Opinion: Better Lives – building a sustainable future

I am really passionate about my ethos of ‘Better Lives’, which has become one of the cornerstones of my headship at the London College of Fashion. It is a wide agenda that I feel encapsulates how we need to work as educators; it is a dialogue between staff, students and the wider community to develop an understanding and definition of what sustainability and diversity mean to us.

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Nayana Kodesia’s collection (BA Hons Fashion Design and Development) on the LDNY runway at the Women Inspiration Enterprise Awards. Image by by Fi Anderson, BA (Hons) Fashion Journalism.

The thinking behind fashion as a discipline needs to extend and expand its influence, to counter the traditional stereotype of fashion as a lightweight subject not quite worthy of research, and instead to clearly make the case and set the pace for developing areas of research that extend fashion’s influence. Areas such as health, textiles, sustainability, ethical design, science, (including nanotechnology, medicine, engineering and cosmetic science) and well-being are presenting fashion with a paradox. How do we bring these issues into the mainstream whilst also meeting the fashion industries’ need to be ever changing and consuming?

Better Lives is a term we use at the London College of Fashion to describe the work we do that uses fashion, as a discipline, to drive change, build a sustainable future and improve the way we live. Through a wide agenda, which includes social responsibility, awareness-raising and collaboration, we encourage dialogue between staff, students and the wider community to develop an understanding and definition of what sustainability means to us. You can find out more about the projects, initiatives and collaborations that reflect our belief in using fashion as a catalyst for change over on the LCF website, and I will be highlighting some of our work around sustainability on this blog over the next few weeks.

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Professor Helen Storey in conversation with Caryn Franklin. Image via LCF Press Office

LCF works with charities and foundations in schools and prisons, offering fashion education and opportunity and raising social awareness. We build sustainability into our curriculum through learning and collaboration, in which staff and students carry out research, to address the many challenges facing our wider fashion industry. We run a number of outreach activities, social enterprise projects and community partnerships so that we can learn from a varied group of people and share our knowledge. Community is also about how and why we work with external partners, using fashion to address the challenges of ethical responsibility and sustainability.

I know first-hand how fashion can be used to transform people’s lives. Whether it’s through retraining female offenders in machine skills or collaborating with communities in Ethiopia and Mongolia on design projects, fashion has an incredible way of communicating to people. By challenging the status quo and making our world a fairer and more equitable place, fashion can play a vital role in showing us what’s possible. If we look at fashion in its broadest sense, beyond clothing and fast fashion, and look at the power of fashion to communicate some of the biggest problems of our times, we have incredible opportunity. Our students represent the future of the fashion industry and they have the power to change it from within.