Fashion, Features, Interviews
Women Sing Louder with Birdsong
“We show the reality of women, making more of us visible. We think our bodies suits us as they are, and we are making clothing to reflect that”, explains Sophie Slater. She is the co-founder of Birdsong – an ethical clothing brand focused on feminism – regarded as one of the labels revolutionising the fashion industry as we know it.
At Birdsong, they work on a promise of “No sweatshops, no photoshop”. The clothes are made by everyone from the migrant seamstresses to knitting grannies. Their knitwear is made at the Bradbury Centre in Kingston and the Knit & Natter group in Enfield; both groups of elderly women donate revenue from their knitting to worthy causes. Organic sweatshirts and tees are hand-painted in detail by women at Mohila Creations, which is a group of low-income migrant mothers based in Tower Hamlets and who are all paid a living wage.
The brand’s seamstresses hand cut, sew and finish most of their garments at their workshop on Brick Lane, Heba. This workshop was established by a group of migrant women over 25 years ago and are Birdsong’s primary garment-maker. They continue to provide a safe space for migrant and refugee women in the UK. “We want to subvert people’s expectations about ethical fashion by having a great stock that is aesthetically pleasing as it is value-driven”, says Sophie.
The “no photoshop” rule is present in every brand campaign as well as on their website. Sophie says the brand “committed to using diverse models, making shoots a fun, positive experience for them, and never digitally altering their appearance”. The founder believes that women are feed up of being advertised in an unrealistic way and that their clients love the brand’s imagery because it shows the reality of women.
Birdsong was born after Sophie met her business partner Sarah in 2014, while they were both working for charities. Sophie had a background working as a model and as a shop assistant at clothing chain American Apparel, which she considers ethical but hugely problematic. She was very interested in ethical fashion and manufacturing, but couldn’t stand the objectifying advertising. Sophie has also experienced body shaming and dealt with unrealistic beauty standards while being signed.
Her partner Sarah was working at an elderly people’s day centre which at that time had a knitting circle. They were selling their pieces at bring-and-buy sales for a fiver and continuously stressing about funding opportunities.
“I was working for women’s charities and doing feminist activism, but every women’s group I worked with saw their funding get cut to shreds. So many older or migrant women have incredible sewing and making skills but face huge barriers turning it into cash”, says Sophie.
Sophie and Sarah were two women who shared their passion for clothes, activism and the goal of making more women visible. Thus, they decided to build a fashion brand as outsiders, using their friends and activists as models.
“We have a label and we work with a lot of creative people from the industry, but we’re also very separate to it by virtue of our values”, says Sophie. She believes the feminist creatives are getting more prominent and that there are more opportunities for them in the ethical fashion industry. Fashion has always been a space for women and queer people to express themselves and succeed, and Sophie believes people are shaping it now to be a better space to thrive in.
Today the brand has sold apparel to over 18 countries. Everything Birdsong does is, and will continue to be driven from a feminist perspective. That means hiring feminist photographers to eradicate the male gaze or champion women workers and charitable organisations by fairly sourcing their clothing through them.
“We believe in collaboration and making women’s voices heard”, stresses Sophie.