by Jo Salter
Founder of Where Does It Come From?

Nostalgia – Caryn Franklin and the Clothes Show

caryn franklin diversity

Caryn Franklin disrupting!

Sunday afternoons in front of ‘The Clothes Show’ hosted by Caryn Franklin were a regular part of my teenage weekends.   Surprisingly, not least to me, I have ended up working and campaigning in the Clothing Industry so when I heard Caryn was coming to my home town to speak at the Suffolk Businesswomen lunch on 2nd May I bought my ticket.

For Caryn Franklin, diversity in the fashion industry is a passion.  She calls herself a disruptor, demanding a wider range of models in fashion imagery –  a wider range of ages, sizes and racial representation.  She also travelled to Bangladesh with Safia Minney and met with survivors of the Rana Plaza factory disaster and has been vocal about the need for Fashion Revolution and a more just fashion industry.

 

The Call from the BBC….

caryn franklin disrupting

The day before the lunch I had a call from BBC Look East, our local TV news programme, asking me if I was attending the lunch and whether they could come and interview me first about my views on diversity in the workplace and the current hot topic of the gender pay gap.  At Where Does it Come From? we are all about supporting marginalised workers in our supply chain projects in India and now Africa so it was a great opportunity to talk about equally valuing talents and skills regardless of the race or gender of the person working.  I also hoped to promote issues around fast fashion, including the fact that 80% of garment workers in fashion are women who struggle for fair pay and working conditions and yet 80% of clothes shoppers are also women.  This is an irony that we condemn our own sex to servitude, just to get access to cheap clothing…..

Being Inspired by Caryn Franklin MBE

The Suffolk Business Women’s lunch was held at the Bobby Robson suite at Ipswich Town Football Club – an amazing space with a view right over the pitch!

I was fortunate to be introduced to Caryn when I arrived and we had a 5 minute chat on issues around diversity and, of course, the issues in fast fashion around justice and sustainability.

Caryn held us spellbound during her speech. She advocates disruption, speaking your mind and not being afraid to call out others who are not, for whatever reason, giving women their rightful recognition.  She also spoke about her experiences in her mission to ensure models of all age, race and body shape are represented in fashion.  One particular story, when a chief decision maker on a major department board store board described an older model as being ‘clapped out’ was particularly memorable. Her view is that a certain section of the primarily male power base is to assume that everyone else sees women the same way as them, so models must be young, thin and sexual.  With a business hat on (as well as a feminist hat!) this obviously makes no sense as why would a middle aged woman be inspired to buy clothing by that image?  Friends who are fathers of girls tell me that these images also make them uncomfortable.

Caryn’s way of dealing with these issues is to get inside the heads of those decision makers. In recent years Caryn returned to university and took a masters degree in psychology. She believes that this has helped her to understand their mindset and also to react to it in a way that they can relate to.  As she put it, rather than throwing the table at them as her emotions were telling her, she now responds by asking about their customer base and their drivers as well as presenting the opportunities that come from engaging them better.  However Caryn is an advocate for more emotion and oestrogen in the board room – she believes that more women need to be in these decision making positions and, if necessary, quotas need to be introduced to make sure this happens.

During the open questions after the presentation I asked Caryn her thoughts on the fashion industry and how we can introduce more transparency and justice for garment workers. She answered that she believes that we consumers need to put pressure on brands through asking questions – even at the till – and making it clear that we are demanding change.

For more information about the event please see the excellent Suffolk Wire report.

My Interview for Look East

Kevin Burch arrived at my home to interview me on the morning of the lunch.  My husband and I had been cleaning and tidying till 10pm the night before so the place looked almost presentable! Kevin asked me many questions about diversity, Where Does It Come From? and traceable fashion and was very easy to talk to.  We were working together for an hour or two and he recorded different sections in different locations to edit together with the footage he was going to take at the event.  He did a great job and it was shown on the 6.30 BBC Look East news.  The BBC have kindly sent me a cop of the report which you can watch below. You’ll see that sadly none of the discussion on ethical supply chains made it to the final cut, but as a piece about diversity it hangs together very well.  It was fantastic to get so much coverage of Where Does It Come From? too.

Repercussions…..

What an inspiring and exciting day!  I came away from the lunch feeling motivated and empowered by Caryn’s insights.  I also enjoyed the lunch immensely – chatting to very interesting and driven women and eating a delicious lunch.  The BBC experience was fun and it was exciting to watch the interview that evening with my family (although I thought my hair looked a mess :-)).

The immediate repercussion was a spike in visits to the Where Does It Come From? website – those wind turbines that power it must have been working hard! (don’t worry I do really know that isn’t how it works….).  Although there were no immediate sales that I could attribute to the TV appearance I’m a firm believer in sowing seeds so hopefully a lot more people are aware of what we do and will think of us in the future.

I will certainly take Caryn’s advice on board and will endeavour to become even more of a disruptor – pushing forward on diversity, justice and ethical consumerism.  Watch this space!