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
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.
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.
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