Emperor’s team members Cecily & Louisa have recently launched a feminist platform called Sister Society. Lou sat down with them to find out how it started & what it’s all about:
How did you meet?
Cecily: We first met when Louisa was working in a fabric shop and I used to come in all the time, because I was in the early stages of building The Emperor’s Old Clothes.
Louisa: We started chatting to each other.
Cecily: Yep, she was always very smiley with colourful hair so she was quite distinctive! And then we did a short business course together.
Louisa: Oh yeah!
Cecily: So we got to know each other much more through that experience because it was quite a small group, and we became friends, and the rest is history! Louisa came to start, once The Emperor’s Old Clothes became full time thing, Louisa started working for me.
Louisa: One day every so often, and then it became more and more regular, and now I’m doing three days a week.
So, tell me how did Sister Society come about?
Cecily: Well I found that I kept meeting up with women whether it was through work or friends, family and I kept having these conversations about the state of society today and women’s issues – we often have them in the studio as well – and then I came in one day and me and Louisa were basically having a rant I think…
Louisa: Yeah, we were basically having a one of our normal conversations about women’s issues or something, and then we said; “Oh we should to make a club or a gang or something. And then we were like actually we probably should do that…”.
So was there a specific event that catalysed Sister Society?
Cecily: Honestly not really, I think it was a build up of lots of small conversations – you probably shouldn’t call them small conversations – here and there, about big issues. I think there was a sense of restlessness and things not being resolved, so that these conversations kept happening and nothing was happening, and I think we were both feeling quite frustrated about it.
So, what is the mission of Sister Society? Could you describe it in short and also term goals?
Louisa: I think my mission would be to build awareness and help with lots of different social causes, like the period poverty situation, and homelessness, and people in Calais. To bring more awareness to those things would be important to me.
Cecily: So kind of like fundraising and activism is more what is driving you, isn’t it?
Louisa: Yeah, activism, and on a day-to-day basis I think just having a safe space where people can talk about things and support each other.
Cecily: Yeah, we had quite a lot of meetings and conversations before we really nailed down exactly what Sister Society was going to be and what our mission was and we came up with four things that we wanted to achieve; which was to empower, to support, to engage and to create. There is quite a lot of information about this on our website, but basically it’s all about bringing females together, like Louisa said ‘that safe space’, but to really be pro-active within that.
Louisa: Yeah, absolutely to do something about it, not to just keep having these conversations, but do something.
Cecily: And to break all those things down into small actions: if we can get a lot of people together and they each participate in those small actions…
Louisa: Or clicktivism
Cecily: Yeah clicktivism, then we can create a bigger change.
What is clicktivism?
Louisa: It’s basically activism online, so clicking, liking, sharing posts. So even by liking a post you obviously get more visibility on algorythms, so if everyone just liked a post or signed a petition or shared a post. Clicktivism is a massive thing now. For example there was Annika George who started the period poverty awareness. She was at school and she got all of her friends to share this post about period poverty and that started a petition that then went to parliament. Clicktivism is massive now, just clicking and sharing stuff is a form of activism, it’s the new generation of activism.
Cecily: I think people see it as quite a passive activity but actually it does have an impact.
Louisa: Yeah, it’s really good. So even if you don’t want to be an activist and like physically go with placard and be there, you can share things and that’s just as important.
Cecily: I think in terms of short term and long term…
Louisa: Bringing down the patriarchy!
Cecily: There is that!
Cecily: I think to be honest our short-term goals were quite small.
Louisa: Mine were tiny! Mine were like “If five people talk about this, that would be amazing!” So for me we’ve already blow away my expectations of what it could be, so I think, yeah short term…
Cecily: Short term it was to get as many local females, feminists, who were interested in things we were talking about together. Whether that was just digitally for now, and then for a meet up. Then get involved with a local charity or community project and start making an impact and I think we’ve already achieved both of those things.
Louisa: Yeah absolutely!
Cecily: So now it’s about building on that work to see how much of an impact we can make longer term.
That leads me onto the next question which is that had your first event recently, how did it go?
Louisa: Yeah so it was a meet up at My Hotel, basically so that we could just introduce ourselves and introduce people to The Red Box Project.
Cecily: The Red Box Project is the project that we’ve teamed up with and that we are supporting as a platform.
Question: And did you get many donations?
Louisa: I was expecting like three people to come along, but you said there was about forty people!
Cecily: Yeah over the whole evening we had about forty people come along, everyone did bring donations of tampon and sanitary towels. We filled up 4 boxes for The Red Box Project which basically covers four schools for a month which is fantastic! It was really great because some of the women are came are really integral to Sister Society and the projects that we’ve got going on. We had Emma from The Red Box Project and Jodie who’s the photographer who is going to be taking on our Modern Feminist Photo-series. We had lots of wonderful family and friends too, but we also had people we didn’t know at all.
Louisa: Yeah that was amazing!
Cecily: That was fantastic because it showed that the message is getting out there by people liking and sharing and that we have got stuff to build on really.
You are specifically looking to partner with businesses, what are the benefits for local businesses?
Cecily: You can become a partner to Sister Society and that really is an acknowledgement that you have got equality and the betterment of women at the core of what you’re doing. That your ethics are in line with the message that we’re putting out there and you want to support the work that we’re doing. It’s not for profit. We’re doing this for free.
Louisa: It’s completely voluntary.
Cecily: My business The Emperor’s Old Clothes is one of the key partners of Sister Society so that means that we’ve set up a Red Box at our place of work which is based at Flock on Sydney Street and we are generally supporting Sister Society running costs as well. It’s a team effort which is great!
Louisa: So I’m a freelance seamstress. I work for Cecily and I also own a small business called Hey Kitsch Kitty making festival wear and I’m a co-founder of Sister Society. As a key partner Hey Kitsch Kitty is going to be donating pieces to The Red Collection and designing pieces for the catwalk.
Cecily: I think it’s important to point out that we are using our skill-sets as seamstresses for things like running this upcoming workshop. So we are donating our time and skills and that is what we are trying to encourage other people to do so with their skills. Everyone who is involved is donating their services and offering their time and skills for free. We wanted to make it accessible not just to big businesses like My Hotel, which are really kindly offering us event space, but all the way down to small one-person businesses. Whether they want to get involved by offering their services, or blogging about what we’re doing, or setting up a drop off location.
Louisa: So via our partnership with The Red Box Project a business can sponsor a Red Box, for £40 they can buy a red box and fill it and that goes to a new school.
Cecily: If you’ve got more a budget for this kind of thing and you really want to get stuck in you can sponsor a box monthly – £40 a month keeps a box fully stocked up and that will serve a whole school every month. Or if you really want to get involved but you don’t have that kind of budget behind you then you can get a new box set up. That box will rely on donations from the public which are collecting at our drop-off locations. If £40 is too much for your small business then there are other ways you can get involved. For instance, you can have a tampon and sanitary towel donation box at your business.
Louisa: Yes, it’s a completely free thing that you can have.
Cecily: So then your team members, or your customers or the public can then drop off their donations and The Red Box Project will come and collect them and take them to schools.
Louisa: There is also an Amazon Wishlist – you can go onto the amazon wish list and buy some tampons and other things they need and have that sent to them.
Cecily: There is a link to that on the Red Box Project page on our website
Louisa: Or you can bring tampons into Flock. Students at Iyengar Yoga in the Mews in Hove can leave their donations there and Sew Retro sewing students can donate when they come to classes.
Cecily: Those are just some of the ways businesses can get involved, but really it’s just about showing you that you care about equality and that that is something that you want to shout about as an individual but also as a business. Aligning yourself with us is a great way to do that
Louisa: And you get your logo on our website
Cecily: It doesn’t get much bigger than that!
Cecily: We are also offering a Patron scheme. So if individuals want to get involved with any of the things we were just talking about, either they can do it and be named or do it anonymously. Head to the About Us page of our website and go to Patrons then you can find out more about that. As much support as we can gather for The Red Box Project and our other projects the better for everyone!
What events have you got planned for later on in the year?
Cecily: We’ve got our next social on 5th September again at My Hotel in Brighton, 6:30-8pm. Assuming all goes ahead we’ve got an amazing speaker for that so we are really excited about that and we are beginning to get the word out now. And then week before that we have our first workshop.
Louisa: Yep, which is a ‘reusable sanitary towel workshop’ at the Sew Fabulous studio in The Open Market and it’s completely booked up! There was a lot of interest in that so I think we might potentially run another one.
Cecily: Yeah we’re going to see how it goes
Louisa: It’s the first one…
Cecily: So that’s a free workshop and it’s really important for us to make it as inclusive and accessible as possible. We’re asking for a small donation towards materials if you can afford it, but we’re trying to keep our events completely free, where possible. And then the other big one that is on the horizon that we don’t have a huge amount for details for yet….
Louisa: We’ve got lots of exciting plans.
Cecily: The Red Collection Fundraiser for The Red Box Project which is going to be a fashion show and charity event. So we definitely want to get involved with local designers, makers, in fact that they don’t need to be local, female designers, makers, models, photographers.
Louisa: Make-up artists…
How can people get involved?
Cecily: I’d say the best thing to do is to check out our website because there is loads of information about all the things that we’ve got going on on there and then to send us an email or drop us a message on Instagram @sistersocietyuk. We’re online! You can find us but we can send you more information and see how we can get you involved. We really want as many women to get involved as possible, even if you think that you might not have the particular skill set we’re looking for there is loads more stuff you can get involved with behind the scenes.
Louisa: We’ll try and help you get involved