This London fashion week, shoppers might find themselves pondering something a little more sobering than which bar does the most Insta-worthy Louboutin-inspired pop-up cocktail menu, or how to get front-row tickets to the House of Holland show. Craftivist Collective is a group of âgentle activistsâ that protests against injustices in a quiet, non-confrontational manner involving pretty, handcrafted gestures of defiance. In an attempt to shine a spotlight on the ethics of the British fashion industry, its members will be spending the four-day clothing festival in high-street stores near LFWâs Somerset House base engaged in âshop-droppingâ. This involves creating messages of protest, taking them into retailers and planting them inside the pockets of clothing for consumers to find. The name stems from the fact that it involves adding extra items into stores, thus making it the antithesis of shoplifting â although retailers are unlikely to appreciate the additions.
âThe shops have no idea weâre doing it at all, but I canât imagine theyâd be happy if they knew,â says Sarah Corbett, the founder of Craftivist Collective, which previously convinced M&S board members to pay the living wage by stitching messages on to hankies. âWeâre targeting fast fashion shops that put profit over people and the planet, so I donât think theyâd be keen on us encouraging their customers to ask questions about how their clothes were made.â
The messages take the form of âfashion statementsâ that are neatly handwritten on miniature scrolls. These are tied shut with a ribbon bow and contain phrases such as: âBeauty is not just in the eye of the beholder … It is woven into the very fabric of the cloth. Our clothes can never be truly beautiful if they hide the ugliness of worker exploitation.â On the outside, they say: âPlease open me.â
Corbett started shop-dropping at Stockholm fashion week in 2014, in collaboration with Fashion Revolution, a campaign group opposing worker exploitation that launched in the wake of the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse, which killed 1,135 garment workers in Dhaka, Bangadesh. For the past three years, she has been running workshops that teach craftivists how to make the fashion statements. She brings a rail of clothing that lets them practice looking natural while sneaking scrolls into pockets; as a rule, itâs not a form of protest that works in large numbers.
âWe want people to discover the scrolls later on so that itâs intriguing. We hope that it might create genuine curiosity about how their clothes have been made,â says Corbett.
âI genuinely love fashion, and during fashion week thereâs a spotlight on the industry. Iâd like to use that so we can think about how fashion could be beautiful on the inside as well as the outside.â
How to be a Craftivist by Sarah Corbett is published by Unbound on 5 October.