Manchester craftivists take up needle and thread to combat ‘ugly side of fashion’ with sweatshop protest

By Helen Le Caplain

There’s nothing like the buzz of hitting the high street on payday and treating yourself to a new outfit or two having survived another month at work.

The temporary high of a new evening dress, pair of heels or clutch handbag that you plan to wear on Saturday night makes the long hard graft you’ve put in during the week seem much more worthwhile.

But what if Saturday night’s outfit was made by someone who works 14-16 hours a day, seven days a week for just £25 a month?  

What if that £25, the average price of a basic dress in most high street stores, had to support a family where the living wage is calculated at £45 a month?

On top of dismal pay conditions would you be happy to know that the person who made your dress worked in cramped and hazardous conditions which often lead to work injuries or death?

Perhaps that bargain buy doesn’t seem all that great anymore…

The Craftivist Collective has launched a project in support of War on Want’s Love Fashion Hate Sweatshops campaign to protest against the continued use of sweatshops and other human rights abuses in the fashion industry.

Sarah Corbett, founder of the Craftivist Collective, is spearheading the campaign which aims to get craftivists to cross stitch mini protest banners highlighting workers’ plights in the run up to London Fashion Week 2014.

Sarah said: “We love the beauty and creativity that comes from fashion, we love the fact that we can express ourselves through clothes and feel confident in what wear, but we won’t stand for the ugly side of the fashion industry.”

CAMPAIGN: Love Fashion Hate Sweatshops

In April this year more than 1000 people, mainly women, were killed when a Bangladesh factory building collapsed.

Although there have been some improvements, with high street chains including H&M, M&S and Primark signing up to the Bangladesh Safety Accord, Topshop owner Arcadia and American retail giants Walmart and Gap have yet to sign up.

But the Bangladeshi garment industry is just the tip of the iceberg – there are many workers across the world continuing to face appalling working conditions.

Sarah added: “As a fashion-lover I feel deeply saddened, shocked and angry by the news that more than 1000 people, mostly female garment workers, have been killed in the collapse this summer of a building in Bangladesh which housed factories making clothes for Benetton, Primark, Matalan, Mango and other major brands.

“Sadly often the clothes we buy come at a terrible human cost – millions of workers around the world suffer poverty wages and exploitation, producing cheap fashion for our shops as they push for a profit-driven fast fashion industry.”

The idea behind creating the banners is to make people think about the side of the fashion that is often easily dismissed by the industry in a non-threatening but challenging way.

Craft-loving activists will stitch the campaign slogan and other provocative statements and facts onto fabric which will be hung around London, and here in Manchester, for members of the public to find.

Photographs of the protest banners in situ will form the basis of an exhibition at the Knitting and Stitching Show’s Upcycling Academy at Alexandra Palace in London later this year.

Sarah said: “There is an ugly, unethical side of most of the fashion industry we shouldn’t ignore especially because as consumers and global citizens we have a lot of power over the shops that produce the clothes that we wear.

“As buyers of clothes on the high street, we have the power to put pressure on those brands to change their practices and stop putting profit before wages and welfare.

GET YOUR CRAFT ON: Campaigners stitch mini protest banners 

“The Bangladesh factory disaster must surely stir us to say that we won’t stand for sweatshop exploitation existing in the 21st Century.”

Celebrities from the world of craft including author Perri Lewis, Great British Sewing Bee contestant and blogger Tilly & the Buttons, infamous male embroiderer and all-round stitching guru Mr X Stitch, along with the Shoreditch Sisters and Manchester WI, have already pledged their support.

Sarah added: “It’s wrong to think that we don’t have any power to change this ugly side of fashion.

“Please join us in celebrating our love of fashion and fighting for an industry without any ugly side, with no sweatshops.

“Wouldn’t it be brilliant if London Fashion Week 2014 was a show of only exploitation-free clothes? Let’s fight together for that reality one stitch at a time.”

For more information about the campaign visit Craftivist Collective here.

Pictures courtesy of Robin Prime and Craftivist Collective via Flickr, with thanks

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