Sold in the Whitworth’s brand new shop, her quirky clothes and homeware are unlikely lifelines
Fashion is one of the world’s biggest polluters. Nearly three fifths of all clothing produced ends up in incinerators or landfills within a year of being made, surpassing even international flights on the greenhouse gas front. Also plagued by child labour and ‘modern slavery,’ with many clothes produced in faraway factories, it’s an industry many would deem neither ethical nor sustainable.
Enter Bukky Baldwin, a young Manchester designer and entrepreneur who is shaking up the status quo with her namesake luxury fashion brand. The first resident of the Whitworth’s Work Shop - a new shop and showcase for emerging creatives - Baldwin sells original handmade ceramics, jewellery and embroidered goods produced in weekly workshops with refugees.
As we found on visiting allotment-based charity Growing Together Levenshulme, many refugees have not only faced violence and persecution in their home countries but a long and tortuous asylum system here in the UK. Regular events like Growing Together and Baldwin’s workshops can be a vital lifeline; offering the chance to meet people, learn skills and find purpose during a frightening and lonely time.
Refugees in Baldwin’s workshops are referred via Manchester City of Sanctuary, part of a national movement of over 60 towns and cities, and are enrolled for three months. All profits from the goods they help create are reinvested into further training and language workshops for marginalised communities.
Baldwin developed her innovative fashion brand on graduating from MMU’s School of Art, after which she was supported by the university’s Kraft/Work programme and Marketplace Studios: a three-storey studio and gallery space in Stockport’s Market Square. She was recently granted £5,000 and business support from the Deutsche Bank Award for Creative Entrepreneurs to take it to the next level.
The BA (Hons) in Textiles in Practice graduate, who developed her business as an antidote to ‘fast fashion,’ said: “I want to show that you can create a successful fashion business that is sustainable, ethical and treats people fairly.
“After I graduated in 2017, I took a year out to do volunteer work, working with homelessness charities. I saw the great need for people in Manchester, and that you can make a big difference in people’s lives by giving up your time.
“Through my background in textiles and design, I also understood some of the problems within the fashion industry but also its amazing potential to help people. I am determined to use Bukky Baldwin as a way to champion positive social and economic change.”
Despite still being in its infancy, Bukky Baldwin is already selling items on its website - as well as in the Whitworth Work Shop - and has launched a footwear collaboration with Portuguese designer Josefinas.
Baldwin ultimately plans to to open small studios, reflecting the communities they serve, and develop an employment scheme. Providing further training and longer-term support, this will also serve homeless charities and other marginalised groups.
Liz Hibberd, Volunteer & Partnerships Coordinator from Manchester City of Sanctuary said: “Our sanctuary seekers have relished the opportunity to learn new and creative skills (with Baldwin). Learning the language of art and design…has allowed a therapeutic and practical outlet for them.
“We were thrilled to see Bukky going from strength to strength, and for focusing her work to support and enhance the lives of those who are less fortunate.”