Standing Up and Speaking Out...
So a couple of weeks ago, one of my a regular c'n'c ladies, Kas, was making a tube. Literally, a tube. Of course being the nosey cow that I am, I wanted to know why. Turns out it is a traditional Japanese item (with a twist, it wouldn't normally be made in merino or be knitted, but would be fabric) worn around the tummy, known as a Haramaki. She was making it for her father, as it is traditionally worn by men mainly, but can be worn by women.
Kas and I had a long conversation about the why's and wherefores of this item as I questioned her on it, eager to understand more. It seems like a genius peice of clothing that we could all benefit from. Something to keep your lower back warm, keep you covered when you bend over (exposed bum in jeans anyone?), keep your tummy warm (cramping, ladies?) and just generally be a useful item for your wardrobe. Kas was so inspiring as she talked of the history of this garment. How had this not already caught on in the western world, I found myself asking?
This fascination with Kas' design comes from a fascination of other cultures, and a lifetime of fusing other's knowledge with my own. My childhood was a mix of culture with family weekends and parties full of fusion as standard. Most of my family are Irish, but my uncle is from Trinidad. Food served was always a mix of west Indian curry and roast potatoes (no self respecting Irish woman can leave off potatoes, no matter how good that curry is) with a good helping of Baklava for pudding because their beloved neighbours were Greek. This fusion has stayed with me (attendees of the girls' christening recently were served my own version of this family curry, albeit now with my own twist - much more mango featured if you must know, it goes surprisingly well - with the obligatory roasties on the side, and one of my favourite breakfast remains to be egg and onion with hot pepper sauce).
When we lived in Glasgow I revelled in the ability to be able to get hold of plantain with no struggle, the shops surrounding me being a mix of cultures screaming at each other in glorious technicolour. We lived in what was considered the 'poor quarter' but will forever remain in my heart as one of the most beloved places I've lived, and if it weren't for my aversion to cold weather, I'd move back in a heartbeat.
So living in North Essex has been a big culture change. Mr Sconch and I have often discussed how our children see so little POC (people of colour) - we are in the heart of the rural Essex/Suffolk border and my customers are for that reason, largely white.
In addition to geographic impact, there is the double whammy of representation within the world I've chosen to work. The subject of the yarn industry's use of white, stick thin models is one that has been raised within our group of LYS owners many times before. Inclusion is obviously not the industry's strong point. From my point of view, I've always viewed this as a practical problem. Styles designed for white size 8 models are not going to fit or suit other shapes and sizes. Not everyone can take a garment and upsize it confidently from a maximum given size of 48 inches onto their own 54 inches, meaning their body shape is being discounted. Styles to suit different skin colours and bone structures are also being ignored. The size issue is being addressed more and more I feel, with both larger (and smaller) sizes being provided in mainstream patterns (although this in itself is not enough, up sizing a pattern isn't always the answer, as a top designed for a size 8 won't necessarily be the right style for a size 22 lady. We need actual designs that have been made for the larger lady (and man!) in the first place - but that is a conversation for another time, I've digressed as usual). But the representation of BIPOC is most definitely not being addressed. When was the last time you saw a model of colour being used in a commercial knitting pattern? With the exception of Erika Knight (who uses both designers and models of colour in her patterns as standard), I am hard pressed to think of any.
Despite this though, I think I hadn't consciously realised how under represented BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Colour) were. My Insta feed was already full of culture so why wasn't everyone else's...? For me, a customer is a customer. When you walk in my door, it doesn't matter if you are white, black, male, female, gay, straight, in a wheelchair, or have an invisible disability. You are a customer. (In fact, reading that back, that doesn't sit comfortably with me. I'm a shit business woman in reality, and I don't tend to view you as customers, you're fellow yarn addicts I can squeal about fibre with). And in fact, I think all of these categories are covered as people who enter my shop or feature in my online space of the Sconch community already. But it has been brought to my attention that for the majority of people, their Insta feeds (for example) are white. No culture or colour being gifted on them (and it is a gift. I come back to Kas' Haramaki design, it is a gift from another culture into mine that I now know of this) through posts about their daily lives. And this is a HUGE shame. Living your life with only your own cultures' lens and not being able to see life through others' experiences makes for a very limited existence. Not only that, but BIPOC are finding that their Insta feeds are not friendly places, with racial hatred rearing its ugly head regularly. They are also finding that their LYS is not a place of welcoming happiness for them, and they are being sidelined and are made to feel the very opposite of welcome.
So let me make it clear, my shop is welcome to all. Race, disability, size; none of that matters. Bring your stories and your culture* and enrich our lives. Tell us what you need from us to be included. And we will continue to hunt down patterns that include you, and make you feel welcome. My shop is a safe place. And it always will be.
*especially if it involves food. You just cannot get decent plantain or Greek bread here. Bring it in basketfuls. As long as it's dairy free of course. My allergy ridden baby will not forgive my inability to not resist the food.