Fashioned for Fairness


by Camilla Ridley

Its International Women’s Day and this year the theme is “Women in Leadership. Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world” But with so many challenges and Covid setting women back, where does one begin? There is a really easy, positive way...


Our skilled Ridley seamstresses and stylists are a key part of our team and the collaborative process. Above all, they are the arbiters of the incredible quality of every garment, so it's vital they are looked after.

Things have definitely improved since the time of the suffragettes but statistics show that gender equality, especially in the workplace is still far from equal. Over 90% of all leadership positions are still held by men. The “Fortune 500” rankings include only 37 women (7%) and only 9% of UN member states have a female head of state or government, with just a quarter of parliamentary seats held worldwide by women. It's all pretty shocking, but far from surprising.

However, when you look more closely and factor in the Covid pandemic, perceptions on the severity of the situation start to change. In the UK 140,000 more women than men have been furloughed during the pandemic, especially mother’s and women from ethnic groups. In total of 2.32 million women are currently on furlough. "The fear is that, if the same approach is taken to redundancy decisions as has been taken to furlough, it is going to be women who bear the brunt of that as well" says Women of the World festival founder and chief executive, Jude Kelly. The Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, chairwoman of the women and equalities committee, says simply: “Recovery from the pandemic might well be the biggest challenge facing women since the Pankhursts took up the struggle to get women the vote well over 100 years ago.” 

This largely comes down to a persistent culture of bias. This Month’s Red magazine has a fascinating interview with author and former senior Vice President of Proctor and Gamble Gill Whitty-Collins. She points out that despite 50% of the recruits at entry level in most companies being female, a cultural bias still exists towards men, which increases significantly at leadership level. Here, the average gender ratio is around 80:20, with senior female managers still having to fit into a male centric culture rather than feeling naturally confident in themselves. So, it’s been fascinating to see how the pandemic has been handled, with strong and capable female leaders like New Zealand's Jacinda Arden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel impressing as role models. And I think we’ll all agree that the election of Kamala Harris as the USA’s first female Vice President is a huge leap forward from the misogynism of Donald Trump. I wonder how quickly the corporate world will take these examples on board?


Even before Lockdown, our Ridley seamstresses have been able to work from home. In a time of pandemic, this has ensured they can stay safe while continuing to look after their families.  

Despite its reputation as a female-oriented industry, fashion doesn’t fare any better. A recent study by Glamour and McKinsey & Company highlighted that only 14 percent of major brands are run by a woman. And of the women who are working in UK fashion, an overwhelming majority are in the most exposed and poorly remunerated areas. 14% of the UK’s female workforce is employed in retail, an area hit by high profile closures, job losses, and digital disruption. Likewise, 80% of all UK garment workers are women, and according to analysis by the Office for National Statistics, jobs in garment factories have had among the highest rate of coronavirus deaths among working women in the UK. That’s before one takes recent examples like the Boohoo Leicester slave wage scandal into account. As women, we all have a responsibility to do what we can to positively change the current situation and examples like this.

While it's very easy to be paralysed by the enormity of the challenges now facing women in the UK and worldwide, one can make incredible strides by starting with the small things. For example, as consumers we can make the right ethical purchasing decisions, so the brands and labels we buy only employ the highest standards and strive for change. At Ridley, we’ve been incredibly grateful for the support we’ve received this last year, which has kept our skilled seamstresses busy, properly remunerated, and safely working from their homes during the pandemic. Many of them are single mothers who absolutely rely on the orders from our customers.

Then there’s the challenge of helping those women who suddenly find themselves unfairly unemployed, many who have dedicated lifetimes of service to their jobs. The UK charity Smartworks is doing incredible work here, helping to dress, coach and support women so they feel empowered, confident and ready to succeed. Amazingly 65% of the women that they help, get a job within a month. Given the backdrop of increasing unemployment among women, I’m sure you’ll agree this is a service that’s vital right now. We’re currently in discussion with Smartworks about how Ridley can help on a bigger scale but for this week we are donating a relevant piece of clothing from Ridley for every item bought. And as the iconic feminist Erica Jong says "shouldn’t every day be a women’s day not just one day a year?"


Find out more about Smartworks and the amazing things they do

Our luxurious new collection is available to purchase on-line and will be available in our London store as soon as restrictions are eased. Celebrate your individuality with a unique piece that's made to measure from your choice of any of our stunning new printed floral silks or cottons. Either visit us in store or call us to arrange a virtual fitting: 

Ridley London, 82 Church Road, Barnes, London SW13 0DQ T: 01730 823097

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