MailOnline screenshot

Feminist T-shirts: garment workers’ rights should not be a political football

SEE BELOW FOR UPDATE

Because we sew, we know exactly how much work goes into a garment.

If I’m on a roll, it can take me a couple of evenings to make a skirt. Imagine doing that over and over, day after day… for just 62p an hour.

As a feminist and a seamstress, I was pretty disappointed to see the front page of today’s Mail on Sunday, which claimed workers in a factory in Mauritius were working on ELLE’s feminist T-shirts under pretty terrible conditions for a pittance. These T-shirts cost £45. If the conditions are as bad as described, then there’s absolutely no excuse.

The Fawcett Society does some excellent work, so, while this particular campaign wasn’t for me, I am disappointed for them. Their statement makes it clear they were concerned the T-shirts weren’t being manufactured in the UK. As far as I can see, they may have been quite badly let down by Whistles. I should state here, the Fawcett Society has asked for evidence to back up the Mail’s claims. Their statement adds:

If any concrete and verifiable evidence of mistreatment of the garment producers emerges, we will require Whistles to withdraw the range with immediate effect and donate part of the profits to an ethical trading campaigning body.

Whistles has said they’re investigating the allegations “as a matter of urgency”.

Let’s be clear: while this is an important story, the only reason it’s on the Mail on Sunday’s front page is because it’s an excellent chance for them to have a pop at Labour (and maybe feminism too while they’re at it). Nick Clegg wore the T-shirt as well, but he hasn’t been mentioned on the front page. One of the things I despise about politics is how people’s lives and working conditions become political footballs pre-election season. And it’s only going to get worse.

The exact same thing happens with coverage of the Welsh NHS. Normally, the national press doesn’t care too much about what happens in Wales. But because it’s run by Welsh Labour right now, the right-wing press sees it as far too good to not have a politically-slanted pop. I wouldn’t mind, except I know full well when May 2015 comes and goes, Welsh issues will return to the back of their minds, relegated to the back pages.

I digress.

Long-term readers of this blog will know I’m not someone who buys new clothes on a regular basis. That said, since my pledge ended and I’ve had less time to sew, I have inevitably been buying the occasional basic if I can’t find something decent second hand on eBay. Thanks to a hefty overdraft, I stick to the places I can get a T-shirt for cheap, feeling like a complete sellout.

It’s become increasingly difficult to find ethical and affordable clothing. As wages are squeezed and the cost of living gets higher, cheap clothes are so much more accessible. But we know cheap clothes come at a human cost. It’s been more than a year since the Rana Plaza disaster – and I’m not sure anything has changed. My colleague did a quick video around the time of the anniversary, asking some people if it had changed their shopping habits. Not that many people said yes. You can watch the video here.

People sign up to the Seamless Pledge for all sorts of reasons. Maybe they want to sew more or perhaps they want to cull their wardrobe to the basics. But the majority of them say they’re concerned about the way the items in their wardrobes are made. They want to take ownership of the ethics in their wardrobe the only way they know how. True, there’s still an issue with sourcing ethical fabric – but at least you know the conditions in which your clothing was made.

We absolutely should be talking about the rights of the people who make our clothes, but not just because some Labour MPs wore these shirts. We need to be talking about ethical manufacturing all the time and we need to demand better for the sake of the people who put the clothes on our backs.

As for me, I think it’s high time I renewed my pledge.

Also I have to emphasise again: the Fawcett Society does some amazing work, so do go check them out and perhaps donate if you’d like to.

On a completely separate note – YEP, I’m blogging again. More on that soon…

UPDATE Weds, November 5: The Fawcett Society has said the T-shirts were in fact made ethically. Full report here.

Found this quote pretty interesting:

Laura Harvey, lecturer in the sociology of media at the University of Surrey, criticised the newspaper’s report. “It was a cynical political move against an important feminist campaigning organisation. If the Daily Mail really cares about workers’ rights why aren’t they running stories about the garment industry more widely and the campaigns to improve worker’s rights?” she told the Guardian.

My point above still stands – ethical manufacturing is still a huge issue and I agree with Laura Harvey: we should be reporting on it as much as possible. If you’re interested, the Guardian did an interactive earlier this year about the human cost of the Bangladeshi garment industry.

The sheer madness of Boxing Day sales

I swear, once upon a time Boxing Day activities were limited to cold meats and watching telly.

Nowadays, it’s the day when retailers kick off their bargain sales. In my hometown of Cardiff, people queued up from as early as midnight to try and nab some discounts in Next, a popular clothing chain. Basically, if you’ve never been out for the Boxing Day sales, it’s a little bit like the stampede part in the Lion King:

stampede

 

Trust me – there’s not much a shopaholic Brit loves more than a bargain. Of course, it’s not always cut-price clothes on offer – anything from toys to gadgets to food end up in the Boxing Day sales. The day is often hailed as a chance for retailers to claw back from a disappointing run-up to Christmas.

I was working today, which meant the inevitable Boxing Day chat with some of Cardiff’s intrepid shoppers. To be fair, it wasn’t nearly as busy as I thought it would be, especially after seeing the pictures of the humongous queues. What most shoppers had in common though were oodles of bags, filled to the brim with Boxing Day goodies.

When you’re not buying any clothes at all, or trying to cut down on your shopping habits, Boxing Day sales can prove a little tough to handle. Especially when everyone else is rooting through the rails at New Look or Topshop in hunt of the best bargains. The answer is simple, of course: stay away! And anyway, at least it means you won’t be stuck in the queues.

On the plus side, sometimes you’ll find your favourite fabric shops and haberdasheries are also having a post-Christmas sale. John Lewis often has discounted fabrics (they weren’t open today in Cardiff – their sale starts tomorrow), for example.

I hope you’re all having a great festive period – truth be told, I wrote this really quickly just to get back into the swing of post-work blogging. If I’m completely honest, the last few months haven’t been so brilliant, meaning I’ve let a lot of my hobbies slide.

But! Things are definitely looking up and I’ve got a scheme to make sure I don’t lapse in 2014.

Merry Christmas everyone!

(I sent that Lion King GIF to our online editor at work today after I’d been out vox-popping shoppers for the paper – so of course, we put together The 9 stages of the Boxing Day sales as told by the Lion King. JUST BECAUSE WE COULD)

The Great British Sewing Bee and fast fashion

great british sewing bee

Unless you’ve been living under a sewing-free rock for the past four weeks, you’ll probably have heard all about the Great British Sewing Bee – the show which gave sewing the Bake Off treatment.

Funnily enough, I haven’t had a chance to write about it here on the blog, but I did get a chance to write about sewing for the Western Mail. An odd but thoroughly enjoyable occasion where work and my personal hobbies collided.

I was sceptical about whether the BBC would succeed in making stitching as sexy as baking. As much as I adore sewing and as much as the sewing community clearly enjoyed the Sewing Bee (as evidenced by my Twitter feed every Tuesday evening) I just wasn’t sure if it would translate to those who had never picked up a needle in their life in the same way as the Bake Off had people running out to buy cake tins on the double.

The Sewing Bee waves have certainly been felt in our little pocket of the blogosphere. Views of my interview with contestant Tilly have rocketed since the programme began and a number of other bloggers have reported spikes in traffic on tutorials and other handy posts, usually in the days after the latest episode has aired.

Whether or not the series will have people sprinting to their nearest haberdashery, I don’t know. But perhaps, for some people, the cogs will have begun turning as they watch Ann’s meticulous preparing of her pattern pieces or the way Tilly drafted her own patterns as she went and hopefully they slowly realised just how much work goes into the kind of garments seen on a shop’s clothing rail.

Much like with our food, many of us don’t care to take a peek behind the curtain to see just how the clothes we put on our backs are made. While factory sewing is a different world to home sewing, I hope many non-sewers watching perhaps took a look at their own clothes to see where seams had been overlocked or examine exactly how their bargain garment was put together.

And maybe next time they head to Primark or New Look, they might think just how all that effort can go into one garment but the costs remain so low.

Well, hello there 2013

Happy New Year everyone! Can you believe how quickly this year has gone by?

some of 2012's makesSome projects from 2013…

It feels like just yesterday I was talking about my sewing goals for 2012. So how did I get on?

Well, I didn’t sew more. In fact, I think I sewed a bit less. Quality was a high priority, but my sewing abilities have yet to catch up with my ambitions.

But meeting new bloggers? I’d say that’s been a resounding success, both in real life and online. Since the pledge got started, more than 100 people have joined in from across the world.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of my favourite bloggers in person and get to know some others via Twitter. Even if my sewing doesn’t get any better, I’d like to keep this going.

Here are some things I’d like to achieve with the Pledge and my sewing this year:

1. Sew a work-ready wardrobe

You all know how much I love a good pencil skirt. In the next couple of months, I’d like to sew some classy clothes suitable for work. They’ll need to be well-made,  so it’s again a case of quality over quantity.

2. Tights, pants and shoes

As you know, underwear is exempt from my Pledge and while I certainly don’t buy as many shoes as I used to, I’m still buying them once I’ve worn my favourites  ’til they have holes in them. My aim for 2013 is to find places to buy tights, pants and shoes which are more in-keeping with the ethos of the pledge.

3. Reboot the pledge

The Pledge is just over a year old now, but I want to take it somewhere new. I’ve been chatting to Gillian and Clare about revamping the pledge for 2013. We’ve got some exciting ideas, so keep your eyes peeled for more information including how you can get involved…

Have you got much planned for 2013? Do let me know!

Style crush – The Hour

There’s a lot to love about the BBC’s The Hour.

Set in the 1950s, The Hour gets behind the scenes of a groundbreaking current affairs programme at the BBC in (fictional) times gone by. While it’s very much a generalisaton to call it such, ithas been dubbed the UK’s answer to Mad Men. Except you have nosy journalists chasing stories rather than high-profile advertising executives chasing clients.

What’s not to love?

Of course, the characters and story have got me hooked, but can we please, please talk about the clothes. Please?

Part of what made most of the sewing world fall head over heels in love with Mad Men was the impeccable costumes. I think we’ve all wanted one of Joan’s wiggle dresses in our lives. Admittedly, it plays a lesser part here in The Hour, as tricky stories and conspiracies rule the roost.

But the costumes really are a treat, from roving reporter Freddie’s shabby suits to the more polished flounce of housewife Marnie Madden. But my absolute favourite wardobe is that of ambitious producer Bel, filled with jewel toned skirts and dresses. Sleek and professional.

As you all know, I’m not a fan of quick-fire fashion and Bel’s work wardrobe, full of practical yet professional favourites, harks back to a time when clothes were meant to last. She basically owns my ideal working wardrobe.

I’m not quite pulling off this level of classy just yet, but I’m only a few months into the working world, give me time! Streamlined and sophisticated, her wardrobe screams efficiency. Just the thing you need if you’re in charge of a hard-hitting news programme, wouldn’t you say?

In terms of sewing, it would actually be fairly simple to stitch up. Only yesterday, I ordered a copy of Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing, which includes a suit jacket pattern as well as a pencil skirt. Just add a vintage brooch and you’re sorted.

Have any of you watched The Hour? What do you make of the new series? If you’re in the UK, you can catch up with it on BBC iPlayer.

 

Creepy comments and favourites on Flickr photos

Sharing photos of our creations on our blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr accounts is almost second nature to most of us now.

From outfit posts to in-progress shots, our photographs add to the conversation and create inspiration for other members in the community. But the Internet’s not so clear-cut and, well, nice as that. Take the Reddit storm which erupted recently, regarding the unmasking of a user who championed the “creepshot” – posting compromising pictures of women taken unawares.

Obviously in our little community it’s a completely different kettle of fish. We willingly share images of ourselves and our projects. There’s nothing sexual about what we do, right? Well, as some of us taking part in Me Made May ’12 found, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

A couple of months ago, I logged onto my Flickr to find someone had added quite a few of my photographs to their favourites. For those not on Flickr, you’re able to add pics to your favourites or cultivate your own galleries dedicated to certain themes. In this case, my pictures showed up in a gallery cultivated by someone with a clear fetish for scarves.

Clicking through to their profile, I saw they had added any and all photos of me wearing a scarf to a favourites filled with clothed and half-naked women draped in the seemingly innocuous accessory.

I didn’t really know what to make of it. A huge part of me obviously felt creeped out. These pictures weren’t taken for that purpose, after all. Another part of me felt like I shouldn’t be judging someone else for whatever rocked their boat – but then, I didn’t particularly want to be involved in it. So, I blocked the user, which prevents my pictures from appearing in their feed.

Feeling “creeped out”

I’m not the only whose photos have ended up in unexpected Flickr galleries. Roisin of Dolly Clackett noticed it when she started submitting photos to the Wardrobe Remix Flickr pool.

She said: “I think the worst one was someone called TIGHTSFACE, whose profile had lots of photos of naked men with tights on their heads. None of the comments have been aggressive or anything but it does creep me out when someone comments to say ‘I’d like to smell your feet’!”

Then there were the knitwear fans. “I did get a number of knitwear fetishists favouriting my photos and adding me to their galleries – the strangest one being someone who favourited a load of totally innocent photos of me wearing cardigans and added them to a gallery that included drawings and photos of naked girls wearing cardigans, and people having sex in knitted gimp suits,” she said.

There’s a whole thread on the Me Made May ’12 group on this subject, started by Gillian, who wanted to know if this sort of thing was happening to other people too. As a teacher, Gillian is at pains not to post anything she wouldn’t be comfortable with her students seeing.

I contacted her for more information, specifically, how did these “off” comments make her feel?  “It’s very insulting, demeaning, and hurtful,” she said.

“The sewing community is generally so kind and positive that it’s a real shock to realise that lurkers and creeps are out there! Luckily, I feel relatively in control with Flickr – It’s easy to block someone, and I can delete comments as well.

“Once it’s dealt with, I forget all about it. It doesn’t affect what pictures I post.”

It seems almost harmless, really. Especially when you think that some people are posting demeaning upskirt pictures of women taken when they weren’t looking or  wishing death on each other via anonymous comments. Except I can’t help but think sexual comments and Internet catcalling is the next step – in fact, I’ve seen a comment here and there which definitely weren’t about how well the drape of the fabric works.

I think there’s a mentality on the Internet that if you post pictures of yourself dressed to the nines and in some nice make up, as many of us did during any of the numerous sewing challenges, then you “deserve” this kind of unwanted attention. But people say the same thing when I dress up in real life and get catcalls and unwanted comments. Not to mention, the reality is, the most successful blogs have this personable element to them which is difficult to achieve if you’re hiding behind your mannequin.

Gillian agrees with on this one. She said: “Sure, I could make all of my pictures “private”, but that defeats the point of social blogging. I could change what pictures I put up (no head, for example, or low res crappy pics), but again, why should I have to?

“Unfortunately, there is no clear solution to harassment and sexism in either the real world or the blogosphere… so until then, I appreciate the support and commiseration of the sewing community!”

I expect to be able to walk down the street in garments I’ve made without being called sugartits – so why is the Internet any different? It all comes back to this notion of the online world being beyond any sort of social conventions we expect in day-to-day life.

Also, as Roisin points out, there is a worry that by taking offence to our pictures being added to fetish-themed gallery, we’re being judgemental of someone else’s sexual preferences. She said: “I’m trying not to be too judgemental about the creepy things people comment about. I choose to share the photos in a public space and I don’t want to be judgy about people’s sexual practices, but it definitely does make me feel uncomfortable to know that there are people out there getting kicks out of a picture of me in a cardigan.”

I’m sure there are a few people out there who sew and maybe even read some of our blogs on a regular basis but don’t want to put themselves out there for fear of this kind of reaction. As much as I love the diversity of Flickr’s community, this mixture of the innocent and the more suggestive can be hard to deal with when the two collide.

Two sides

One of my Cardiff Twitter contacts Martyn Kelly, who’d also experienced some of this on his own Flickr page, probably put it best. He said: “Flickr is one of the few communities where it embraces the dualist nature of the web in terms of filth/underbelly and friendly/safe/social, and does so with grading/rating photo streams, mature audience flags, logged in only content, etc. and advice on how to manage that.

“But things break when: 1) Someone comments something a bit creepy… or 2) The Flickr-specific problem – if a creeper favourites a photo. Because a user’s favourites are public, you find your image has been curated by a man in a mac, erection wavering outside your digital window. It all gets a bit weird.”

I emailed Flickr months ago to ask what they’d advise users do if they’re uncomfortable with a comment, but they haven’t answered. But here’s what it says in their community guidelines:

Don’t be creepy.
You know the guy. Don’t be that guy.

Your thoughts, as always, are much appreciated.

Stitching to deadline – let’s get this dress done!

I like to think I can “do” deadlines. There’s nothing quite like the adrenaline of a big deadline inching closer and closer by every second.

At least if you make a mistake in an article, you can get it corrected in a matter of seconds once you’ve spotted it. But say you end up sewing something topsy turvy, you’re guaranteed to have a solid half hour of unpicking on your hands – and that’s only if you were lucky enough to make a mistake on the bodice.

This is partly why the Twitter dress has taken me so long to get done. But with the Wales Blog Awards presentation coming up this week, I really wanted to get the dress done so I’d have a me-made dress for the evening – it would be a bit embarrassing if I wore anything else, wouldn’t it?

Making progress!

I don’t know what it is about an imposing deadline, but I managed to get most of the dress done last night! A lot of what I have left now is hand-sewing, which I can do on the train back to Cardiff tomorrow evening.

How satisfying! Do you perform well under deadlines?