This film is part of Free

Working to a Pattern

Rag trade revival or sweatshops? In the back streets of Brick Lane, Bangladeshi machinists sew 70s fashions

Documentary 1980 32 mins


Sweatshops in Spitalfields are the focus in this episode of Home from Home, a series examining the lives of the Bangladeshi community living in London. It looks at the history of the rag trade and the severe working conditions of Bengali machinists working long hours for low pay. For many unskilled workers new to the area, the rag trade in the East End was a source of income.

With a history of migration to the area from the French Huguenots to Jewish and Irish communities, Spitalfields was known for cheap housing and the rag trade. In the late 50s and again in the mid-late 70s Bangladeshis from the villages of Sylhet settled in Spitalfields and the surrounding area. Often in the poorest housing conditions and facing violent racism, they chose to live together in these tight-knit communities. Unskilled and keen to work, they reinvigorated the rag trade by providing cheap labour to major suppliers as machinists.