Industry News

Ethical Trading in practice – from worker to wearer

From worker to Wearer: No Sweatshop, No Photoshop

Emma Watson, Stella McCartney and will.I.Am have been walking the green carpet, shining a spotlight on highly fashionable and ethically conscious clothing. This exposure has rippled throughout social media, combatting notions that sustainable clothes are unimaginative and full of ‘vanilla-flavoured minimalism’, whilst showcasing the importance of transparency and traceability within the fashion industry. Finally prompting the question: is ethical fashion finally desirable and commercially attainable?

The world is becoming more ethically aware but organisations don’t always practice what they preach and not all companies understand what it means to trade ethically.

Ethical trading is not just about avoiding child labour. It ultimately represents an approach to the design, sourcing and the manufacture of garments and accessories which maximises benefits to the workers and their communities, while minimising the impact on the environment. Most retailers and fashion brands do not know the actual people who make their clothing, but this is not the case for the fashion company Birdsong London.

Birdsong London was founded in 2014 and is an honest representation of ethical trading and sustainable fashion. With a fresh and innovative take on current fashion trends, each garment is sustainably sourced and handcrafted by women local to London.

With the fashion industry often re-touching modelling shots and the exploitation of some garment workers worldwide, an ethical fashion brand supporting both the worker and the wearer was born. From hiring migrant seamstresses to knitting grannies, Birdsong connects women through fashion.
It is estimated that over 60 million women worldwide aged 18-35 work within the retail industry earning less than minimum wage. Unlike traditional retailers, Birdsong is a feminist retailer, working solely with local women’s groups and charities to produce their clothing.

“We pair their expertise with our designs, creating wearable pieces with a mind to the future,” said one of the founders.

The workers are all paid a London living wage, have access to a range of holistic support services and between 30 and 50 per cent of the sale profit goes back into these groups and their chosen charities.

“Fashion is our worst enemy but also our best mate. Lots of women workers are exploited for the sake of covering our bums in fabric – beautiful, inspiring fabric but still, not cool when you think about it,” expressed another one of the founders.

Birdsong wants to revolutionise the way people dress and the company works under the promise of “no sweatshop, no photoshop”. Modelled by women, their organic sweatshirts and t-shirts are hand-painted by a group of low income migrant mothers based in Tower Hamlets, London. The women spend the day fine painting for Birdsong while their children attend school.

Birdsong’s knitwear collection is made by the skilled hands at the Bradbury Centre in Kingston and the Knit & Natter group in Enfield. Both groups donate revenue from their knitting to worthy causes. And finally, the company works with skilled seamstresses to hand-cut, sew and finish the garments at their workshop on Brick Lane, London.

Not only does Birdsong directly provide women with employment, they are a pro-active and forward-thinking company that lives and breathes ethical sourcing. With the boost from grants and the experience of the ‘Year Here’ programme for social entrepreneurs, the company has channelled thousands of pounds into women’s organisations in London, from funding retirement home improvements in Enfield or contributing to sewing classes in Bow.

In light of the fantastic and progressive work that Birdsong London is doing, are the days of fast-fashion numbered, and are there enough people and organisations that think ethically and are prepared to vote with their wallets?

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© 2018 Georgia Lambert