Can Christmas Jumper Day really ‘make the world better with a sweater’?

By Tom Lowenstein 

Save the Children’s annual Christmas Jumper Day aims to ‘make the world better with a sweater’, but could it be doing more harm than good?

People up and down the country will be pulling garish knitted garments over their heads next week, with Friday 13th December the date for Save the Children’s now annual ‘Christmas Jumper Day’.

Much like Jeans for Genes Day, the nationwide event asks people to wear a Christmas Jumper for the day and donate £1 to help fund the charity’s excellent work, with a string of events also taking place around the date to get people feeling suitably festive and Christmas jumper-y.

With a small army of celebs endorsing the event and the commercial backing of John Lewis, Westfield, Morrisons and Deramores, Christmas Jumper Day (CJD) is looking like it could become a huge success for Save The Children.

A spokesperson for the charity explained its importance, telling The London Economic: “Save the Children’s Christmas Jumper Day is a flagship fundraising campaign for the charity, which helps to raise vital funds to support vulnerable children around the world,”

The charity is even hoping that it can set a Guinness World Record at the Westfield London shopping centre for the most people in one room wearing Christmas jumpers.

Movember has shown how capturing the popular imagination can enable organisations to go as far as block-booking an entire month of the world’s calendar for a fund and awareness-raising campaign (while simultaneously making an awful lot of men look like they borrowed Doc Brown’s DeLorean and burnt out the flux capacitor while visiting the early eighties).

In many ways, CJD is very similar to Movember. Take a retro cultural article that used to be in fashion but is now by and large only worn ‘ironically’, and encourage people to sport it so they can raise money for charity while embracing bad taste.

It’s a genius idea. December is a month filled with sartorially-challenged adults wearing ugly pullovers, so embracing this trend and rolling it out as a charity fundraising event makes perfect sense and is helping Save the Children become even more of a household name in the process.

All of this is in good humour, yet there’s a nagging feeling that Christmas Jumper Day may perhaps be counter-productive to Save the Children’s mission.

The event’s Official Fashion Partner, John Lewis, is renowned for its ethical policies but the likes of Primark (which has a store in Westfield London but is not affiliated to CJD) are not; and it is retailers like this that many people are going to head to for a new festive pullover.

The April 2013 Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Savar, Bangladesh, served as a painful reminder of the origins of much of the clothing on the UK’s high streets.

More than 1,100 people lost their lives and another 2,500 were injured in the disaster at the factory, which was known to make products for Primark, Matalan, Benetton and Bonmarché.

Generally poor working conditions and low wages were endemic, but it was the flagrant disregard for the health and wellbeing of workers by the factory’s owner that was blamed for this tragic event.

The real responsibility surely lies in the West, however. It lies with the retailers who care little about the ethics of their supply chain and the consumers who have an insatiable desire for cheap and frequent wardrobe overhauls.

Save the Children are keen to stress that “participants don’t need to purchase a new Christmas jumper to get involved – they can dig out old jumpers, customise ordinary sweaters, or even knit their own”.

Yet the reality is that despite their best intentions (and the fact that John Lewis are donating £25 for each own-brand jumper sold), many people are going to end up buying a sweatshop sweater to take part in the event and this has to be antithetical to the key objectives of charity.

We can’t argue with Save the Children’s assertion that the association with Westfield will allow them to raise the profile of Christmas Jumper Day and reach a wider audience, but this somewhat misses the point. Herding people into a monumental shopping mall for a World Record attempt can only help reinforce the consumption-driven culture which makes using factories like Rana Plaza an inevitability.

It is difficult to criticise Save the Children. We live in a time where to get noticed you have to offer your audience rich and engaging, camera-friendly experiences that are easily shared on social media – all of which CJD has in abundance. The campaign will no doubt be a great success and will raise a lot of money for their projects, which should be applauded. But the wider implications of the CJD should be questioned.

Yes, the cash raised by the event will go towards valuable projects and yes, it may just all be a little bit of harmless festive fun, but the more that throwaway cultures and mass consumption are reinforced by responsible agents of society the less likely we are to avoid another Rana Plaza.

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