening of female empowerment and general good-natured conversation on the topic of social enterprise and slow fashion in the face of adversity. As part of our events series, on Friday 13th July we welcome two East London-based brands that are pushing the boundaries of what fashion is and can be. Birdsong clothing and Juta shoes have both set out to revolutionise the way we dress in a number of ways, but namely by ensuring fair and comfortable working practice for the female producers.
Sophie and Sarah founded Birdsong back in 2014 because they were "inspired by the great skill and creativity found in women’s community groups, but frustrated by their financial insecurity in the context of budget cuts and rising rents." By vocalising who is making the clothes that they sell, they are offering a transparent view of fashion that is notoriously difficult to come by, and at the same time they are putting funds back into women's community groups and charities. With designer Susanna on board, Birdsong have been able to create capsule collections that are fun and sustainable - organic cotton, reclaimed fabrics, hand knits, hand-painted prints and hand embroidery... In terms of the ladies who make the clothing, Birdsong know them personally and so develop long-lasting relationships. The Bradbury Centre (Kingston) knitting group donate the revenue from their hand knits back into their day centre providing them with little luxuries and a welcoming space, while the Knit and Natter (Enfield) knitting group choose a charity every month for revenue to be donated to. Mohila are a group of low income migrant mothers based in Tower Hamlets who practice their fine painting on organic cotton sweatshirts and t-shirts while their children attend the local school. Lastly, Heba who produce the majority of Birdsong's garments, is a 25-year old established workshop on Brick Lane that provides migrant and refugee women with a safe space and a well-paid place of work.
Similarly, Juta Shoes' mission "is to combat financial and social isolation by providing well-paid, flexible employment, opportunities to build confidence and gain new skills, and a strong supportive community." Their shoes and slippers are produced by hand in their Shoreditch studio, from environmentally-friendly jute soles and reclaimed leather or fabrics from local factories - this means that the shoes are very nearly 100% biodegradable. Set up by Joanna and Sabeha at St.Hilda's East Community Centre, they took on board mothers Hafiza and Ruhela who enjoy the fact that their employment can be flexible around family-life. They've since set up workshops where you can learn for yourself what goes in to the making of their shoes.
Both businesses have come together with a little bit of grant money, experience from a Year Here fellowship - a programme that gives fellows a year to test and build solutions to some of society's toughest problems - and drive to make change. They're now both featured in high fashion magazines, which just shows how great their products are (if that's how you assess your clothing).
Whether you are interested in applying for a Year Here fellowship, setting up your own fashion business or are just interested in how these women have started something massive from the seed of an idea - come along to No.66 on Friday 13th July for an hour long conversation and a half hour Q&A. There'll of course be refreshments too - perhaps you'll be coming back from the Trump march... Tickets are available here, and we do have limited space in the shop so book online to avoid disappointment. You can see more from Birdsong on Instagram and of course Juta on their Instagram as well.