Over the past couple of months, following the death of George Floyd and the increased awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement across the world, we at Sew Over It have been looking at how we can better support and properly represent the full spectrum of makers that make up our customers and followers. As we stated on Instagram, we’re in full support of Black Lives Matter, but we want to show you it’s not just words, and instead how we plan to put this into action. As a team and as individuals we’ve been listening and learning as much as we can in order to be able to see, address and help make a positive difference in regards to the injustices faced by Black and minority people, in the sewing community and beyond. We want our customers of colour to see themselves in what we do, and feel safe with us.
It’s imperative that as a company with a relatively big following, we look at ourselves. The truth of the matter is that whilst the worldwide sewing community is highly diverse, our own customer and follower base is very white, and we need to begin by asking ourselves why that is. What have we done to encourage that? Our conclusion is that for a long time, we really only showed white people in what we did – on the covers of our patterns, in our model shots for patterns, on our social media. (As a team of white women, what we put out there reflected us.) But because of this, people of colour haven’t necessarily always seen themselves represented in what we do, and therefore may not have felt welcome, or like they belonged in the Sew Over It space. In the past couple of years we have aimed to be more diverse, but a look through the #sewoverit hashtag shows that our customers are still primarily white. Along with a myriad of other things, one example of what this then means is that when we want to share some of our customers’ photos on our Instagram grid, we often only have white people – people who look like us – to choose from. And thus the cycle is perpetuated.
We want to break this cycle, and make it clear to existing and potential customers that Sew Over It welcomes and embraces the diversity within the sewing community. We’ve been working on ways we can do this, and we wanted to share with you our plans so far.
Last year we launched our Pattern Insiders team. This team is made up of amazing makers who are given early access to our patterns for free. The idea is that, if they like a design, Pattern Insiders sew it up and post to Instagram on the day of the pattern release. We then repost their photos to our channels, which helps customers visualise our new patterns on a range of different bodies.
When we put the call-out for people to join the team, our goal was to represent the community, and we aimed to find people of all ages, sizes and ethnicities who were all enthusiastic and passionate sewers. However, though we absolutely adore the Pattern Insiders we have on board, there’s definitely more we can do to represent everyone in the community more fully.
We are now recruiting for new Pattern Insiders to join the team, this time specifically people of colour. We’d also love to recruit some makers with disabilities, as we acknowledge we are under-representing this side of the community too. If you love our patterns, we’d love you to apply. We’re looking for BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) makers, and makers with a disability, aged 18+ who fall within our newly extended size range of 6-30. In order to be considered you’ll ideally need to be able to sew to a two week deadline, and importantly, take high quality pictures for social media. We will put a call out on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for applications soon!
However that’s not it. We want to make sure that being a Pattern Insider is as accessible as possible, and importantly, we don’t want anybody to feel put off from applying due to financial concerns. So although we cannot afford to pay Pattern Insiders, we’ve made some changes to what we offer Pattern Insiders. These things include:
– free A0 printing for all new patterns (we can either print and send from our shop, or pay for printing within the Pattern Insider’s own country)
– a fabric budget (details of which still need to be fully worked out)
– unlimited free digital Sew Over It patterns, so that Pattern Insiders can make anything from our range whenever they like
There’s no obligation for Pattern Insiders to make every single pattern we release, but we ask for a minimum of three per year to be kept on the team. As we do our testing in house, Pattern Insiders are not expected to test the patterns.
Representation in our products
In the same way that we’d love to be able to share more photos from BIPOC Pattern Insiders, we also plan to increase the variety of ethnicities on our social media feeds and website in other ways.
One way we can do this is by recruiting a more ethnically diverse range of models for our pattern releases. Photoshoots with people that aren’t members of our own team have over the past few months been put on hold due to coronavirus. But once we’re able to hold photoshoots with models safely again, our goal is to photograph each new pattern on at least one person of colour. When you go to our online shop or social media, we want you to be able to see someone who looks like you.
Regrettably, there may be times where due to being a small company in which schedules are occasionally delayed, we’re only able to shoot on Lisa. But shooting on a second model will always be our goal.
Social media exposure
Social media, and Instagram in particular, is a really big part of our brand and a major way we speak to our customers. Each of our patterns has its own hashtag, and we absolutely love seeing them fill up with your fantastic makes. Sometimes we share these pictures on our own grid, which as we have a fairly large following, is likely to increase the number of people that see the photos.
Recently though we’ve grown uncomfortable sharing your pictures offering only exposure in return. We know that extra followers being sent your way can be nice, but it’s not always recognition enough for the work you’ve done making such a fantastic garment and sharing it (and therefore often promoting us). So from now, we pledge to offer anyone whose picture we repost a £15 voucher to spend on our online shop. This is enough for at least another pattern, but can be spent on anything we sell. (This doesn’t apply to Pattern Insiders, who already have access to our whole back catalogue of patterns for free.)
Though we assume that using the #sewoverit hashtag means you’re happy for your photo to be shared, we will now always ask permission before reposting to our grid.
We hope that this policy will encourage more people to share their beautiful garments, and ultimately add to increasing the diversity we are able to show on our social media channels.
Hiring and human resources
We are currently a fully-staffed small team of four white women, and one on maternity leave. Though we’re not in the position to recruit at the moment, when hiring again in the future we will be making a concerted effort to seek and attract candidates from BAME backgrounds. This is important to us because we recognise that a diverse team with a range of different backgrounds brings to the table a much broader set of experiences, outlooks and opinions. When you run a business that aims to represent and speak to its diverse audience, this is really crucial in making sure everyone is seen and heard.
One of the ways we will do this is by posting our job adverts, not just in our usual places, but also on career sites specifically oriented to people of colour.
However, it is not right to hire a non-white member of staff and expect the responsibility for representation to fall squarely on their shoulders. We of course have to do our part, and part of that is education. We are currently in the process of seeking out diversity training for our team, which we hope will help us to be more aware of the difficulties and challenges people of colour face in the sewing community, in the workplace, and beyond.
We’re also working on creating a specific diversity and inclusivity policy, which will have its own page on our website for anyone to refer to, including customers and potential future employees.
This is an issue we’re taking seriously. We’re working hard to right the wrongs and change the way we work to ensure that we’re being as inclusive as we possibly can be, and we really want to bring all of our customers along for the journey. We’ve not made it clear enough in the past that all people of any race, ability, gender & orientation are welcome in the Sew Over It community, but with these changes we look forward to welcoming more people into our gang, and encourage all of our customers to do so with open arms. At its best, the sewing community is a place for teaching, sharing with & supporting others. We want to work hard, and encourage our current customers to join us along the way, to make this community the best it can be.