Amelia’s Magazine | Dispatches: Fashion’s Dirty Secret

Illustration by Antonia Parker

Saying you work in fashion normally garners one of two reactions: awe with a smidgen of jealousy on the presumption all you do is swan around with fabrics and making swishy type movements before dashing off to an exotic shoot/party/event of the year, more about ambulance or utter contempt.

On arriving at a friend’s boyfriend’s drinks it was the second reaction I received. He and his friends were doing a masters degree in ethical business, seek and had I arrived dressed as Cruella DeVil with a baby’s head on a silver platter I possible would have got a warmer reception. As allegedly glamorous as fashion is, medicine it is also many people’s favourite whipping boy. Neither picture is entirely true.

Channel 4’s Dispatches programme exposed the vile, undeniably horrific and illegal working conditions of UK based sweatshops. Showing the secret film to a sweatshop surveyor, he stated these compared to some of the worst conditions he’s seen in the Far East. The conditions in the sweatshop should never be allowed to happen regardless of where it is in the world: Leicester or Laos it really doesn’t matter.

Illustration by Karolina Burdon

The UK High Street actually has some very high standards when it comes to treatment of labourers. The retailers featured, including New Look, Peacocks and Jane Norman stated their supply chains were SEDEX approved. SEDEX allows retailers to independently demonstrate their commitment to ethics. Obviously this self regulation had failed. Each retailer appeared to take on board the facts and launch appropriate investigations into sub-contracting. If only they had been more proactive in the first place.

One retailer leading the way in the UK is ASOS. In the last few months they have built on the successes of Fashion Enter, a not-for-profit enterprise, specialising in garment sampling and helped them open a dedicated ASOS factory. Having a UK based factory will not only cut transport costs, carbon footprints, and lower turnaround times for ASOS but also boost the local economy.

It’s thanks to programmes like Dispatches that public awareness of poor working conditions is being raised. This is undeniably a good thing. Sweatshops like this should not be allowed to exist.

Let’s look at the facts for a moment. The story doesn’t end there and Dispatches, to their credit, touched on it. The existence of fast fashion and super cheap clothes has a huge role to play in the existence of sweatshops. In yesteryear clothes were luxury items, to be worn over and over; to be mended and repaired, to be recycled into new garments. Not so anymore.  Some of the responsibility must inevitably fall on the heads of all of us. How often have you bought a cheap top, or bargain basement jeans, or a £15 dress that was such a steal it’d be rude not to buy it? I know I have (not the dress, but you get the picture). How often do you really think about where that has come from? The Dispatches vox pop revealed that few people actually do.

Illustration by Willa Gebbie

The fact is until UK consumers begin to demand better working conditions and simultaneously agree to pay for them little will change. When asked why UK retailers rarely manufacture in the UK anymore, the answer is simple. The UK consumer won’t pay the necessary price. Why do these sweatshops exist? Because on ever dwindling profit margins short cuts will happen. Blind eyes will be turned – a feeling echoed by both Mary Portas and Melanie Rickey in their tweets after the show. Such things are, again, totally unacceptable.

I used to get asked to make outfits for people. When I gave honest rock bottom quotes, I found most of these requests vanished. Why pay £100 for a shirt when you can go down town and get one for a tenner? Scales of economy and an essentially bespoke service aside, it’s the same thing. Regardless of who does it, every piece has to be cut, every seam sewn, and every feature, rhinestone, embellishment and sequin attached. A suit has over 140 separate pieces, a zipper five, a shirt cuff six or more including buttons and buttonholes.

A lot of work goes into the shirt on your back. Those making it deserve to get paid a living wage, and work in safe conditions. Those manufacturing deserve to make a profit. The consumer deserves quality goods at the right price. At some point someone is going to lose out. Nine times out of ten this will be the person we can’t directly see.

Illustration by Karolina Burdon

So what do we do? A little bit of research goes a long way. Check out responsible manufacturers, check out your local boutiques (a small designer is often more likely to be ethical and more importantly the chance of bumping into someone in the same outfit is greatly reduced), check out eco-fashion labels (for instance in Amelia’s new book) or places like Traid, and check out ASOS’ own brand.Your t-shirt may cost £25 instead of £5, your jeans £40 instead of £15, but in each tiny way it’ll help stop sweatshops.

As one of the members of the public on the programme stated, ‘we each have to buy within our means, but that doesn’t mean buying irresponsibly.’

To watch the documentary on Channel 4′s 4oD, click here.

Categories ,Antonia Parker, ,ASOS, ,Channel 4, ,designers, ,Dispatches, ,ethical, ,Far East, ,fashion, ,Fashion Enter, ,High Street, ,Jane Norman, ,Laos, ,Leicester, ,Mary Portas, ,Melanie Rickey, ,New Look, ,Peacocks, ,SEDEX, ,Sweatshops, ,traid, ,Willa Gebbie

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Amelia’s Magazine | New Designers Celebrates 30 Years: an interview with One Year On curator Rheanna Lingham

Rheanna, portrait work
Jewellery by Rheanna Lingham, photography by Emma Dalzell.

Rheanna Lingham trained as a jewellery designer on the brilliant Middlesex University course (read my review of the 2015 graduate show here). She then opened Luna & Curious with fellow creatives Polly George and Kaoru Parry, specialising in British made products featuring high quality craftsmanship, traditional skills and excellent design. This year she curates the 30th edition of the preeminent graduate show New Designers. I got the low down on her role…

Rheanna Lingham photo by Karina Twiss
Rheanna Lingham, photography by Karina Twiss.

Why has New Designers been so instrumental in the careers of so many graduates? What did it do for you?
New Designers has been going for 30 years, which is a fantastic achievement. It has long established itself as the go-to show for the industry who are seeking out fresh creativity. The creative industries can be a little lazy and London-centric, so it’s an opportunity for all the other parts of the country to put themselves on show to a wider audience. One of the lovely things about New Designers is the things you see on the way round, we all have our own specialisms that we focus on, for me it’s jewellery, but take the long routes and a wander through the textiles can be so inspiring, you can just let your attention be grabbed. I apply this same rule to visiting the V&A, you are always guaranteed of uncovering a surprise like this.

Rheanna Lingham necklace
Rheanna Lingham necklace.

For me New Designers was very successful: from the show I was selected to show at Galerie Marzee in Nijmegen, Holland as part of their International Graduate Show. Obviously, this was a fantastic opportunity, but really it was such a confidence boost to know that people were interested in my work. It’s very scary to leave university and keep up the momentum of your creative practice, so as many people cheering you along the way is the best kickstart.

Theo Adamson, Group Image – New Designers 2015 One Year On
Theo Adamson – New Designers 2015, One Year On

How has your work as co-founder of Luna & Curious informed your practice as a curator of design?
Having owned and run Luna & Curious for nine years now, we have sold a huge selection of designers, most of which we have found in the early part of their career, so I have picked up a thing or two about what sells, pricing, design etc. I also have been making and selling jewellery since 2005, my work has sold internationally, so I understand the whole spectrum, being a designer-maker, buyer, visual merchandiser and retailer. It’s one of those things where it is really hard to quantify experience, it’s generally a gut instinct that leads my decisions, however this is backed up with a knowledge gained over the years.

Robyn Hinchcliffe - Rugs - New Designers 2015 - One Year On (3)
Robyn Hinchcliffe – New Designers 2015, One Year On

What were you looking for in your choice of designers for this year’s One Year On show, and what has been the most enjoyable part of the process?
Good design is evident, but a good designer is something different, they must understand their product and its place in the market, they must be able to work to deadlines, sort production issues, market and retail their own work. This is a huge undertaking and involves much plate-spinning. The One Year On designers have all been brave enough to give this circus act a go and I want to support them all the way. As we get nearer the event, the excitement is building for all of us, and I can’t wait to be on the stand with all the designers, proud of what they have to show.

SO KLARA - Sample (2) - New Designers 2015 - One Year On
SO KLARA – New Designers 2015

How do you think we can better inform and support talented young designers to forge a valid career in the creative world? What is most missing from their current training?
I’m past being shocked by how little practical business skills are taught within university, most courses think there is an adequate provision for this, but they are falling vastly short. Students must learn how to cost and price their work, about mark-ups, securing an agent, even understanding how VAT works and the accounting requirements of being self-employed. There are amazing graduate mentoring schemes such as Hothouse from the Crafts Council and The Goldsmith’s Company Getting Started programme, which can really help support new designers. I had a year in industry which was such a fantastic experience, I learnt such a lot, mainly from listening in rather than direct advice.

Charlotte Beevor - Wallpaper - New Designers 2015 - One Year On
Charlotte Beevor, BDC New Designer of the Year New Designers 2014, Leeds...
Charlotte Beevor Silk Scarves – New Designers 2015, One Year On

What advice would you give those graduate designers now showing at New Designers, who are looking ahead and hoping to be featured in One Year On next year?
Listen… that’s my greatest bit of advice to designers. Too often we get sucked in to the performance of a show, that we must have all the answers and the spiel along with it. Those visiting New Designers are fully aware that the exhibitors are graduates, barely stepped on to their professional career paths, they want to have conversations with you, see what inspires you, learn about your practice and see how this can work with their own businesses. They too have been in your shoes and have much experience to share. Then take time to reflect on this and work out the best way of developing your creative process. Focus on one thing at a time.

Jake McCombe Jewellery - Bracelets & Pendants - New Designers 2015 - One...
Jake McCombe Jewellery - Bracelets - New Designers 2015 - One Year On
Jake McCombe Jewellery – New Designers 2015, One Year On

How often do you find new talent at New Designers that is ready to go straight into your store? And can you tell us more about any of these discoveries?
As soon as I saw the work of Jake McCombe on the selection day, I knew it was perfect for Luna & Curious, we have been selling his chunky geometric jewellery in store since April and it’s going down fantastically. I have had some amazing conversations with designers at New Designers who haven’t quite got their product ready, and maybe two-three years on, we are now having the opportunity to discuss their products as potential items for us to stock.

Beth Lewis (Williams Ceramic Lighting), Towerblock 1 and Ramsgate - New ...
Beth Lewis-Williams Ceramic Lighting - Escapist - New Designers 2015 One...
Beth Lewis-Williams Ceramic Lighting – New Designers 2015, One Year On

Middlesex University, where you trained, is closing it’s innovative and much loved jewellery course next year. Why do you think this has happened and how do you feel about the loss of a degree that has trained so many amazing designers?
Extremely saddened. I will also add that the fantastic Art Foundation course in Maidstone, at which I studied also closed last year, I had also been teaching on this for six years and I was made redundant. So within ten years of my graduation, both courses I studied on have now closed, and these were exceptionally good courses too, the level of teaching was superb.

I went to a talk by Christopher Frayling a few weeks back where he quoted a statistic that between 2007-2013 the number of higher education craft courses fell by 46%. These are expensive courses to run, they require demanding student-teacher ratios, they need workshops, technicians, space, the results are hard to quantify in terms of employment as most go on to self-employment which is not always the most lucrative. With the lack of apprenticeships, the problem is even more confounded, and yes I could get on my soapbox about this for sometime… it’s the combination of education and profit-making that will always jar.

Charlotte Beevor - Silk Scarf A - New Designers 2015 - One Year On
Charlotte Beevor Silk Scarves – New Designers 2015, One Year On

How is your own practice as a jeweller developing over the years, and what are you working on at the moment?
This year I have taken a bold step to put the pliers down and pause the jewellery making for a bit. Luna & Curious is growing with such speed, Polly, Kaoru and I are fully immersing ourselves into developing the shop. We have our own ranges of accessories, knitwear and homeware launching this year and we are expanding our womenswear and childrenswear considerably for AW15. I have never been able to do just one thing, so OYO has been keeping me really busy and was the perfect project after my teaching redundancy, I was sorely missing working with a creative group, so was thrilled to be asked to curate the show. Bubbling away on the back burner is a very personal project which I will launch later in the year, focusing on British rural folkore and customs, an ongoing obsession of mine.

The 30th edition of New Designers opens soon, make sure you get along to discover a plethora of talent from all areas of art and design (full info in my listing here). I am super excited that I have been asked to take over the New Designers instagram feed from both part 1 and part 2 of the shows, so watch out for my top finds on Sunday 28th June and Sunday 5th July. I can’t wait to see what’s in store this year!

Categories ,30 Years, ,British rural folkore, ,Christopher Frayling, ,Crafts Council, ,Emma Dalzell, ,Galerie Marzee, ,Getting Started, ,Hothouse, ,interview, ,Jake McCombe, ,jewellery, ,Kaoru Parry, ,Karina Twiss, ,Luna & Curious, ,Maidstone, ,middlesex university, ,New Designers, ,One Year On, ,Polly George, ,Rheanna Lingham, ,The Goldsmith’s Company

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