As a young London brand, Birdsong wishes to revolutionize the way we produce and consume fashion. How, you ask? By showing the potential of a brand whose internal functioning is just as feminist and ethical as the slogans on its clothes and its advertising campaigns. Its mantra: “No sweatshops & No photoshop”.
« All too often we see the misappropriation of political ideas which are sold to us in the form of trends. I have learned to judge brands with skeptical eyes because of the way they treat their employees, but I think it is a good thing. »
Sophie Slater, one of the creators of Birdsong, sums up in an interview given in 2019 for the Refinery29 website, the very essence of « feminism-washing ». A phenomenon which consists, for a company, in publicly advocating certain values (here, the defense of women’s rights) for a benefit (in terms of reputations, image, profits), without a real internal commitment.
Since the success in 2017 of the Dior T-shirt « We should all be feminist » (whose slogan takes the title of a Ted Talk given in 2012 by the activist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), we have seen a surge of clothes decorated with feminist formulas. But while almost 80% of workers in the textile industry in the world are women working in extremely precarious conditions, one can wonder: can a fashion brand currently be really feminist? Birdsong says yes.
THE LAUNCH OF AN ACTIVIST BRAND
The two founders, Sophie Slater and Sarah Beckett meet during a joint postgraduate course on social transformations. Inspired by this course which deals with the real impact that we can have in society, they decided in 2014 to launch their own project, a brand of clothing of a new kind.
Birdsong was thus inspired by the often overlooked and untapped creativity and talent present in women’s community groups or charities.
The clothes are original, ethical and sustainable creations, made by talented women from these collectives.
“Dress in protest” Protest against the flouted rights of textile workers, against a polluting fashion industry and against the deceitful feminism of mainstream brands.
BIRDSONG: A FEMINISM OF FORM AND SUBSTANCE
Diversity in the representation of women
If there is one area in which the fashion industry has progressed the past few years, it is that of representation of diverse bodies (even if great progress remains to do). And Birdsong is no exception. The brand thus practices “street-casting” by selecting for their campaigns women crossed in the street, friends or activists.
In 2016, two years after its launch, one of their advertising campaigns caused a sensation and well represented the spirit of the brand.
Among the models presented, there were feminist activist Hanna Yusuf, who wears the hijab in all her photos, transgender activist Charlie Craggs and Edna, an 86-year-old knitter who makes sweaters sold on the site. All images are also guaranteed without retouching (“no photoshop”, it’s in their mantra!).
But beyond public campaigns, their feminism is also embodied in the internal functioning of the company.
An ethical production, made by women for women
The brand does not have a factory but knows all of its suppliers and can therefore control everyone’s working conditions. Birdsong thus practices a special recruitment technique searching for its employees in London women’s associations: clothing is thus produced by groups of talented women from very diverse backgrounds (refugee seamstresses, retired women, young designers, etc.) all working in London and paid at London’s average London Living Wage per hour (currently £ 10.75). All the clothes produced are available in sizes from 6 to 24 UK.
To manage their ecological impact and the problem of unsold items, clothing is only produced after clients orders.
The brand uses natural and sustainable materials: organic cotton, Indian cotton from fair trade and bamboo fiber from China and produced in a closed circuit system that recycles water and chemicals. From sourcing to manufacturing, the brand communicates transparently on its production chain, information to find in more detail right here.
Putting the human back into the garment
In a survey visible on the brand’s website, Birdsong employees declare that they are proud of their work, that they have learned new skills, that they have gained more self-confidence and that their quality of life has improved …
For each employee, a supplement of £ 4.80 is added to support the associations to which they belong. Part of Birdsong’s profits are thus redistributed. In associations or to support local projects like the MailOut company with which Birdsong produces its packaging, a company that provides training and support to adults affected by autism or learning difficulties.
The brand’s mission is to advocate for a better way to produce but also consume fashion, by connecting women, from employees to consumers. How, you ask? For each order placed, the item of clothing is packaged with the portrait and signature of the woman who created it. A great way to remind us that our clothes are made by real women. A way to connect with them, and ultimately, to bring back human and meaning into the garment.
« I want to participate in the development of economies based around communities and not around despotic and profit-hungry brands. » declared Sophie Slater. (Source: Refinery 29)
Birdsong thus manufactures ethical and sustainable clothing that values the women who wear them, those who make them, and all the communities that bind them.
If we started to despair over the wave of “feminism-washing” in the past few years, brands like Birdsong show us that true feminism and fashion commitment can go hand in hand and revolutionize an industry that was in great need of a revolution.
Let’s live an existence where we are investing in the ideas that we hold dear. For me, that means buying my clothes from people who take care of those who make them. » (Source : Refinery 29)
For us too.