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?