BWL etc.: Birdsong

BWL etc.: Birdsong

By Chloë Stewart

BWL etc.: Birdsong

Shop our Reusable Gift Bags, here.

I had the idea to create a nibs etc. produce bag; perhaps to wrap our infamous Pulp-Banana Bread, or for people to use as a granola refill bag.  Or instead as a simple alternative to un-recyclable, un-reusable wrapping paper.

Now, as I'm sure you're aware, a 'produce bag' is nothing new.  You've probably seen them anywhere and everywhere from Amazon to Etsy, supermarkets and of course every independent packaging free shop.  As is custom with everything we make at nibs etc., it was not going to be 'just another...'.  It had to have purpose.  It had to upcycle and reduce waste, in some way.  It had to be a useful produce bag, but better.

Having become increasingly aware over the past few years, of the vast array of controversial issues within the fashion industry - from fabric and water waste to slave labour - learning Birdsong's work was a breath of fresh air; working to reduce some of this waste by upcycling it into beautiful clothes, while also supporting women facing barriers to employment by working with them to make these clothes, felt like the perfect partner for whatever format of bag I was after.

Not only are the 3 designs they supplied all offcuts from previous collections, each of the 2 different types of materials, is uniquely sustainable.  The dotted beetroot-red and striped fabrics are made from Tencel; a branded Lyocell fabric, which is made from trees such as Eucalyptus, which are fast growing and not water-guzzling trees.  The floral blue fabric is known as Khadi cotton; a fair trade, hand-woven cotton traditional to the East Indian continent, sustainably grown and the production of which provides employment to roughly one million people, most of whom women, and often from some of the poorest regions of India.


The work that Birdsong does to persistently source sustainably and make ethically, is honest through and through.  And proof it is possible to build a business within the fashion industry that is financially sustainable, as well as sustainable for the planet and the people who create and consume it.  We are so inspired by the work Birdsong are doing, and honoured to have worked with their brilliant team of talented and hardworking women to create something beautiful, useful, and of course, that reduces waste.

We want you to know as much as you can about this incredible social enterprise and the work they are doing, so who better to tell you than Birdsong co-founder Susanna Wen; telling us about the story behind the brand, the whys and the hows, lessons learned and the challenges working through Coronavirus, presented them.

1. Can you give us an introduction - what is Birdsong about?

Women have always found creative ways to make a statement with what they wear. From the berets of the black panthers in the Sixties to the quiet resolution to only wear clothes made in the UK, fashion is an important ally in times of change. Birdsong began life as a feminist brand making slogan tees, shouting about photoshop and hell-bent on paying women workers a fair wage. A commitment to ethical and sustainable fashion is still at our core, but today we’ve grown to create a collection of original wardrobe staples to totally transform your (out)look. It’s about thoughtful clothes in bright colours, edgy silhouettes and art-inspired prints made from natural fabrics. We create clothing for women who dress in protest – against the fast nature of the fashion industry, the obsessive pursuit of trends and the systematic abuse of women in the production line. We dream up designs in house, and then work with expert makers who face barriers to employment in the UK – from artists and printmakers to seamstresses and painters – and pay them London living wage to bring our creations to life.

2. Where did the idea for Birdsong originally come from?

Sophie founded Birdsong in 2014 during a free grad scheme for social entrepreneurs called Year Here and Suze joined in 2017. Sophie's background was in activism, retail and women's organisations. Suze has been designing and advocating for sustainable fashion since her student days.

We create clothing for women who dress in protest.

3. What is one thing you wish people knew about Birdsong

There are only 2 of us working at Birdsong as full time employees! Susanna Wen and Sophie Slater run the day to day work of Birdsong, with a lot of help from their amazing charity partners, makers and host of freelancers.

4. Describe your workplace in 3 words:

Well at the moment- "Our kitchen tables" as we're working from home, however we hope to be moving to a new "creative, safe and inclusive" office in Dalston in January. We're very excited.

5. What's the big dream, for Birdsong

To change fashion for the better, and to be able to keep educating, innovating and providing living wage employment for many years to come.

6.Tell us when something went horribly wrong, and what you did to bounce back?

A few years ago we found ourselves holding onto a lot of stock of fabric and clothes that we had made, so we've shifted to a made-to-order model in which we only make what we need and we don't waste a thing and everything is intentional and purposeful.

7. What's the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Listen to your gut.

8. What's your favourite Winter meal?

Suze's is jacket potatoes- not very sophisticated but so comforting!

...we have been able to release smaller products like masks and scrunchies that can be made on domestic machines at home...

9. Where would we find you on a Sunday morning?

On an amble around a park catching up with a friend and/or having a lie in! It is the day of rest after all.

10. What's your number one food waste fighting tip?

Keep all and any left-overs for a prepared and tasty lunch the next day. You can pop pretty much anything in a tupperware to be enjoyed later.

11. COVID-19: How was COVID-19 impacted your business - from surplus supply to social impact mission and team, to your customers and sales channels?

Covid has caused restrictions for some of our makers in terms of going into the studio to sew, so when they have restricted access we have been able to release smaller products like masks and scrunchies that can be made on domestic machines at home so they're still able to earn a wage! Our makers safety is our priority.

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