This month, I’m changing it up a bit. We won’t be looking at issues within the production of garments themselves, but rather what happens to much of our clothing once we’re done with them and have donated it to charity.
Oh you thought they’d all be sold and bought by people to reuse?
Welcome to another episode of: Calling out the West and its neo-colonial practices!
I’ve been inspired to write about race and prejudice after I started reading The Good Immigrant.
Between Brown and British
To celebrate New Years I learned how to play ‘My Dear Acquaintance, A Happy New Year’. This is a Peggy Lee song, covered by Regina Spektor and now it’s been covered by me. I love old songs. I love the “golden age” of Hollywood. I love Postcolonial and 19th Century literature. I love period dramas. I love 80’s John Hughes teenage movies and artistic Ingmar Bergman films.
People often tell me I was born in the wrong era. I agree except for the fact that being brown, if I had been born in any of the previous era’s I would not have had the privilege to enjoy the art I enjoy now. It often occurs to me that it might be strange seeing a brown girl sing such an old, frankly put, white culture song. To be so passionate about art that doesn’t represent my ethnicity, culture or religion.
I mean imagine Ashwarya Rai singing “Tonight, you belong to me”. I can’t imagine it. I’m still getting used to Priyanka Chopra on Jimmy Fallon and having her own music video with Pitbull (eurgh). And I’ve never even seen a Priyanka Chopra movie so what do I even know. Don’t get me wrong, having more South Asian representation in mainstream pop culture is important. But the strangeness of these two cultures coming together has just been ingrained into my mind.
I wish that they could retain and almost exaggerate their South Asian roots rather than camouflaging into the Hollywood standards. Then I feel guilty that I am not Bengali enough myself.
Btw the autocorrect tried to change Ashwarya to ashtray and Priyanka to praying. Let’s try my name- Someday, Somalia, Someway. It sounds like a lovely name for a novel or movie.
I often have to confront the fact that I am so Western when I am around Bengali people. Many incidents decorated my life experience growing up that forced me to hide in the wilderness of my bengali culture. My mum tells me that I was fluent in Bengali until I went to school. Now when I visit my family, whether in Bangladesh or in London, I find it difficult to hold conversations in Bengali. I don’t know exactly when I started becoming so shy about speaking Bengali. I don’t think there was a defining moment.
I would say one thing that contributed to it was that we all speak English at home, except for my dad. I stopped being close with my dad from the age of about three. When I visited family I would always obviously spend time with those of my age who were born and brought up in London so we would speak English. I never formed close relationships with people who I would have spoken to in Bengali like my grandmothers, aunts and uncles. I was close to my grandfather but unfortunately he passed away when I was 10. If he had stuck around longer I might have had a better closer relationship with my Bengali culture.
I think when I started to get a bit older and adults started to really want to have conversations with me in Bengali I realised how inept I was. I had lost out on important Bangladeshi education during my childhood.
Every conversation I have is in question and answer form. I never ask the question.
I just say ji? Ji-oy. Ji-na. Pardon? Yes. No.
And then after a few questions I get one of these two reactions: A blank face and sigh from giving up on talking to me Laughing about how I don’t know how to speak Bengali well
And then some moaning about how my parents failed.
I probably shouldn’t draw attention to this huge flaw of mine but it is relevant.
The thing is, I do know how to speak Bengali quite a bit. I am not amazing at it and I can’t read it, but I can speak it. It’s just that I’m so terrified of sounding stupid that I just stick to what I definitely know. The fear didn’t come from being crap at being or speaking Bengali, but the rigid line I had to walk between being too Bengali or being too Western, and that sometimes they accidentally overlapped. As Kieran Yates describes in her essay “The plurality of my strangeness”.
In one half of my family there was a clash between generations. This clash was conceived with my mother who was the first of her siblings to be born in London. Her older sisters grew up in Bangladesh, her younger siblings in London. I was quite young when he died, but from what I can tell their father was the epitome of a strong breadwinner and enforced that stereotypical strict asian discipline…until he brought his second wife to London. At which point I believe he let the ball drop trying to juggle his two lives and his influence weakened. That may be why my older aunts are so different from their younger siblings. My time spent with this half of my family was soundtracked by Garage, R’n’B, Pop and some Bhangra. Hardly any Bollywood and we never spoke Bengali.
One particular moment that haunts me so often is when I had just arrived to my nan’s house after mosque. I forgot to take my scarf off. By the time I realised it was still on my head I couldn’t be bothered to take it off. Someone said ‘You don’t have to wear that here’ and everyone laughed. I felt really embarrassed because I knew that no one here was muslim and in fact they quite disliked Islam. I was a child at that point and I didn’t have a strong religious stance. I just wanted to be liked.
We still did Iftar at Ramadan and visited each other on Eid. We ate Mcdonalds but avoided pork and alcohol. We did Secret Santa at Christmas and visited Tower Hill on New Years Eve. In comparison, my dad’s side of the family never celebrated anything apart from Eid and were very traditional. I grew up balancing on a tight rope between being called a kufar for playing guitar and being made fun of for choosing not to eat haram food anymore. Although we are talking about race I feel like religion is interwoven. So often I have felt that people assume I am not religious because I am not very cultural.
(I would like to point out that majority of the people who provided deliciously painful memories like these have completely changed their mindset and aren’t quite such dicks. I guess they were also navigating their way through two cultures too.)
I was recently part of my cousin’s wedding. I’ve never been part of anyone’s wedding before. I had to help make decorative food presentations called Taals and I enjoyed it! I felt so in touch with my Bengali heritage (although the Spock side of my brain doesn’t quite understand Taals). On the wedding day lovely Indian music played, I dressed in a blue lengha (my favourite style of asian clothes) and carried the Taal into the hall with the rest of my family. It was really beautiful and I had seen this happen so many times in other weddings. But I had never done it myself and it felt so alien. I felt like I was acting.
In the summer I went as a plus one to a white wedding. It was the total opposite of a traditional, Bengali, Muslim wedding and I felt much more myself there. I feel a bit guilty to admit that because I feel like maybe I NEED to be more Bengali, or I’m letting my side down.
I live in what used to be a predominantly Bengali populated building until very recently when redevelopment moved majority of my neighbours to brand new housing 5 minutes away. Now my neighbours are mostly white and black people.
My mum has told me about the racism she has faced growing up here. Children setting their dogs on her and her siblings on Commercial road in the 70’s, teenagers intimidating her on Poplar high street while she was pregnant in the 90’s, racist slurs in arguments on a bus in Hackney in the noughties.
There was recently a documentary on BBC2 about skinhead culture and the racism that took over it. This documentary sort of illustrated what my mum was telling me about. A clip taken from the old archives will never leave my mind where the white skinheads explain that they like black people but they hate ‘Paki’s’.
In The Good Immigrant Vera Chok talks about how racism towards Chinese people is ignored in the UK despite being the highest occurrence. Racism really works in strange ways with its own sort of hierarchy. Even within ethnic groups racism is highly prevalent.
I myself had not experienced direct racism until very recently. When a white working class family (think as annoying as Vicky Pollard from Little Britain) moved in next door, they decided to mark every Asian household door with a handprint. “Paki house” was written on the palm of each hand. That palm was a metaphorical smack in the face right on my doorstep. When I cut my hair short the neighbours decided I was Shabnam from Eastenders. I don’t mind being Shabnam, she’s beautiful. But they didn’t mean it as a compliment.
Another time when I was walking home a white man in a cab (driven by a bengali man) shouted to my family that the newly built housing is for immigrants like us. I’m an immigrant? I was born here.
It forced me to wonder what it would be like if I went back to ‘where I belong’- Bangladesh. Well that seems alien to me. Sure the hot weather would be welcomed, but even when I spent two wonderful weeks in the Palestine sunshine I longed for the chilly bite of London air, my home. And more than that…I wasn’t from Bangladesh. I was from Britain.
It is scary to be in certain places or around certain people for fear of being a victim of racism. I might be quite religiously and ethnically ambiguous and perhaps that is why I can usually avoid these attacks. But I am still afraid. It still happens. At times I can feel the tension of being the only person of colour in the room.
I am uneasy when the room is empty of people of colour (I can’t help but be reminded of my otherness with terrible pronunciations of my name) and when there are too many Bengali’s around (whose banter I will never understand). I don’t fit into a category. It doesn’t help that I hate social situations and give myself a migraine trying not to look like an idiot. Whilst I understand that no one fits into a category, as a person who suffers social anxiety I find these situations exhausting.
Malcolm X noted that when he went to Mecca he saw that everyone treated each other equally but they still stayed with their own ethnic groups. It makes sense to be naturally drawn to the people who share the same language, foods and habits. As much as I like being alone, when in the company of others I agree that we gravitate towards those that are similar to us. But I am such a mix that it’s hard to identify where I draw the line with each side. Where am I welcome? Where do I fit in?
Despite the painful memories of wondering why I don’t fit in, I realised that over time I have subconsciously decided to stand strong about the different parts of my identity.
I love the female empowerment and dance in Devdas. I love the noughties songs from RDB. I have enjoyed the poetry of Tagore. I have watched and loved Kuch Kuch Hota Hai like every brown person in the world.
London is home. I am a living and breathing noughties emo. I sort of enjoy smooth jazz…I look forward to the Christmas atmosphere every year.
I’m a little bit of this and that. I am constantly in the process of building a world from two cultures. Trying to make it okay to be just the way I am.
Aside from culture and ethnicity there are some other things that I consider just as important if not more. For instance; I am passionate about my religion; I am passionate about music; I am passionate about having a positive impact on the world. These things matter the most to me and as long as I can touch base with each of these things I feel the best version of me.
Between brown and British.
So this is a snapshot into my perspective on being an unapologetic ‘good immigrant’; although, I’m not an immigrant.
If you identify with anything I have said you should read The Good Immigrant, you’ll love it. If you don’t identify, you definitely need to read The Good Immigrant.
I think my Best Nine 2016 perfectly illustrates that I love Islam and that I enjoy both Western and Bengali culture.
Today I went to visit Oitij-jo Collective’s first exhibition;
an exploration of Bangladeshi Nakshi stitching and Khadi material with
designer Rukia Ullah and the ethical and sustainable fashion designer
Shama Kun. Seeing Bengalis out here not just embracing our culture, but doing so through ethical and sustainable means is the BEST THING EVAR and is honestly so inspiring to someone who wishes to do the same (somehow).
Nakshi comes from the Bengali word “naksha”, which refers to
artistic patterns. The stitching was used traditionally to make
‘Kanthas’ or quilts by using old sarees and other materials. Rukia
explores the spirit of this very traditional process what now would be
called ‘recycling or upcycling’.
Rukia’s specialism is
print and pattern design along with fashion design – her explorations
through design now include understanding her cultural roots of
Bangladesh – her collections are thus inspired from Bangladesh and its
diverse heritage, and she aspires to engage further with this by drawing
her inspiration from Bengal’s rich cultural heritage. In this
collection she uses both recycled patterned fabric and Nakshi to
counteract stereotypes of Bangladesh with the beautiful aspects of the
land, in particular the beauty of Barsa, the rainy season.
Shama Kun explores the often neglected Khadi also known as
‘Khaddar’ which has a long history in Bangladesh dating back to 16th
Century. The material is mainly woven from cotton and blended with silk
or other materials by hand on the ‘Chakra’, and carries a message of
self-reliance and sustainability. Not to mention that it’s completely
A ‘people before profit’ label, Shama
Kun focuses on keeping indigenous Bangladeshi textile knowledge alive
while providing culturally inspired, cutting edge yet modern wear for
the modern woman. Shama Kun ethically produces all her range in rural
weaving belts and craft cluster of Bangladesh.
Thank you to Oitij-jo for such an inspiring exhibition. As a woman who is passionate about ethics and celebrating my grandparents’ culture, it is so beautiful to see the two entwined by two very talented women, especially seeing how women in Bangladesh have actually been recycling for TIME #ethicalgoals – looking forward to similar events!
On 20th August, Oh So Ethical held its third ethical
swap shop. AND IT WAS LITTTT.
So what exactly is a swap shop?
A swap shop is simply an event where people get together,
bringing any old clothes they’re looking to get rid of, and swapping them for
someone else’s! You can have public swapping events, or even just bring a bunch
of friends and family round and have a swapping party. Remember the good old
saying, ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’? Yep. Fully applies to
Ours was held in Leytonstone, with some of the most unique
and stunning pieces that you all donated, all hung up ready to be swapped. We
also sold beautiful fair trade handmade jewellery from Uganda made from
recycled beads and a range of vegan goods- with all proceeds going towards the
Rana Plaza Arrangement. This charity provides financial assistance to victims
of the Rana Plaza collapse and their families.
Waking through the entrance, we had a huge timeline taking
you on a journey from the beginning of
the garment industry in Bangladesh to the state it’s in now. It is actually
crazy to see how fast things have escalated in such a small space of time, but
it also gives us hope that maybe we can slowly undo the damage that has been
In the same room as the swapping we had a display we created from scrap
paper of a Bengali female with her first in the air with the quote ‘The hands
that wear bangles can also carry swords.’ This is a slogan created and used by
a group of female tea workers in India, who mobilised independently from trade unions to
improve their working conditions and increase their wages. These are the women
who define resilience and strength, which is something not usually associated
with women in the Global South in the mainstream media. They are definitely one of
Oh So Ethical’s greatest inspirations and the hashtag #lifegoals never better
fit to be honest (find out more about them here
also had quotes written in red and green hearts (Bangladesh n that)
around our Bengali Queen, with quotes from the Bengali garment workers
interviewed during a protest which took place demanding better
treatment, in the documentary
Udita. By doing this, we wanted to demonstrate that while Bengali women
are going through hell, they are still rising up against oppression and
standing up for their rights with immeasurable amounts of strong-will
and determination. They don’t need our pity, they need our
So why swapshops?
Many of us are becoming familiar with the term ‘fast fashion’,
which simply refers to when high street retailers mimic catwalk trends and
produce these trends at a cheaper cost. Due to various factors such as the ever-evolving
nature of social media and the various fashion weeks that take place, fashion
trends now change every few weeks, as opposed to every few months as before.
Therefore, in order for high street retailers to stay on top of their game,
they must keep up with these trends and produce cheaper versions of these
styles quickly for fashionistas hungry to remain on trend. As a consequence,
while it once took about six months for products to be on the market, it now
takes just weeks.
What’s the big deal?
By demanding new clothes at such a fast pace, in order to
keep up with the changes in trends, this puts pressure on the factory owners
who are expected to produce vast amounts of clothes in a limited space of time.
As a result, garment workers are set near impossible targets to reach daily. If
they don’t achieve these targets the workers (particularly women, who make up
80% of the workforce) are frequently subjected to physical, verbal and sexual
abuse. Many workers report forced overtime, unsanitary conditions, denial of
paid maternity leave, limited toilet breaks, and failure to pay wages and
bonuses on time or in full (read this article for a summary of some of the
horrible things female garment workers must endure http://bkaccelerator.com/9-ways-women-getting-abused-fashion-industry/).
Workers are further put under pressure by the constant competition between
retailers, who compete to see who can produce these catwalk trends as cheaply as
possible. This leads to a reduction in the percentage of income that goes
towards wages and worker’s safety. According to War on Want, the majority of
garment workers in Bangladesh earn little more than the minimum wage, 3,000
taka a month (approximately £25), which is far below what is considered a
living wage, calculated at 5,000 taka a month (approximately £45). This is the
minimum required to provide a family with shelter, food and education.
Not only this, but the impact on the environment is also debilitating.
In fact, fashion is known to be the second largest polluter in the world, next
to OIL! Indeed, the journey of a garment involves excessive amounts of
insecticides, pesticides and dyes which leak into water systems containing sea
life and often the only source of water for families living nearby. Other
environmental issues include the fact that large amounts of water are used up
during production (7000 litres is needed for just one pair of jeans FAM!),
excessive amounts of greenhouse gases (10% of total greenhouse gas emissions) are
released during production and when clothes are being shipped to the West. Not
forgetting the large amounts of clothes going to landfill (as much as 3 out of
4 garments go to landfill, with only a quarter being recycled) as we move from
one trend to the next (read this article to find out more about the impact fast
fashion is having on the environment http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/makingwaves/fast-fashion-drowning-world-fashion-revolution/blog/56222/).
With the world consuming about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year, which
is 400% more than the amount we consumed just two decades ago, imagine the
impact this is having on both the workers and the environment.
You see what I mean?
Now you might be thinking, ‘it’s okay, I give my clothes to
the charity shop/those places that pay for your second-hand clothes’.
Unfortunately, they don’t tell you the whole story behind what happens to the
The fact is, we’re producing and getting rid of clothes at
such a fast pace that even charities cannot deal with the vast amount of
clothes they’re receiving. In fact, just 10-30% of donated clothes are actually sold in the UK. So
where are the rest of the clothes going? Most likely, Africa.
second-hand market is rampant in Africa and takes up
most of the garment industry, with people in many African countries
living by selling our second-hand clothes. In fact, a recent report
found that East Africa alone imported $151m of second-hand clothing last
year, most of which was
collected by charities and recyclers in Europe and North America.
governments in East African countries are now making plans to reduce
imports and even banning them, to reduce their dependency on our often
quality, unhygienic leftovers. Instead, they are preparing their own
industries and training their own citizens in textiles skills, as a more
means of income for their people that is not simply imposed on them for
So as you can see, a simple purchase can have huge
implications on the world around us.
So how’s a swapshop going to change things?
By swapping clothes instead of buying new ones, we are reducing
the constant excessive demands that are crippling and taking advantage of the
impoverished. We are reducing the environmental destruction required to produce
these clothes. We are reducing the amount of second-hand clothes being sent to
African countries and stalling their independence. If we all unite and perform
small acts such as this, imagine the change we could create.
NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF YOUR ACTIONS. EVER.
Thank you to everyone who came down, to Sikandar for the photography,
and to our mums and family and friends who helped out immensely- we had the
best time, and it really motivated us to carry on and hold more, so stay tuned!
We absolutely adore the girls at Bamble Vintage who are so lovely.
We’ve been meaning to do this post for a while and met Sophie and her sister at a Swing Fest in Chrisp street, London a couple months ago. We were on the way to the Just V Show and decided to have a look at the event after my mum said there was vintage clothes there. We loved the Bamble V stall the most as they had the most affordable and beautiful vintage items. Going through their stall was a wonderful experience and a lovely surprise as we weren’t expecting to find such great items!
First of all my attention was grabbed by this TOTALLY AMAZING APRON. Now as the baker/cook of the three of us I thought I NEED THIS IN MY LIFE. It’s so cute, such good quality and looks great in the kitchen!
As we browsed on we found so many cute clothes. We found the perfect gift jumper that was huge, fluffy and so cosy and was just so MAYISHA.
Soomaiya picked up this completely elegant black dress and yellow top. Both in great condition and both baggy. Baggy is our fave style now, it’s cozy, it’s comfortable and it’s stunning all in one!
Now we have to emphasize how amazing the quality of Bamble Vintage’s clothes is. In fact it proves how the lifespan of clothes can be for more than just a year. Every item was carefully selected so that whatever you choose you look and feel fabulous! Instead of going to one of the many high street stores (who produce their clothes from disgusting factory conditions) for your retro/vintage fix, go to Bamble. You can find them at events near you if you check their Twitter for updates. You can also browse their items on their etsy store. All will be linked at the end for you guys.
Use your consumer power to show that we don’t need an unsustainable fashion industry. Shop vintage, ethically made or second hand. Clothes can be made to last forever and be reused by different people who will all look beautiful. I wish that every item of clothes I have came with a description of the last person who owned it so we can keep a little piece of history with our clothes. We need to treasure clothes and care about where they came from and who made them.
Bamble – We truly wish you all the best and would love to see you do great things! Let’s slow down fast fashion together. <3
So here is a short list of nice places to shop. Places to find clothes that are ethical, second hand, vintage, handmade and by independent designers. We will add to the list as we discover more but if you need inspiration look no further!
The list will start with Angel! These are a few things I picked up.
Found them at:
Oxfam- 29 Islington high st
The Fara Workshop- 28-32 Pentonville Rd, London N1 9HJ
Brick Lane obviously has awesome vintage shops. These are my favourite:
Blitz- 55-59 Hanbury St, London E1 5JP
Rokit-101 Brick Ln, London E1 6SE
Beyond Retro- 110-112 Cheshire St, London E2 6EJ
The Laden Showroom- The Rib Man, 103 Brick Ln, Greater London E1 6SE
Wood Green has a cluster of charity shop gold. This list goes from Turnpike lane to Wood Green station.
North London Hospice
British Heart Foundation
Dalston also has a a few charity shops I enjoyed visiting when I worked in the area:
Traid- 106-108 Kingsland High St, London E8 2NS
This dress was from Traid. Love it SO much.
Oxfam- 514 Kingsland Rd, London E8 4AR
St Vincents- 484-486 Kingsland Rd London E8 4AE
Camden is great for having both vintage and charity in the same place. If you walk from Mornington Crescent towards Camden Market:
British Heart Foundation
Rokit- 226 Camden High St
Only one for Notting Hill at the moment but I hear there are lot’s of places I need to visit!
Mary’s Living and Giving Shop- 177 Westbourne Grove, London W11 2SB
This one has a special place in my heart as I volunteered there for a summer and I loved it there.