Meet the members of East London co-working space, x+why

Getting crafty with Sarah Corbett

We are very proud and privileged to have Sarah Corbett as one of our founding members.  Not only is she an an award-winning activist, and founder of the global Craftivist Collective, but she has also written two books, ‘A Little Book of Craftivism’  and, more recently, ‘How To Be A Craftivist: the art of gentle protest’.

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Sarah is an Ashoka Fellow and consultant on her unique ‘gentle protest’ methodology.  She has helped change government laws, business policies as well as hearts and minds through her kind and creative form of activism using craft she calls ‘gentle protest’.

This September we are incredibly excited to be collaborating with Sarah on no less than three events.  We have an exclusive Changemaker’s Stitch Session for members, a Mini Fashion Statements pop-up during London Fashion Week, and a live podcasting recording to mark the launch of her paperback book.  PHEW.

We thought that there was no better time to get to know this super-talented change-maker, and learn what her unique approach to craftivism is all about.

What exactly is Craftivism?

‘Craftivism’ is like the word ‘punk’ when it comes to punk music. The word was coined by american Betsy Greer in 2003 and her short definition is Craft + Activism = Craftivism. But just as most punk bands sounds totally different, craftivists around the world do craftivism differently too. My approach to craftivism which I call ‘gentle protest’ always has activism as the priority and craft as the tool not taskmaster where it is needed. I see craftivism as another tool in the activism toolkit not to replace other forms of activism but to use in the right way in the right context where it’s most effective. My craftivism projects have different objectives, some are issues specific and some are more about building relationships or inner activism. I use neuroscience, psychology and campaign strategy as the foundations for all of my craftivism work. 

There are so many ways craft can benefit activism (which is why i have a large book on the methodology!) such as using the process alone or with others of repetitive hand actions to help you slow down, think critically and empathetically about how to tackle an injustice you see and be part of the solutions not problems. Using the object as a small, bespoke and humble gift to build a respectful and memorable relationships with people in positions of power from politicians to boards of trustees and business leaders. Making yourself a physical reminder to be part of the change you wish to see in our world and not wait or tell other people to do it. Or creating small beautiful objects as street art to provoke thought, discussion and action on and online as a form of ‘intriguing’ activism and to reach audiences who might be nervous of other less-gentle forms of activism. 

The Craftivist Collective provides projects, tools and services for individuals, groups and organisations around the world to help them be effective craftivists as well as be part of this global community of gentle protesters campaigning in a kind, sustainable and effective way. 

If we want a world that is beautiful, kind and fair, shouldn’t our activism be beautiful, kind and fair?
— Sarah Corbett

Who is it for? And how do people get involved?

We believe that if we want our world to be more beautiful, kind and fair then our activism should be beautiful, kind and fair. 

Craftivism is for everyone from skilled crafters to burnt out activists, and those people who want to challenge injustice in the world but don’t know what to do, where to start or how to prioritise their energies and time.

Over the past decade I have been lucky enough to build a community of thousands of people, who get involved by buying and using our DIY craftivism kits  to use alone or with others.  You can stitch an image of one the world’s great change-makers, challenge people to question their fashion choices with a mini fashion statement, or fly solidarity’s flag for those suffering as a result of the world’s injustices by crafting your own banner, to turn heads and influence change.

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What motivated you to become so involved in peaceful activism?

I have been an activist from a young age - my mum always says that I have been activist since being in her womb!  I grew up in a low-income area of Liverpool, into an activist family, and I found myself helping to save social houses at the age of 3 (we won) as well as campaigning on global issues.  I won lockers for my school aged 17, after my Head Teacher said it would be impossible. I went on to work for Christian Aid, DFID and Oxfam GB as a professional campaigner.

But after many years of protest, by 2008 I was burned out from too much confrontation, slactivism and clicktivism, and I began doubting the effectiveness of many elements of conventional activism.  I started to look for alternatives. I discovered craftivism – a term coined by American writer and crafter Betsy Greer in 2003 – and immediately realised craft offered what I’d been looking for: something new to add to my activism toolkit. 

I decided to develop my own unique ‘Gentle Protest’ approach to craftivism, and was lucky enough to gain a following of friends and strangers around the world who wanted to get involved.

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What have been some of your career highlights?

It’s hard to pick them out - I am very fortunate to do something that I feel so passionate about. 

I love spreading my 'gentle protest' approach to craftivism, and have taught in universities around the world from Parsons New School NYC to Helsinki University.  My TED talk ‘Activism Needs Introverts’ was chosen as a TED Talk Of The Day and has been viewed over a million times eek!

Being able to work, and make an impact, with charities like The Climate Coalition, ShareAction and Mind the mental health organisation is rewarding.  Getting feedback from people who attended our events or took part from afar saying how they have changed their mind or habits keeps me going as well as the bigger ‘successes’. As an introvert who doesn’t like being judgemental or unkind, I am passionate about reach new audiences to be active citizens and campaigners , that comes from working with more unusual allies such as Secret Cinema cult jewellers Tatty Devine as well as major museums and galleries .

What do you love most about x+why?

I live in East London. I am a one woman band at the moment (I work a lot with freelanceers and collaborators).  I make all of my kits and props at home which I love but when I need to do ‘laptop work’ I love being at x+why to stay focused, interact with lovely change-makers and feel less alone.

I love the plants everywhere, the calming music, bowls of fruit and ethos.  As soon as I came in here, I just felt a sense of peace, but also a purpose. x+why represents so much of what I do. Every detail is ethical and has a social purpose. It’s also so powerful to have that community of like-minded people. In a world, that’s on such a tipping point, it’s really important that everyone has their X and Y on what they’re doing and focuses on making the world a better place for everyone.

To awaken your inner craftivist, meet Sarah, or simply learn more about peaceful activism, come along to one of our Craftivist Collective events this September.

Jemma McQueen