Birdsong 2020 Impact Report
Note from our founder:
We founded Birdsong based on our experiences working with marginalised women on the frontline, in women's organisations in the UK. We are an ethical and sustainable fashion brand, but first and foremost we're a social enterprise. This means that even through tough times like this global crisis, our number one priority is the well being of our makers. With your support we can come out of this and continue to provide meaningful, dignified work and living wages to the local communities we support. Thank you, we couldn't do this without you.
It’s estimated that 60 million women worldwide – aged 18-35 and working in the garment industry – make less than a minimum wage. These women are making the clothes we see on the high street everyday, and are hidden in the fashion supply chain. We know it’s near impossible to track where your clothing comes from and who made it – and that’s why we’re here. Together, we believe we can change the way fashion works.
“The going rate for a garment worker in lots of places in Leicester is £3.50, £4 an hour. I was told that £5 was like a really top rate” - FT journalist investigation, 2018
There’s no two ways about it. Fashion has had detrimental effects on humanity – from exploited women workers to materials and practices that harm our planet. But it’s also an important form of expression and a tool for change (think of the Black Panther’s berets). Birdsong don’t want to get rid of it, we want to make it better.
Mona is a machine embroiderer who embroiders all of our best selling slogan tees. She also now occasionally enlists the help of local women from her class. She is a business woman, mother and teacher originally from Egypt who now lives in Tower Hamlets, London.
The work provided by Birdsong now accounts for 80% of Mona’s total revenue. She uses this money to reinvest in the same project- the embroidery business and sewing classes for the local community.
“I am proud to be one of the Birdsong makers. I have never felt that I am displaced as a migrant, feeling lost or I can’t fit in, but working with them has always made me feel at home, comfortable, accepted, safe, and understood. As a refugee myself they support migrants and create job opportunities."
She teaches sewing to women on the Gayton Estate in Tower Hamlets, offering a safe and therapeutic space for her students and bringing the community together. Some of her students have gone on to start businesses of their own. Many of them are survivors of domestic abuse, have been long term unemployed and lack confidence.
In 2019, we generated £11,313 in income for Mona.
“Most of the money goes back to makers (£10.75ph), and the percentage that goes back to charity (£4.25ph) feeds back into the rent, to provide facilities for women to work from and women to train in”
In 2018 we made £3,041 in income for our seamstresses at grassroots community arts charity Stitches in Time. Based in Limehouse, Tower Hamlets, SIT was founded in 1993 in order to provide training, access and employment to women of colour from migrant backgrounds.
Last year we increased our work with this charity by 2.7x, to £8,431.
We already have £10,000 of labour costs to pay to Stitches in Time when the crisis is over, thanks to your support for our Spring Summer collection.
“I came to classes at Stitches in Time for 5 years, and have been working in the charity for 10 years now. I am one of the main manufacturers for FabricWorks and I have made many items for Birdsong and many more. I feel so happy and proud to make things for so many people. The money I have earned means I am able to support my family.” - Maker
Fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world after oil. As detailed in a governmental report from a select committee last year; “Fixing fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability, “textile production is a major contributor to climate change. It produces an estimated 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per year - more than international flights and maritime shipping combined. It is estimated that across the full lifecycle of clothing globally, the industry has an annual carbon footprint of 3.3 billion tonnes CO2e. That figure is close to the combined carbon footprint of all 28 current members of the EU (3.5 billion tonnes).
By manufacturing ethically, locally and with sustainable fabrics like bamboo, Tencel, organic cotton, hand-woven fairly traded Khadi (from women’s co-operatives in India) and reclaimed fabrics from charities like Traid, we are making a blueprint for a better fashion industry. Once at the end of its life, our TENCEL™ garments are biodegradable and home compostable. We need to work on sourcing biodegradable threads so that we can be assured our clothes will never contribute to landfill.
In 2019 we switched to using 100% natural or reclaimed fibres
and diversified our use of innovative materials. We've also continued to cut down on waste by doing limited editions, an entirely pre-order collection, and turning scrap fabric into bags and scrunchies. We use hand spun, fair trade cotton Khadi from India, and closed loop TENCEL from China before finishing everything in the UK.
From crop to closet, our clothes ship between 2 countries, travelling on average 8,423 km.
In a BBC report last year, it showed an average high street garment travelling between 7 different countries before it goes to be sold, on average 22,000 km. By cutting and sewing our garments in East London, this means we are able to cut 14,000 miles of air travel out on average for each garment, when compared to highstreet brands.
Revenue generated for Camden Society Charity in 2019 = £7,500
All our packaging and postage is done ethically by Mail Out. Part of Unity Works in London, Mail Out offers people with learning disabilities support with their health and wellbeing and apprenticeships in warehousing.
This is in contrast to the way that many e-commerce businesses operate, with warehouse staff frequently laid off for poor health, and facing poor pay and working conditions across the world and here in the UK.
We also use recycled packaging materials for each and every order, and are looking into switching to a provider who also offsets their carbon usage.
In 2019 we increased that to 6
In 2018 we paid out £13,259 in wages to 11 low income women, and an additional £1,662 to charities that support them
We aimed for £30,000 for 2019, and surpassed this, making £38,432 for 11 low income people and the charities that support them
According to the Women's Resource Centre, that's £307,456 of social value you helped us to create in 2019.
We provided 1,137 hours of flexible, London Living Wage work to our 11 makers in 2018
We aimed for 2,800 hours in 2019, and hit our target.
By 2022, our goal is to provide 11,000 hours of living wage work annually.