28 September 2012

An Alternative Take on London Fashion Week

Last week the press was flooded with fabulous frocks and pouty pics for London Fashion Week. Craftivist Collective (whose founder I interviewed here) took the opportunity to raise awareness of some of the inequalities associated with fashion. As usual, their charming, inimitable, stitchy style of protest made me smile... and of course sit up and take notice. Sarah tells us what they got up to...

Sarah Corbett: "I love the beauty and creativity that comes from fashion and I eagerly await the latest issue of Vogue every month, but I'm also so saddened that the workers that create the clothes we wear are often underpaid and made to work horrendous conditions. Tilly is so brilliant at showing how you can make your own clothes to be part of the solution to a just fashion industry.

It can be easy to ignore the ugly side of fashion (I often do!) so some of us Craftivistas decided to make time to stitch Mini Protest Banners to remind us of how we can be part of the fight for a better fashion industry rather than buying into the unjust side - making time to stitch on our own or in a group we reflected, whilst stitching, on the fashion industry. We put our banners up near particular fashion stores and around fashion related buildings with the hope that people might see them quietly waving in the wind and think about the side of fashion that is often too easily dismissed by the industry, in a non-threatening but sensitively challenging provocative way.

Robin (our photographer) and me went out as a duo this Friday to Somerset House to put up this mini protest banner [below] inside the heart of London Fashion Week. This is where a lot of the catwalk shows are, where the media hub is and where the fashionista footfall is huge! Unlike many activists who get a kick out of breaking the law or being rebellious, Robin and I hate it. We don’t like having to be sneaky and were pretty nervous going inside in case someone asked us what we were doing. But in the name of fashion justice we plucked up the courage, tried to look as fashionable as we could and walk in like we were part of the fashion industry. It was surprisingly easy. No one blinked an eyelid and there were so many photographers walking around taking photos of beautiful tall, super thin women that we went unnoticed, left the mini protest banner up and walked out happy and relieved. Hopefully lots of people see it over the next week and it provokes some thought & conversation.

I also made this mini protest banner [top] with help from War on Want who gave me up to date facts to use. This fact impacted me the most - how can a company selling not-cheap clothes double their profits (with the help of free advertising from Kate Middleton, who wears Reiss clothes a lot) in a year but still pay their garment workers less than £1 an hour? I was worried picking this quote to cross-stitch on that people would think “£1 an hour? That’s pretty good,” but it’s not! Yes it might be better than Mauritian workers getting 21p (!) but it’s still abuse. We’re not trying to demonise Kate Middleton as a consumer or Reiss as a brand.

Regardless of where the garment workers live this is still a tiny amount and I just don’t know how companies can justify making over £4 million profit and pay their workers such a tiny percentage of the company’s earnings. I love fashion but the inequality within the fashion industry is so ugly to me I’m not sure I can look at the clothes in Reiss in the same way I used to ☹ We would love you to make your own banner and put it up where you are (you don’t have to be in London!) to get people thinking.

Check out our video to see how easy it is to put up a banner.

Craftivists Collective: Protest Stunt LFW 2012 from Mari Shibata on Vimeo.

Don’t worry if you’re too busy with doing all of your other craft projects (I currently have 6 half done projects!). You can still be a ‘craptivist’ and provoke discussion by sharing this blog, video and the images across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like to spread the word far and wide & start a conversation with your fashion loving friends. I hate asking this type of stuff in case it sounds pushy and arrogant but we would be really grateful and we would love other fashion-lovers to challenge themselves and the industry on the ugly side of fashion and think about how we can make it prettier."

Thanks, Sarah. I think the mini protest banners are absolute genius. What do you think, readers?


  1. Interesting article. I don't think many people realise just how little garment workers are paid. Well done for trying to raise awareness.


  2. Thanks for sharing this, I really like the way they are choosing to protest and I hope it raises awareness.

  3. Creative, peaceful protesting - brilliant, I love any yarn or fabric bombing!

  4. This is a really great idea for a protest. Its such a complicated problem and I really love this way of addressing it.

  5. There are so many protests that focus on being loud and disruptive, this one focuses on being beautiful and thought-provoking. I love it! Thank you Sarah for doing it, and Tilly for sharing!

  6. Thanks for sharing! I wish all other protests were as creative as this one!

  7. Great work - I love the mini banners!

    In regard to the subject, in my opinion, fashion consumers are a big part of the problem. Garment workers are underpaid because consumers want to pay less, lower than the true value of the work. (Notwithstanding the huge markups that are added to pay for advertising, etc.). I don't think this issue will change until fashion consumers (at all price points) are willing to pay for the true value of work. Given the worldwide economic conditions, that's a tough one, but it's good to start somewhere. Thanks for taking on this issue!

    ~Jen (NYC)

  8. These are beautiful and colorful signs with a good intention and message, however I feel they are a little misplaced. It is the high end fashion designers that can still afford to manufacture locally and cover the cost of producing product in other European countries by true artisans who are paid much better. Even if the production goes to Asia they will be made at much higher end factories that will pay their workers better for their skills.
    I agree with Jen- the problem lies with our insatiable appetite for cheap clothes. These are the institutions that exploit the workers and the system to bring the lowest price possible. These signs would be better placed outside of an H&M, Topshop or Zara.
    Sorry to be a naysayer. It is an admirable cause and very brave of them to follow through.

  9. They are great banners, I love the beautiful angle that craftivism brings to protest.

    I'm a new follower Tilly and would love if you popped by sometime.

    Life of an Agnostic Sunday School Teacher

  10. This is really interesting and her points are one of the reasons that I am starting to learn how to sew however one issue keeps haunting me and that's how do I know that the fabric I have bought is ethically created ie fair wage for the makers. Someone has to be weaving or knitting our dressmaking fabrics - are they getting paid a decent wage?

  11. There are other "costs" associated with cheap fashion. Not only does it rely on underpaid labor, but the scraps from the textiles are burned (creating pollution) or dumped in landfills (and polyester-type fabrics become hardened, leaching into the soil).

    With our consumer mindset on low prices, we cause independent designers to struggle to create sustainable clothing at affordable prices.

    If you'd like to know more about this, read "Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion," by Elizabeth Cline, and check out this weblink at http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/recycling/stories/mind-your-textile-waste-infographic

  12. I love the beautiful spin they put on those protest samplers, people won't help but notice them and therefore read them. I just started reading 'Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion", it is very interesting, a must read!

  13. Hi Tilly, I've been a long time reader but haven't posted a comment until now. Very interesting article. You may be interested in a challenge I'm currently taking part in. It's called the Six Items Challenge and it's to raise awareness of garment workers rights, the conditions they work in and how little they are paid. It's really changed my outlook on fast fashion

  14. I also recently posted about how much my appreciation for RTW has changed since I began to sew - some things are way too cheap for the work that goes into them!

    My mother used to tell me that she couldn't buy an item of clothing out of one weeks wages when she first left school in the late 1940s - it would require a 6 week lay-by to pay off a cardigan. How many of us would have the patience for that now?

    However, we do need to weigh that up with knowing what the living wage of a Vietnamese worker is - 25 Euro may not be too bad in the scheme of wages in their country (do need to research that). And if we take to sewing our own clothes more in protest, we do these people out of a job that they rely on to support their families.

    There needs to be a better balance for sure.


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