I joked to a friend that London is burying its head in luxurious looking baubles and fairy lights this year as a privileged rebuff to Brexit, Trump and what has generally been a year that I’m personally fine to see the back of. Because the last time I was in town, wandering the streets of Oxford, Regent, Carnaby and Bond, London DID look particularly seductive. It’s that warm glow of beckoning merchandise, whiffs of spice and all things nice and the sort of curated-to-the-hilt tasteful Christmas that have spawned about a bajillion books on the values of Danish hygge.
Except, I’ve not been able to enjoy any of this much. This holiday period where my birthday bleeds into that Christmas lull, hasn’t been that merry. Those of you who follow me on Instagram and Twitter might have sniffed out the reasons why. I’ve not even thought about what wrapping paper I might use this year, which will surprise those who know me as an obsessive consummate papier freak, hellbent on matching up GSM to folding techniques, and ribbon texture to patterns.
Christmas pop-up shops are even further from my mind. Pop-up. Pop-off. Whereas normally I’ll do a quick blitz weekend of pooting from one crafty affair to the next, this year will see the penultimate days to Christmas spent… well, not doing much to be honest. I did however find some time to go and see Birdsong’s first physical temporary presence in Shoreditch. Their feminist pop-up concept store is also another way of combatting the “heart breaking shiftiness of 2016” in Slater’s words.
I’m hesitant to add the loaded word “ethical” to what Birdsong do. Their tagline “No Sweatshops, No Photoshop” is perhaps a more comprehensible way of describing what Sarah Beckett, Ruba Huleihel and Sophie Slater have collectively created. I can crow “social enterprise”, “fair fashion” and “ethical sourcing” at you from dusk till dawn. Those phrases can daunt a shopper. The crux of Birdsong is, that they’re selling lovely things, made in partnership with lovely women’s organisations and charities and you feel lovely as a result. You can delve deeper and look at the incredible women’s knitting groups or impoverished migrant women’s circles that create these things. Or you can stop and admire aesthetics alone and just count on the fact that by shopping at Birdsong, something good is coming out of that credit/debit card swipe.
They have bought their feminist-focused wares to physical fruition at their pop-up on 46 Charlotte Road, alas only on until Monday 19th. No matter. You have this penultimate Christmas weekend to head on down and pick up a selection of what I think are pretty ace gifts for a lot of people I know.
Avocado/egg/pomegranate boob sweatshirts and tees? They’re not just there for emoji lolz. They’re a result of designer Clio Peppiatt working with the women’s migrant group Mohila in Tower Hamlets to hand paint these fun motifs, that means they can earn a living wage whilst their children go to school, which subsequently goes into a collective pot for the group. There are also a few pieces from Clio’s AW16 at the pop-up too.
Clio Peppiatt AW 16
Or how about a hand knitted jumper, lovingly made by elderly female knitting circles Knit and Natter in Enfield and The Bradbury Centre in Kingston. Each tag tells you who made your cosy piece.
I expect the printed tees, swimsuits and hand painted denim by public artist Ibiye Camp to fly off the rails. As part of an ongoing series ‘Such a Fan’, Ibiye uses denim as her canvas for black pop cultural icons like Lil’ Kim, Beyonce and TLC as well as more historical figures such as Rosa Parks and Josephine Baker. In addition to paying homage to these brilliant women, they also happen to be awesome to look at/wear.
Perhaps one of the most poignant stories to emerge from Birdsong is that of label Two Neighbors, a collaborative enterprise created by an Israeli and a Palestinian, putting their differences aside and meeting in a border town between Israel and the Palestinian Territories to find a co-existing common ground by employing both Palestinian and Israeli seamstresses to give a modern spin on traditional Palestinian embroidery that has been passed from generation to generation by women in the south Hebron hills. In grid formation, traditional motifs and symbols of Palestinian culture are cross stitched and Two Neighbors becomes the linking conduit to take that tradition and filter it through contemporary designs such as the tencel jackets that are being sold at Birdsong’s pop-up.
Tonight, Birdsong’s pop-up will be doing a launch event in collaboration with the first period-proof underwear brand Thinx, who caused a stir last year when their supposedly provocative ad campaign was initially banned on the NYC subway. Thinx is the brainchild of Miki Agrawa, who spent three years designing these wonder knickers that are able to absorb up to two tampons worth of blood. Having done a NCT class on postpartum bleeding and the joys of Tena Lady Pants (!), I’m somewhat intrigued by Thinx so will definitely have to get some for trialling. TMI? Well, that’s the nature of being a woman isn’t it and thankfully, Thinx don’t shirk from those biological truths.
Being a sucker for African prints, I was also drawn to Khama, a group of designers and makers in London who work with a workship in Kasungu in Malawi to create clothes and accessories from that distinctive West African printed chitenge fabric, that has been ethically sourced and often produced in limited print runs.
More underwear as Birdsong also gives substantial space to Pico, a London-based brand, that are entirely traceable from organic cotton farms to a fairtrade workshop in the South of India.
Jewellery wise, the selection is again geared towards organisations that help women around the world better their lives. Birdsong founder Sophia Slater makes an important point in this interview where she points out the pitfalls of feminism that is overtly focused on the issues of middle class white women and so the more global feminist stance becomes a unique USP at Birdsong. “It can’t just be ‘Feminism Lite’ for middle-class white women,” she says. “For us, worker’s rights, funding cuts and a lack of diversity are all top priorities.” Jewellery designer Kirsty Kirkpatrick for instance works with the Fountain of Life Women’s Centre in Pattaya in Thailand to create her Jit-Win-Yan jewellery made out of semi-precious and regional gems, with all funds from sales going back to the organisation. London-based jewellery label Finchittida, created by Lao-British twin sisters Tida and Lisa Finch focus their efforts on clearing the residual bombs in their mother’s home country Laos, left behind from the Vietnam war. And Quazi Design‘s workshop in Sidwashini, Swaziland give full time employment to female artisans, in need of a living wage to support on average seven dependents per woman.
More familiar names are also available at Birdsong’s pop-up in the form of Auria swimwear, made out of recycled fishnets as well as Alex Noble’s… well, noble EMG Initiative salvage t-shirts.
It none of the clothing floats your boat, these brilliant drawings or surly girls in sassy clothes by Clio Isadora surely will, coupled with some lovely heartfelt bouquets by Bread and Roses, new florist venture that works with refugee women in Hackney.
I’m guilty of making Christmas about ‘stuff’ and ‘frivolity’ as much as the next person but a visit to Birdsong is a pertinent reminder of what this time of year can really mean.
Birdsong concept store open until Monday 19th a December at 46 Charlotte Road, Shoreditch, London