Nina Murden - The Lewes Seamstress



People believe that the clothes donated to charity will be given to those in need or sold in those charity shops to raise funds and don’t realise that their donations will be traded abroad for profit.

Here’s a an interesting article from the economist about the complications inherent in the journey that our second hand clothes take, where they end up, and what that means for their local textile and fashion economy, but also who else gains in profit and employment. It’s complicated!  Kenya used to have a textile industry in the 60’s/ 70’s but that’s now gone because the second hand clothes from the developed world mean it’s not economically viable.  Cotton and wool mills have shut down.  South Africa actually have a ban already and they have a flourishing textile industry. 70% of our charity shop donations do end up being exported. We are the second biggest exporter of used clothes, and export $602m worth of the stuff , mostly to Africa.  Actually  demand for the clothes sold in charity shops here  is low compared to supply.  I still think we’d all be better off buying less, buying better and mending stuff a few times before the end of it’s life.



 I am passionate about equal pay for equal work – but more than that am very interested in pay parity… historically for thousands of years, patriarchy has ensured that whatever women do or have traditionally done, is not treated as valuable – either in cultural terms or monetarily. Think ‘housework’ and think child care!  I consider that my work as a professionally trained and very experienced seamstress is pretty much equitable to what a carpenter does, carpenters use wood and other materials, and work mending or making stuff using saws, hammers, drills, screws nails and so forth.   I work with fabrics, and make or mend stuff, using, scissors, pins, needles, sewing machines, and so forth.  But you try to get equivalent pay and status and respect! 

When I worked as a costumier in theatre way back in the 80’s, the set carpenters I worked alongside earned 5 times what us women (mainly women) earned in the wardrobe departments.  I felt this unfair at the time. Have things changed?  A little.  The pay disparity has lessened but there’s still quite a way to go and the basic understanding and respect for my craft is still sometimes somewhat lacking.

A man recently asked me to quote for some curtain alterations.  I gave him the quote, he was not pleased, ‘that’s a lot’ he complained, I told him it would take me a day and a half to sort out his second hand, damaged, machine washed, unevenly shrunk, un-pressed, torn and faded curtains that were the wrong size and that he had got for free from a pub.   ‘What’s your day rate?’  he demanded,  I foolishly told him, (it was 6.30 on a Friday night, and I was very tired).  ‘What!  he said, that’s almost what I charge out per day!’  What did he do for a living .. he was a carpenter.  Hmmm!   Attitudes need changing.  No longer can or should women work for pin money, we have houses, bills, children and so forth to support, and what I do has taken time, energy, skill and some considerable years of training to achieve.


Fast Fashion Radio 4 phone in

I’ve just taken part this morning in an interesting debate about ‘fast fashion, affordable or exploitative?’ on Radio 4’s You and Yours programme.

I highlighted how my customers seem to be really uncomfortable with this throwaway culture, and this is why I get many customers who want to take care of what they have already bought, (sometimes because it’s of much better quality than that generally available today). I was also asked and why is it that seamstress work is so poorly paid? My obvious thought is that firstly it’s because it’s been traditionally women’s work. Women will work for low wages, they undervalue their skills, often selling themselves short, and for some understandable reasons, perhaps. Secondly it is because of course clothes are sourced now so very cheaply from second/third world countries – again though it is often women and children working in these factories.

I also said that I think of myself as on a par with carpenters /furniture makers. They work with wood, screws, saws, tape measure, I work with fabric, scissors, sewing machine and tape measures. However the discrepancy in wage earning capacity is substantial and real, and there are certain attitudes that go with that.