Every week throughout the Covid-19 lockdown, the Black Country Studies Centre will be bringing you videos and blogposts about life in the Black Country, past, present and future. Expert speakers will give you insights to their subject and research, as well as sharing their recommendations and links for finding out more. 

This week is Fashion Revolution Week, an annual global week of action, calling for a fairer, safer and more responsible fashion industry. For our first episode of BCSC: Lockdown Learning, our BCSC Coordinator and Fashion Historian, Jenny Gilbert talks a bit more about Fashion Revolution Week and sheds some light on the largely overlooked clothing manufacturing history of the Black Country…

The Black Country is renowned for making things: nails, chains, glass, Teddy Greys Herbal Tablets…

…but you probably wouldn’t put clothes high on your list of things made in the Black Country. My research into clothing and fashion in the Black Country and Birmingham is trying to find out more about the role of fashion in people’s daily lives, how they shopped for it and the networks of manufacturing and distribution in the region during the 20th century. I always knew that fashion was an important part of Black Country people’s everyday lives but it is really fascinating to gradually uncover the history of clothing manufacture in the region.

My research into this area is in its early stages – a lot of information has been generously shared by people who have memories of the clothing factories. I was amazed to discover that some of my own relatives were involved in the Black Country rag trade and that my aunt and uncle met whilst working in a Clifford Williams clothing factory!

The way fashion is made and sold now is a relatively recent phenomenon. Fast fashion as we know it today only emerged in the 21st century but, in this short time, it has had a huge and detrimental impact. In some respects, low cost and trend-focused garments have made fashion accessible to more people than ever before but this has come at a huge human and environmental cost. Low wages, unsafe working conditions, abusive work environments, pollution, deforestation and the shrinking of in-land seas are some of the consequences of our seemingly insatiable desire for the latest looks at the lowest prices.

Looking back at how fashion was made, consumed and used in the past makes a lot of these issues feel less remote and can help us to think about new or different ways of doing things. It can also prompt us to think differently about our own relationships with clothing.

Here are some useful links for finding out more about fashion history, sustainability and ethical fashion:

Don’t forget to check out the Black Country Living Museum History at Home series of history learning materials for primary school children!

Want to learn more about fashion? Find out more about University of Wolverhampton Fashion BA(hons) course here.