LORNA HAMIL­TON BROWN

With is­sues of di­ver­sity in the yarn com­mu­nity a hot-but­ton topic right now, Lorna Hamil­ton-Brown charts the roots of the BIPOC in Fiber com­mu­nity project

Simply Crochet - - CONTENTS -

For many years there has been an on­go­ing de­bate about the lack of di­ver­sity, rep­re­sen­ta­tion and racism in the knit­ting and cro­chet com­mu­nity. This con­ver­sa­tion reached a crescendo on In­sta­gram in 2018 with peo­ple of colour (POC) shar­ing their in­di­vid­ual, often painful ex­pe­ri­ences of racism and ex­clu­sion within the craft­ing world.

With these is­sues fi­nally be­ing openly dis­cussed, some of the com­mu­nity be­gan ask­ing yarn com­pa­nies to adopt anti-racist prac­tices in or­der to bring about changes that would make the com­mu­nity more in­clu­sive. Some­thing last­ing and pos­i­tive. One start­ing point was ex­plor­ing which knit and cro­chet de­sign­ers peo­ple were fol­low­ing. An­other was look­ing at who was be­ing fea­tured in mag­a­zines and pat­terns. Was there any di­ver­sity within that range of mod­els and de­sign­ers? Many were open to the idea of be­ing more in­clu­sive in terms of who they were fol­low­ing but found it wasn’t al­ways easy to sup­port crafters or de­sign­ers who are BIPOC (black, in­dige­nous and peo­ple of colour). Peo­ple often use emo­jis or pic­tures of yarn in their so­cial me­dia pro­files which means these can’t be re­lied on for clues, whilst oth­ers pre­fer not to be clas­si­fied purely by their eth­nic­ity – some­thing that is en­tirely their right to do.

BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE

Black knitwear de­signer Jeanette Sloan de­cided to tackle this un­der­rep­re­sen­ta­tion by cre­at­ing the POC De­sign­ers and

Crafters list and post­ing it on her blog.

Jeanette was pro­pelled into ac­tion af­ter speak­ing with my­self, when I was study­ing for an MA in Knit­ted Tex­tiles at Lon­don’s Royal Col­lege of Art. At the time I was look­ing for black knitwear de­sign­ers whilst re­search­ing for my MA dis­ser­ta­tion ‘Myth: Black Peo­ple Don’t Knit’ but didn’t know of any. In fact when asked, even my tu­tors told me the only one they could name was Jeanette. Flab­ber­gasted that she was ‘the only one’, Jeanette did a call out on In­sta­gram to find other black de­sign­ers. The re­sponse was amaz­ing. As well as replies nam­ing black knitwear de­sign­ers she re­ceived com­ments from other crafters and eth­nic­i­ties (among them some of Asian her­itage) say­ing how they also felt in­vis­i­ble and un­der­rep­re­sented.

Re­al­is­ing how many peo­ple of dif­fer­ent and mixed her­itages weren’t be­ing rep­re­sented in the craft­ing com­mu­nity, Jeanette be­gan to cu­rate those names she’d been given into the POC De­sign­ers & Crafters List. What had started as a search for knitwear de­sign­ers broad­ened to in­clude mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary de­signer mak­ers, in­die dy­ers, cro­chet de­sign­ers and oth­ers work­ing with fi­bre. The re­sponse to the list was over­whelm­ing grat­i­tude. It brought prac­ti­tion­ers of colour to the pub­lic gaze, en­abling mag­a­zines to di­ver­sify their con­trib­u­tors and rais­ing the pro­file of those ap­pear­ing on the list.

DREAM­ING BIG

Jeanette was pleased with this start but felt there was still a lot more that needed to be done. Her dream was that the list could be trans­formed by widen­ing the range of fi­bre-based dis­ci­plines in­cluded, and cre­at­ing a web­site that would be­come an on­line in­ter­ac­tive re­source. With the new, broader ob­jec­tive there was a name change from POC De­sign­ers and Crafters to BIPOC in Fiber. The acro­nym BIPOC was cho­sen not only be­cause the term is more widely used glob­ally than BAME (Black and Mi­nor­ity Eth­nic) but also as a way of more broadly and ac­cu­rately in­clud­ing those of mixed, non-white eth­nic­ity.

The cre­ation of the web­site will en­able BIPOC de­sign­ers work­ing in the fi­bre in­dus­try to find and see one an­other whilst en­abling event plan­ners and publi­ca­tions to be more in­ten­tional when cu­rat­ing events and is­su­ing sub­mis­sion calls. It will pool re­sources de­signed to im­prove ac­cess to op­por­tu­ni­ties for BIPOC work­ing with fi­bre and also raise the in­ter­na­tional pro­file of BIPOC mak­ers work­ing with fi­bre.

DREAM TEAM

For the project to be­come a re­al­ity Jeanette knew she would have to as­sem­ble a team. Be­cause she felt the ini­tia­tive should al­ways be BIPOC led she called on me to de­sign the BIPOC in Fiber logo and Alyson Chu to build the web­site. Work­ing with the sup­port of trusted al­lies who shared the vi­sion for what the site could achieve, the team started a Crowd­fun­der cam­paign to raise

£20,000 in or­der to pay for the brand­ing, build and main­te­nance of the new site.

The Crowd­fun­der fi­bre-re­lated prod­uct re­wards were cre­ated by some top BIPOC mak­ers. These in­cluded Su­raya Hos­sain of Mahliqa – a de­signer and maker of del­i­cate hand-knit­ted and hand­cro­cheted tex­tile jewellery; Lola John­son of Third Vault Yarns; and Leila Bux of The Ur­ban Purl – both tal­ented in­die dy­ers.

FROM DREAM TO RE­AL­ITY

On Septem­ber 7 the fundraiser cam­paign was launched, with the tar­get reached just five days later. The speed at which the funds were raised showed the level of sup­port from within the knit­ting and cro­chet com­mu­nity for this in­no­va­tive project. When the Crowd­fun­der ended on Oc­to­ber 4, £32,039 had been raised from 533 sup­port­ers in just 28 days – an in­cred­i­ble fig­ure that bested the orig­i­nal tar­get by over £12,000. Sup­port came from many well-known com­pa­nies in­clud­ing Style­craft, Sim­ply Cro­chet magazine and La Bien Aimée but just as im­por­tant was the sup­port given by many in­di­vid­u­als want­ing to do their part to back this im­por­tant project.

“WHEN THE CROWD­FUN­DER ENDED, £32,039 HAD BEEN RAISED FROM 533 SUP­PORT­ERS IN JUST 28 DAYS”

SUP­PORT BIPOC IN FIBER

Rais­ing funds has been ar­du­ous but now the re­ward­ing task of build­ing the web­site can be­gin. If you wish to sup­port this project fi­nan­cially now the Crowd­fun­der has ended, you can still do so through the BIPOC in Fiber Pay­Pal.me ac­count. You can also help by spread­ing the word about the project via so­cial me­dia: we’re on In­sta­gram as @bipocin­fiber or use the hash­tag #bipocin­fiber. Lastly if you are BIPOC, work­ing with fi­bre and wish to be in­cluded on the web­site, reg­is­ter your in­ter­est now at www.bipocin­fiber.com

Jeanette Sloan’s web­site aims to ad­dress is­sues around in­clu­siv­ity in the yarn and craft in­dus­try

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