Last night, London College of Fashion and HRH The countess of Wessex hosted a reception at Buckingham palace to celebrate and support pioneering work by London College of Fashion in sustainability and responsibility.
I would like to begin by offering my sincere thanks to Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex for hosting us this evening – I feel very privileged to be celebrating 10 years of our Better Lives work here tonight at Buckingham Palace. As some of you are aware since 2013 the Countess has been the Patron of London College of Fashion’s ‘Better Lives’ work. The Countess has visited all our sites to see first-hand how we are preparing the next generation of fashion professionals. The Countess has also supported from the outset our ‘Making for Change’ manufacturing activities, visiting both Holloway and HMP Downview and she has encouraged this work every step of the way. She has vitally helped us raise funds for scholarships, awards and bursaries to ensure that more students than ever have access to a creative education.
London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London, was set up in 1906, before women gained the right to vote. We have tracked the emancipation of women throughout this time and because we were originally established to enable young women to work in the couture houses of the West End, we have kept our industry links as a vital part of our DNA. Essentially a women’s college – with 85% of our students’ female – many of whom are politically engaged- female leadership, the continued fight for equality and supporting the development and growth of what is now a global industry is central to what we do and who we are.
Throughout 2018 we have worked on a number of projects and events to mark the centenary ofwomen gaining the right to vite. This has given us the chance to focus on the need for the continued fight for equality. I hope you’ve had chance to view some of this work on display this evening including Motive Motif. This was commissioned in response to the 1912 handkerchief embroidered by suffragettes in Holloway prison – these 20 embroidered handkerchiefs were curated by Professor Charlotte Hodes and Alison Moloney.
Also, on display is our contribution to the national project ‘100 Years 100 Banners’ which involved one hundred female artists working with various women’s groupsacross the country. Our contribution was led by Professor Lucy Orta and through workshops and projects she collaborated with women at HMP Downview where we have established, under Claire Swift’s leadership, our making for change manufacturing unit which aims to give the women meaningful employment on release and where we also produced these incredible banners.
From the outset, transforming the fashion industry through sustainability has been central to our vision for the future of fashion. In 2008 we founded the ‘Centre for Sustainable Fashion’ – led by Professor Dilys Williams – it was formed at a time when sustainability and fashion were viewed as being almost diametrically opposed. We realised that to address this challenge we would need long term investment and commitment and since then the Centre has been a vocal voice for change. Most recently, Dilys and her team contributed to the ‘Fast Fashion’ enquiry led by Mary Creagh MP. They have shaped global fashion research in this area as well as the fashion curriculum. And, to ensure this isn’t just for the lucky few, they have developed the world’s first online course in luxury fashion and sustainability with our partners Kering, which to date as seen over 10,000 learners log on from all over the world.
We care deeply about safeguarding the industry whilst equally valuing people and the planet. We do not want fashion at any usually cheap price. The college’s Professor Helen Storey – who uses the power of fashion to communicate complex issues such as climate change and the mass displacement of people. The Dress for Our Time – which again is on display this evening – is created from a decommissioned refugee tent that once housed a family of displaced people. Gifted for the project by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees this Dress has evolved into action on the ground through a series of projects which focus on the 23,000 women and girls residing in Za’atari – the largest camp of Syrian refugees in the Middle East.
In recognition of this work and Helen’s and the colleges long term commitment in creating innovative, art and cultural livelihood projects, I am delighted to announce tonight – on behalf of LCF and UNHCR Jordan – that Helen has been appointed as Za’atari’s first Artist in Residence.Over the course of 2019 Helen and her team will continue to find collaborative ways through the lens of fashion to empower women and girls by nurturing entrepreneurship, creativity and financial independence.
When I became Head of London College of Fashion, I knew that fashion had the enormous potential to reach beyond the catwalk. So, we have extended our teaching of fashion to include Psychology, Cosmetic Science, Sociology and Material Engineering to challenge what fashion is and how to bring alternative materials and processes to explore how our bodies interact with the world around us. We have developed courses that bring fashion and technology together to create a better human experience. We are investing in research and innovation, supporting major and developing brands to consider their relationship to fashion and technology and we were recently awarded one of nine multi million-pound grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Council for a Creative Cluster to turbo charge our research and thinking in this area.
So what next for London College of Fashion?
The headline news and the other reason we are celebrating here tonight is that in 2022 we will move from our current 6 sites to a brand new single campus at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Along with our partners on the Stratford Waterfront site- V and A, Saddlers Wells and the BBC we will create a new education and cultural destination for London.
We are already working to bring the benefits of this wonderful development to the area. East London has some of the most deprived boroughs in the UK and a growing population of young people. We all know that deprivation comes hand-in-hand with social issues such as ill-health, poor education, crime and social isolation. Working with specialist partners such as, Poplar Harca, Community Links, Bow Arts and Family Action as well as schools, families and communities we are actively trying to find long term solutions and new approaches to the problems of social depravation and lack of social mobility. With skills and training come opportunities for jobs, and so we are extending the College’s Making for Change unit into Poplar East London as part of a new community space Poplar Works. This will provide accredited training, employment opportunities and enterprise support programmes predominantly for women from marginalized community groups.
The story of fashion is the story of technology – fashion because of our rapidly changing world of technology is shifting at great speed. Technology is helping us address the negative issues from the industry of environmental degradation and modern slavery. It gives us the opportunity to be at the forefront of this thinking and to be at the centre of fashion-tech which will drive the solutions. This is why we have launched the Fashion District – an ambitious partnership of businesses, technologists, incubator specialists, East London boroughs as well as the BFC and UKFT. Here we are devising ways to nurture talent, create new jobs and innovative products that look to exploit the possibilities that technology and fashion bring. Skills, training and the incubating of new businesses will be central to the work of the ‘Fashion District’.
What I hope you all gather from this evening is that we have demonstrated the power and possibility of fashion in tacklingand addressing equality, social mobility, diversity and sustainability. We have come a long way in our 10 years of Better Lives work. When we started we saw how fashion as a discipline might expand its influence, countering its stereotype as lightweight and not worthy of research. Through our Better Lives agenda, we have redefined the purpose of fashion putting sustainability and social responsibility at the heart of what we do. By reaching out to communities to develop skills, learning and jobs; educating our students and graduates in sustainable, enterprising business models; working with industry partners on new ways of working with the latest technologies, we have raised the bar for what fashion is and might be. In our new home London College of Fashion will be at the heart of this revolution and our students and graduates will be the agitators and change-makers of tomorrow. We plan to change the industry from the inside out.
As I draw these few words to a close and leave you free to view our exhibits and enjoy the splendour of our surroundings I want to take this opportunity to again thank her Royal Highness for all her support over the years as well as so many of you here tonight. You have championed this work from the beginning. Without your support these initiatives would not have been possible. We have achieved so much together over these ten incredible years, but the work does not stop here. I am excited about the challenges that lie ahead and look forward to working with all of you as we move forward into our new building!