Breaking The BAME Barriers At Grassroots. An Op-Ed by CARAMEL ROCK

Breaking The BAME Barriers At Grassroots. An Op-Ed by CARAMEL ROCK

Caramel Rock, a London based fashion and creative arts training centre and registered charity is pleased to announce that as the new academic year approaches they will again be launching our 12-week NVQ Level 2/3 Fashion Garment Construction course.  Starting on 25 September, three days per week, the course aims to help young people gain a foothold into fashion and the creative arts sector.

Caramel Rock, located in Newham, is dedicated to helping young people, especially those from ethnic backgrounds to train in fashion and the creative arts. Each year we take in 250 students and 75% of these come from a BAME background.  In Newham three quarters of the population are from culturally diverse backgrounds and the 2011 census revealed that 43% of the residents in the borough are Asian.  Newham also has one of the youngest populations in the country and 35.6% of employees are low-paid and the borough’s poverty rate is 37%, 10 percentage points higher than the London average. All these statistics and facts point to the hard reality that it is very difficult for young BAME people in Newham to get a well-paid job and to rise about poverty and inequality.

I am the founder and Managing Director of Caramel Rock setting up the charity and training provision with the aim of supporting unrepresented young people with access into the industry. I say: “As a teenager I was part of a gang and got into trouble. It was my local church, cheerleading group and fashion that rescued me.  As a young black woman, I wanted to give something back and help other disconnected young people to reconnect.  I realised that fashion could be a great tool to engage with young people who’ve had a rough start in life and give them skills and job opportunities.  To help them discover their creative side and focus on their future. Although London is a very diverse city I don’t think that ethnic brands and designers and other fashion industry workers from ethnic minorities are given a fair shot in the sector.  So many of the leading universities who offer fashion and creative arts courses give preference to international students. I think Caramel Rock helps fill a huge gap in creating local talent and giving them a stepping stone into an industry that is fiercely competitive and seriously lacking in diversity”.

A great deal of attention has been paid to the fact there are very few black models on the catwalks because the public face of fashion is on the catwalk.  However, there is little said about the people who work behind the scenes in the fashion industry. Very few black designers break through.  Many people of ethnic origin are quite literally in the minority in the fashion world; whether it is the luxury or mass market design studios.   Those who do get into the industry feel compelled to be silent about the issue for fear of finding themselves cast out.

Statistics from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport reveal that 90% of employees in the UK design industry are white and nearly 60% are male. The creative industries are experiencing a huge jobs boom. However, the figures reveal that the majority of workers are white, male and have a university degree or equivalent.  Black designers account for just 1% of designers included in VogueRunway.com, the main website for following fashion weeks around the world.  The appointment of Edward Enninful as Editor-in-Chief at British Vogue is a huge milestone for the BAME community, but time will tell if this is just lip service, a fad or a genuine change in recognising diversity.

Caramel Rock is focused on changing this and breaking the BAME barriers in London by providing free courses in fashion and the creative arts to young and disconnected people.  The course will provide young people with an opportunity to express themselves safely in a creative way. 

Many past students such as Bianca Wilson of mixed race heritage have been supported into training and jobs by Caramel Rock.  Bianca wanted to find a fashion course but found that many training providers required tuition fees, and this was a stumbling block for her.  She found Caramel Rock online and was delighted to find that the course was free, and this removed a huge barrier for her.  Bianca embarked on a one-year NVQ Level 3 course and learnt everything about garment making from beginning to end.  Bianca found that she received a huge amount of support and the course opened up her horizons. Thanks to Caramel Rock’s help Bianca got a job at Genix where she is working as a runner and helping in various departments, gaining critical experience. The training she received has helped her to grow and her love of music is translating into fashion and style ideas.

Like many young people Bianca lacked direction and confidence and this is something that Caramel Rock were able to help her with.  As well as providing training in sewing, design and many other subjects the charity places great emphasis on helping students to get into work.  Faith and her team get young people job ready by teaching them about building CVs, interview techniques and other soft skills.  Caramel Rock’s training and job opportunities promotes social mobility and helps young people like Bianca to avoid the trap of falling into low paid menial jobs.  The fashion industry is poorly represented by the BAME community and Caramel Rock is working very hard to help young, disenfranchised BAME people into the industry through the provision of free and high-quality training.

Editor Notes:

Caramel Rock

Caramel Rock was started up by Faith Johnson who grew up in Newham.  As a teenager Faith went through some very difficult times and got involved with gangs, breaking the law and ended up in an abusive relationship.  Her sole respites at the time were her church and her local cheerleading group.  Through the cheerleading group Faith re-discovered her strength and wanted to focus on things that interested and inspired her.  She chose fashion as she “was good at it” and went to study at Central St Martins and started up Caramel Rock.  Initially, the project was one day a week and ran with the support of Ascension Church and this grew into two days a week.  After working in the fashion industry for some time Faith wanted to commit 100% to helping young people, especially those of BAME origin into fashion and to find a different path that would help them grow as individuals.  Caramel Rock gained charitable status in 2010 and has been growing ever since.  It offers courses in fashion design, garment making, sewing, Illustrator, Photoshop and many more creative arts subjects.

For more information:

Contact Faith Johnson on 020 7476 3222 or by email at faith.j@caramelrock.com

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