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…

Simply Knitting - - Contents -

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.

One of Jeanette's gor­geous de­signs

The BIPOC in Fiber web­site is cur­rently un­der con­struc­tion and prom­ises to be a vi­tal re­source among the knit­ting community

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