Birdsong sustainable fashion ethically made in Britain
Birdsong sustainable fashion – dress in protest with birdsong
For women who expect more from their wardrobe, we design original wardrobe staples that are ethical, sustainable and made by talented women paid a fair wage
What we make:
At Birdsong, we create clothing for women who dress in protest. We do the slogans too – our No Borders and Still I Rise tees are some of our best-sellers – but we also make statements that last longer than the time it take to read a t-shirt. All our t-shirts are locally embroidered or screen printed by talented women paid a fair wage, onto our organic cotton base tees.
Wearing our collection of original wardrobe staples is a protest in itself– against the fast nature of the fashion industry, against the obsessive pursuit of trends and against the systematic abuse of women in the production line. We know that women want more from their wardrobe but that the world of ethical, sustainable and local fashion can be a minefield. So we’ve ticked all the boxes for you.
We design clothes for remarkable women, but we’re also made by them. We work with expert women makers who face barriers to employment – from artists and printmakers to seamstresses and painters – and pay them London living wage to bring our designs to life.
What do you mean ‘no sweatshops’?
Around 85% of people employed in the global garment industry are women, between the ages of 18 – 24. Most of these people work in really poor conditions, for rubbish pay, and have very little in the way of rights. To find out more we recommend going here, watching True Cost, or finding out more here. Take time to do self-care after reading/viewing.
We think this is unfair so we have a different way of doing things.
… and no photoshop?
Most women and girls see between 300 – 3500 adverts a day. The women in those ads look nothing like 95% of women in reality, because they’re mostly super thin, airbrushed, and not diverse. That makes most women feel pretty crud. There’re studies to prove it.
We think all bodies are good bodies, so we show the women who model for us (who are often pals, activists, friends of Birdsong) as they are. We also make our own brand clothing in any size.
So how are you different?
All the women we work with are paid a London living wage, or choose to donate their revenue back to the charities that support them. They also work in the comfort and safety of their women’s group or charity. That often means they’re around counsellors, friends and professional mentors.
Where does the money go?
Our labour costs go directly to the women who make our clothes, or to their women’s charity. At least 92% of women’s organisations in London have had funding cuts or a crisis in the past 5 years, so they can really do with the cash. To find out more about how important women’s services are, click here.
Some of the groups we work with include two knitting circles run by elderly women, a group of low income migrant mothers who paint at their children’s school in Bow, a domestic and sexual violence support charity and crafting programme in the North East, and a group of migrant seamstresses who act as a support network for each other on Brick Lane.
Can I find out more about the groups you work with?
We’d love to introduce you – here they all are.
What about the environment?
Fashion is the second most polluting industry after oil. Yuck. Naturally, being a tiny company means we guzzle less energy than most giant corporations. However, we know we can always improve.
We have a partnership with Traid so that we can make garments out of perfect, second hand fabrics that would otherwise go to landfill. We also try to use organic, natural and sustainable fabric options where we can, and manufacture most of our products with UK women’s groups to cut down on air miles. We’re pretty good at taking the recycling out too.
What’s the deal with organic?
People have been thinking about not putting things with creepy chemicals in their bellies for a while now, but what about wearing them on your skin? Traditional cotton uses harmful pesticides that can cause all sorts of problems for people growing it and the planet. The cotton we use for our t-shirts is both GOTS certified and EU Ecolabelled.
Here is a bit about the GOTS certification: Only textile products that contain a minimum of 70% organic fibres can become GOTS certified. All chemical inputs such as dyestuffs and auxiliaries used must meet certain environmental and toxicological criteria. The choice of accessories is limited in accordance with ecological aspects as well. A functional waste water treatment plant is mandatory for any wet-processing unit involved and all processors must comply with social criteria. The key criteria of GOTS, its quality assurance system and the principles of the review and revision procedure are summarised in this section.
And here is a bit about the EU Ecolabel the official EU label for Greener Products. Ecolabelled products have a comparatively modest impact on air, water, soil, quality, natural resource consumption, global warming and biodiversity. Products must pass rigorous tests with results verified by an independent body. The label adorns top performing products only.
Back in 2014, Sarah worked at an elderly day centre, and noticed the granny’s knitting circle there made a megatonne of scarves. They had knitted stuff coming out of their ears. The knitting is calming, meditative, helps with arthritis and helped the women there, like Edna, feel purposeful. But after learning they were shifting them at bring-and-buy sales for a fiver a pop, she thought of a better idea.
At the same time, Sophie was working for women’s charities, but every group she met saw their funding get cut to shreds. During this time she saw some domestic violence services shutting down after decades of supporting women. They often had mad good crafting skills but weren’t sure of the best way to turn it into cash.
She had just finished working in an “ethical” fashion shop that sexualised their staff and models, and had a beyond creepy CEO. She’d also been a model for a while, but went off it after being made to feel her bum was too big, amongst other things. She quit, moved to London and met Sarah.
Sarah and Sophie started selling things for the charities online, using their friends and activists as models. They blogged about feminism, decided their models didn’t need airbrushing, and came up with a catchy slogan for what they do. They got a bunch of grants, customers came flocking, and Edna was even featured on the BBC. Now they’ve sold in 18 different countries, been featured in press across four continents, and raised a successful crowdfunding campaign. They’ve grown enough to hire production manager and head designer Susanna, who recently joined the Birdsong flock.
Why are you doing this?
Women’s services are great. Women’s charities pick up all the pieces when sh*t hits the fan. They also make cool stuff, but often don’t know how to sell it. And they’re super broke.
Fashion: our worst enemy, our best mate. Loads of women workers are exploited for the sake of covering our bums in fabric. Beautiful, inspiring fabric. But still, not really cool when you think about it.
We’re our own customers. We wanted a fun way to do fashion that didn’t make us feel sad about our bodies, or anybody for that matter.
We believe that making things makes people feel good. Making things that other people want, and that allow you to contribute to a bigger project makes you feel even better. That’s why we design, shoot and shout about the clothes our women’s groups and charities make. That way they can get on with surviving, feeling better, and practising their craft.
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Read our blog post Where to buy ethical fashion made in UK
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