BIPOC in Fiber
Lorna Hamilton-Brown explains how a simple list on black knitwear designer Jeanette Sloan's blog became a vital resource for BIPOC representation in the knitting community…
Lorna Hamilton-Brown introduces us to an exciting new campaign…
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 members of the community began asking yarn companies to adopt anti-racist practices in order to bring about changes to make the community more inclusive. Something lasting and positive. One starting point involved exploring which knit and crochet designers people were following. Another was looking at who was being featured in magazines and patterns. Was there diversity in the 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 intentionally 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 couldn’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 under-representation by creating the POC Designers and Crafters list and posting it on her blog. She was propelled into action after speaking to me while I was studying for an MA in Knitted Textiles at London’s Royal College of Art. 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 I 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 and the response was amazing. As well as replies naming black knitwear designers she received comments from other crafters and other ethnicities (among them some of Asian heritage) saying how they also felt invisible and underrepresented.
Realising how many people of di erent and mixed heritages weren’t being represented in the wider crafting community Jeanette began to curate those names she’d been given by creating the POC Designers & Crafters List. What had started as a search for knitwear designers broadened to multidisciplinary designer-makers,
indie dyers, crochet designers and others working with fibre. The response to the list was one of overwhelming gratitude. It brought practitioners of colour to the public gaze, enabling magazines to diversify their contributors and raising the profile of those on the list.
Time to dream big
Jeanette was pleased with this promising start but felt there was still a lot more that needed to be done to help the community. Her dream was that the list could be transformed by widening the range of fibre-based disciplines, including creating a website that would become an interactive online resource. Alongside the new, broader objective there was a name change from POC Designers and Crafters to BIPOC in Fiber. It was decided to use the term BIPOC, not only because it 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 BIPOC in Fiber website will contain:
A searchable directory
Photographic gallery style listings
Twelve monthly in-depth BIPOC in Fiber profiles and interviews written by Jeanette Sloan
Learning resources designed to enable further paid opportunities within the industry for BIPOC makers and educators
The creation of the website will enable BIPOC 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 working with fibre.
The Dream Team
For the project to become a reality Jeanette knew she would have to assemble a team, and 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.
Making it all reality
On 7 September the fundraiser campaign was launched and five days later the target had been reached. 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 4 October 2019, an impressive £32,039 had been raised from 533 supporters in 28 days. Support came from well-known companies such as Stylecraft Yarns, Simply Knitting and La Bien Aimée to name a few, but just as important was the support given by many individuals wanting to do their part to support this important project.
For individual backers supporting the Crowdfunding campaign, ‘rewards' (a selection of exclusive fibre-related goodies) were curated by collaborating with the following BIPOC makers:
Suraya Hossain of Mahliqa – designer and maker of hand knitted and hand crochet textile jewellery
Lola Johnson of Third Vault Yarns – Indie Dyer
Leila Bux of The Urban Purl – Indie Dyer
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: you can find us on Instagram as @bipocinfiber or simply use the hashtag #bipocinfiber. Lastly, if you are BIPOC working with fibre and wish to be included on the website you can register your interest now at www.bipocinfiber.com.