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Centre for Sustainable Fashion: industry perspective on the Collaborative Unit

Market facade with blue skies
Market facade with blue skies

Written by
Alexandra R. Cifre
Published date
12 August 2019

LCF students from various disciplines, including MA Fashion Journalism, MA Fashion Futures, MA Strategic Fashion Marketing, MA Fashion Design Management and MA Fashion Photography, worked this year on a project with Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF) as part of the Collaborative Unit. The research centre recruited 3 teams of postgraduate students to explore how design activism can be used to promote a more sustainable future in the fashion industry, as well as benefitting local communities.

We interviewed Dr Francesco Mazzarella, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at CSF, to hear more about how this project could to contribute to spread fashion activism across future generations of designers, and how industry partners can benefit from joining the Collaborative Unit.

Hi Francesco. The launch of this project marks CSF’s 10th anniversary – congratulations! Why did you decide to get involved in the Collaborative Unit on this occasion?

This was a timely opportunity for us at CSF to reflect on our experience in building a transformed fashion system and better articulate our work through the lens of design activism. In my current research project I’m exploring ways in which design activism can create counter-narratives towards sustainability in fashion, and I was interested in the idea of further developing my research through teaching — my overall ambition was to build a framework which could inform future theory, practice and pedagogy in the emergent field of fashion activism.

I decided to engage with multidisciplinary group of students to widen and deepen the impacts of my project on the local communities in Walthamstow, and contribute to building connections with organisations in East London, in view of LCF’s move to Stratford in 2022.

What was the students’ mission for this project?

The main aim was to equip the students with an activist mindset in order to challenge the status quo of the mainstream fashion system. They were given an opportunity to tackle issues faced by multi-cultural communities, youth and manufacturing businesses in Waltham Forest, which in 2019 was elected the very first London Borough of Culture. The students undertook a process of thinking and making together, exploring ways in which fashion and making can be used as catalysts for positive change.

What type of support did you offer the students through their project journey?

I shared with them some key insights from my own experience in fashion design for social innovation and sustainability. I also invited other colleagues from CSF to deliver a series of masterclasses and present their approaches to fashion activism, discussing themes around fashion localism, design thinking, diversity, representation and legacy. I followed the development of the project and provided learning support through tutorials.

How did you find the experience of working alongside postgrad students?

I really enjoyed working with such a group of talented students — they were truly motivated to activate positive change in the context of their fashion activism interventions. They really owned their projects and developed meaningful outcomes. As an educator, I had to be sensible not direct the students to follow a particular path, but to let them explore their own values and gradually craft meaningful solutions in collaboration with all the people involved in their projects.

According to your experience as a researcher, which key skills should students bring into a collaborative working environment?

I believe that students need to dive deep into a process of self-reflection in order to unpack their personality traits and build collaborative teams.  Working in such projects, I found out that students need to challenge their designer’s ‘ego’ in order to to establish an inclusive relationship, not only with their team-mates but also with the wider group of their projects' partners.

It's also crucial for the students to be curious and embrace new experiences, to be open to other people’s ideas and collaborate effectively, to develop a holistic view in order to connect different elements within the context of their interventions, and to be patient throughout a slow process of change.

Would you encourage students to participate in this type of opportunities? What do you think they can learn from it?

I strongly believe that undertaking collaborative projects like this is particularly relevant nowadays, as designers are increasingly required to tackle complex, real-world challenges. In this way, the role of the designer is amplified, and they are primed to identify the values driving their practice and develop skills and methods suitable to respond to challenges encountered. Besides contributing to the students’ personal growth, such projects also offer an invaluable opportunity to develop a range of concrete outcomes that can enrich their portfolios and contribute to their future careers.

How do you think  industry partners can benefit from participating in the Collaborative Unit?

Although the ‘Activating Change’ project was more precisely research-led rather than industry-driven, this was a great opportunity for me to put my research in practice and gain insights useful to widen my understanding of how to educate the next generation of fashion activists.

The students have designed and delivered a range of interventions that have contributed to expand the array of formats in which fashion activism can manifest: from manifestos, to fashion artefacts, through to fanzines, pop-up events, educational resources, videos, and conceptual circular systems. Through their projects, the students have also built and strengthened relationships with a range of organisations — industrial businesses, social enterprises, a local government, public schools, members of the local community — and I can already see how their ideas are contributing to raise people’s awareness of sustainability issues in the fashion system.

‘Activating Change’ is a project by Centre for Sustainable Fashion in collaboration with LCF postgraduate students. Group 1: Aniela Fidler (MA Fashion Futures), Megha Chauhan (MA Fashion Futures), Rebecca MacKay (MA Fashion Journalism) and Sara Marty (MA Fashion Futures). Group 2: Jade McSorley (MA Fashion Futures), Danica Dsouza (MA Fashion Futures), Semin Kim (MA Strategic Fashion Marketing) and Silvia Martinez Cerezo (MA Fashion Futures). Group 3: Divisha (MA Fashion Design Management), Mariyam Khatri (MA Fashion Futures), Nayanika Bharadwaj (MA Fashion Futures) and Ran Jing (MA Fashion Photography).