Nicky Simpson – Course Leader: Textiles Skills Centre
2022, marks Nicky Simpson’s second year working with the team at Arts St. George’s. Alongside St. George’s Hospital Charity, Arts St. George’s create opportunities for patients, families, staff and the wider community to engage in creative activities and enjoy cultural experiences, helping improve the experience of being in hospital.
July 2022 marked St. George’s Arts Week and Nicky was lucky enough to get the opportunity to work with the team once again. This year’s theme was ‘togetherness’ and Nicky embraced this with a visual arts collective workshop; botanical banner making, something she had only practiced recently.
Working in the busy front entrance courtyard of St. George’s Hospital in Tooting, in the beautiful sunshine, Nicky set up her heat press and it was not long before the banners started to fill up.
Nicky was really pleased to see the workshop act as a way to bring ‘together’ and unite the hospital community – patients, visitors and staff, meeting so many amazing people throughout the 2 workshop days, and they all had a story to tell.
‘I loved seeing everyone’s faces light up when they realised they could create something beautiful, so easily and so quickly. They all particularly enjoyed the fact that they had been part of an artwork collective, a new idea to most!’
Five banners were created over the 2 days, and these were used as a backdrop throughout the rest of St. George’s Arts Week on the community stage where other forms of art, music and dance were enjoyed.
Grace Lindley, Arts Coordinator at St. George’s Hospital Charity said: “We are so grateful to Nicky for leading these incredible workshops. The collective banner marking was especially fitting with our theme of togetherness. Overall, it was a brilliant week, which used arts and creativity to celebrate and highlight the interconnectivity of our hospital community, and how we support each other, day in, day out, at St George’s.”
COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause disruption and uncertainty – how are we responding and what do we need to do to ensure a sustainable future for the Arts and Design & Technology.
2020 has been a challenging year for all of us, to say the least! And it’s not about to stop, as we enter another phase of uncertainty when schools and colleges re-open and a second wave predicted.
Lockdown has changed the way we communicate with each other, socialise and work. It has been a game changer in so many ways, seeing the hospitality and retail industries, public transport and education being abruptly halted in their tracks and having to find their own way through an enforced period of dormancy and out the other side. Many will not survive and we are already seeing huge job losses, with businesses closing permanently or drastically scrabbling to rescue what they can and shed the less effective parts of their business. Some however, have thrived and grown, adapting to a new environment and taking advantage of new systems and the ‘new’ normal!
Transformations are emerging from the initial chaos. Some businesses and organisations are taking full advantage of the disruption, making more effective use of existing technologies and developing new. We have also seen individuals transforming by making changes in patterns of behaviour and the ways they work and socialise.
The underlying worry is that this pandemic is not a one off and that our ‘normal’ world will be less secure and stable in the future. That there is no new normal and much of our previous logic and thinking can no longer help us.
Education is one of those areas which has had to transform and adapt quickly and dramatically – pushed into enforced new ways of delivering learning to both students and teachers. This has been one massive learning curve for all of us involved in education.
We have duly learnt how to get around Zoom, or other live video technologies and adapted or completely rewritten Schemes Of Work and lesson plans; re-arranged our personal/work lives to fit around the children and their new learning methods and our new working lives.
We need to get back to some sort of normality in the new world we have created, or that has been adapted/created for us. Some of us, particularly working with arts and design subject areas, are having to adapt to non-specialist classrooms, not able to use specialist equipment, or working on clean down rotas for rooms and equipment. None of this is conducive to practical teaching and learning. Practical lessons have to be given a completely new vision, but we are creatives and we can think out of the box and do this.
There has been support from some education organisations and especially CLEAPPS who have been extremely supportive at affecting workable solutions to Covid-19 restrictions. Mostly, schools have had to take their own initiative and do what works best for them under the ever changing guidelines. Zoom and other online platforms are transforming the way to teach. Communication being a critical issue, from school to home, teacher to teacher – hot-desking is not just for the office and teachers need to embrace technology to be able to deliver learning.
However, all this is especially difficult for teaching practical subjects such as art and design. Solutions for D&T subjects, in particular fashion and textiles, depend on what restrictions are in place in individual schools.
At the Textiles Skills Academy we realised that teacher CPD workshops and face-to-face courses planned months in advance, just weren’t going to happen and quickly needed to rethink how we could deliver much needed teacher support and training.
Textiles Skills Academy is a teacher support organisation and CPD deliverer. We needed to rise to the challenge of developing online courses and began to create online Training Rooms for Textiles Teachers. These Training Rooms run through Facebook and are a fast and easy way of putting together relevant knowledge, visuals, downloadable guides, video tutorials and lots of other resources, onto an easily accessible platform for teachers. Most people have a Facebook account and if not, they are easy to set up and once in the Training Room, teachers recognise the format and understand how to access and download what they need.
We have launched 6 textile teachers Training Rooms so far and developing more as we get feedback from teachers using them. Live Zoom sessions with participants, is part of the training and throughout the lockdown period teachers from as far as Porto Rico and Jersey have been able to join us, which they otherwise would not have in previous ‘normal’, workshop events.
Online courses are also being developed for student access, which will enable those who need to isolate, or cannot attend class for some reason, or those where location is an issue, can still access the learning resources they need.
These online courses are a game changer, as we begin to understand that this is the start of how our new world will look. It was always going to happen, the pandemic has just accelerated the process, forcing us to change the way we work, learn and socialise. They are also a more cost and time efficient method of delivering training, as no cover is needed and can be completed at home or at school, over a period of time, rather than taking days out of school. They will never completely replace face-to-face workshops, as we miss the human interaction and networking, but for now they will enable us to still get the training we need.
THE TRAINING ROOMS Within Each Training Room teachers work through units and are able to ask questions to each other and/or the trainers, through the discussions pages. There are also regular live Zoom sessions with the course trainer, where teachers can communicate live with each other and ask questions. We have also designed a course specifically for teachers who are facing working in non-specialist classrooms and/or with restricted resources and equipment. The techniques on this course are accessible and will adapt to a Scheme of Work for students of key stages 3-5 and will also adapt well to student use at home.
BEYOND THE PANDEMIC
COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to rethink what matters most in education and what we need as a society. So far the initial response has been reactive and adaptive, but we could be looking at a transition phase towards hybrid schooling (virtual and physical). This transition could allow for the arrival of a pedagogical moment and an opportunity to completely revise our current teaching/learning methods rather than simply returning to what was, when this ‘phase’ ends.
There needs to be ever stronger links with industry, to ensure the education we are delivering is appropriate to support the needs of a very changing landscape. Particularly in retail, where we see different ways of consumption developing and evolving habits and needs of society.
As we emerge from this enforced situation, our challenge will be not to proceed exactly as before, but to reflect on what has happened and what we have experienced and change the systems we have worked with for decades.
Having traditionally relied on passive forms of learning, mostly focused on direct instruction and memorizing, we now need more interactive methods that promote critical and individual thinking for the innovation-driven economy we live in today. Being more practical subjects, Art and design are by nature, interactive and can also be used to support learning across more passive fields. We need to plan for a hybrid system of educating which involves mixed online and face-to-face teaching, that will draw on both physical and virtual spaces. Future education will incorporate methods of delivering online and allowing student access to resources, to enable completion of tasks in school.
There is a whole other discussion that needs to be had around the lack of access to high-speed broadband, or digital devices and the increasing distance between the wealthier and low-income communities. This has to be tackled as we move into more technology driven forms of educating/learning.
The crisis has also highlighted the need to develop networked school communities and create a stronger educational home-school centre. We have seen collaborative networks, both formal and informal, emerging online and off. Networking is essential at every level of education, from teacher groups to student collaborations. Online groups have been a massive support to teachers, who have gone from forming new alliances for manufacturing PPE, to giving advice and ideas on ever changing situations, rules and restrictions, when planning for school return.
Networks can bridge gaps not filled by formal organisations; they can be focused on specific areas of knowledge where individuals can mentor, or support each. Informal networks are often trusted more, as they will often have different motivation than more formal groups.
Textiles Skills Academy manages a 4000+ strong, Textile Teachers Centre Facebook group and as with other FB networks, this really has come into its own, being an incredibly supportive resource and communication hub throughout the lockdown. Teachers have supported themselves and found new ways of delivering and sharing ideas and resources. A mentorship scheme is also set up within the group, enabling individuals to access or offer 121 support. Facebook was also developing new applications throughout the lockdown, as demand increased for more ‘Live’ opportunities. Within the platform it enabled live ‘Rooms’ for small groups to come together and communicate with each other.
Networks show they can provide huge support for teachers through collaboration and working in partnerships; facilitate peer-learning (such as sharing experience, information, challenges, ideas, solutions and knowledge) and encourage student/teacher learning experiences.
Despite the incredible challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have been given an opportunity to transform the education system. We can evolve and change the overall purpose, content and delivery of education in the long term and prepare our education system to deal with future pandemics and crisis. This in collaboration with our networks, including overseas experiences and knowledge.
“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, in the way we live and what is happening around us.”- Coco Chanel
Clothing expresses one’s own culture, creativity, values and personality. It is a way of identifying oneself with group or as an individual and it is in human nature to want to attract or detract from others. Fashion trends are constantly moving to explore new ways of expressing the individual or group and aided by new technologies and globalisation, has become an increasingly hazardous impactor on the environment.
The world of fashion has begun to react, with activist groups demanding a halt to London Fashion week and slamming fast fashion, the rise in second hand/vintage, clothing for hire, organic and Fairtrade fibres and designers such as Stella McCartney(Evrnu) and Katherine Hamnett at the forefront of use of textiles recycling technologies and non-oil based, smart and renewable yarns etc.
Consumers now live in an on-demand world that routinely delivers once-insane levels of instant convenience. This equally applies to fashion, but these current fast fashion models of consumption have encouraged huge volumes of waste in energy, fibre, chemicals, money which is no longer sustainable. There is now an urgent need and desire to change this model and investigate ways of reducing this insatiable desire to shop and ‘have’. It is just too easy to buy and throw away.
As we progress into a new age of slow fashion and renewables, in an effort to counter the responsibility consumers and suppliers have towards reducing the huge contribution fashion has and is having on climate change, the quality, sustainability, end use/disposal and fit of a garment becomes all the more prevalent.
This change has to come from not only the manufacturers and consumers but, maybe more importantly, from government. Those in power need to take the lead and demonstrate the urgency through legislation.
Industry is already working towards changing methodologies, developing new technologies in agricultural and water reduction solutions, recycling of fibres and garment manufacturing(such as evrnu.com) and reducing waste through customization etc. Some great examples are the US based Company Unspun, who offer sustainable, bespoke jeans. Using a combination of 3D body scanning and personalised tailoring to create a unique though not altogether new way of reducing fashion waste. Another is Bolt Threads, who have partnered with Adidas by Stella McCartney to develop a tennis dress made using MicroSilk, which will fully biodegrade at the end of its life. Other renewable clothing innovations include T-shirts made from plants and couture clothing made from seaweed.
The clothing industry is starting to be incredibly inventive and looking at all stages of production to find sustainable solutions, but we seem to be missing the point at consumer level. We have educated our customers to demand what they want at any cost.
It is historically documented that Zara entered the market with the fast fashion model, creating the immediacy of trends, the sudden insatiable need to buy now as tomorrow it may not be there and with Jane Shepherdson at Top Shop(Arcadia) quickly following this money making model.
But one of the biggest issues in the fashion industry however is returns. Huge waste occurs through high levels of returns due to bad fit, bad design, poor quality and ridiculously easy methods of buying and returning. The fast fashion model has made consumer expectations unsustainable. The demand for fast turnaround has reduced the quality levels of products, both with fabrics and garment manufacture and the barriers for considered purchasing, such as fit, paying for postage and packing and returning purchases, have been diminished, leaving a system open for abuse.
Consumers have become used to free P&P and returning products. This was the barrier for fashion purchasing in the early days of ecommerce. You can’t feel the fabric, understand the fit nor see the quality, from an online image. Consumers would therefore be reluctant to purchase, with the hassle and cost of returning. A new model was created with ASOS and the like, who broke down this barrier, making it incredibly easy to buy, try and return. We now see a new age of social media, young Instagram users, buying, taking selfies wearing the new purchase and returning, without any qualms about what this costs, both to the brand and to the planet. How can this be reversed, or has the horse bolted?
Fit and quality is hampered by a lack of skilled workforces and good training in design, which a majority of Fashion undergraduate courses do not include garment manufacturing. New technologies in 3D design, 3D sampling and use of AI to enable speed, accuracy and reduce wastage, are however not yet able to match the quality needed nor get around the nuances of body shape and fickle consumer desires.
Design development and garment manufacture requires a rethink into training to fit the current needs, which are to reduce waste, train the designer to think in terms of better quality, better fitting circular fashion and a re-education of the consumer. Training in these new technologies needs to be matched with an good understanding of fit, garment construction, sustainable design and consumer needs and desires.
It was highlighted in the 2017 WRAP* report (Valuing our Clothes: The cost of Fashion), 80% of the impact of a garment happens at the design development stage.
For a long time, garment design students have not been taught even the basics of garment manufacture, nor the intricacies of thoughtful and sustainable supply chain management and the concept of circular fashion, where the products end life is considered.
Fashion Design graduates are having to reach out in search of further, in depth training with experienced and qualified experts in the textiles industry. This is not even touching on what is happening in schools. The continuing disappearance of textiles and in particular garment making skills from secondary school curriculum, is demonstrating that education is failing at all stages for the textiles industry and students.
We are already seeing the impact of narrowing secondary education input, through the introduction of EBACC and there is now an urgent need to plan for a curriculum more aligned to what the country and industry needs.
A 2016 survey based on statistics published by Ofqual, showed a fivefold decline in the number of pupils taking GCSEs in arts subjects in that year, and entrants for A-levels in arts subjects dropped by 4,300. Today’s situation has not improved.
The worry of how Ebacc will affect the next generation and the creative industries is increasing as not only teachers, higher education lecturers and heads, arts industry and textiles industry leaders, start to understand the implications of such a narrow education on this and future generations.
Andria Zafirakou (Global Teacher Award 2018) commented that creative arts subjects were being squeezed out of the curriculum at a time when they had never been more important. “They’re not only essential for personal growth and self-understanding but they also teach young people to think creatively, learn to communicate effectively and build resilience. All these skills will be important for the jobs that they are likely to do when they leave school.”
Educating from a young age, an understanding of considered design, is not just for would be designers. It instils a responsibility to think about how they consume and their own impact on society and the planet.
The fast fashion business model creates vastly under/bad-designed, cheap to manufacture garments in cheap to produce, polyester based fabrics, in order to satisfy an insatiable demand for new clothing and these often end up being returned and sent landfill. Ill-fitting garments is a major contributor for returns, as garments are made by the quickest and cheapest methods with no consideration for fit. Change this and we go some way to satisfying the consumer. Make it harder to return so that consumers are more considered in their purchasing and creating garments using better quality, more sustainable fabrics and better made and fit, which is not always that more expensive.
The garment industry can also reduce the choices and thought processes for consumers, by making garments more sustainable from the outset. You shouldn’t need to ask the questions – where is it from, who made it, is the fabric sustainable, is it recyclable? It should be sustainable whatever!
Today’s younger generation are starting to question. They are beginning to have a need to trust brands are doing the right thing before they purchase. They are demanding transparency and authenticity and questioning a brand/company’s green credentials. History of transparency within a company will earn their trust – or being open to critique and making changes in a positive direction, at least show the brand is, or trying to be more sustainable.
It is hugely difficult for large companies/brands to make the transition to sustainability and it is not going to be seamless and fast, but if brands are making strides and admit they are not perfect, then this will gain trust.
Smaller genuine brands are beginning to gain ground with the more discerning consumer. Those with more considered design and transparency in their supply chain will win the younger consumer over.
With more thoughtful good design and a sustainable slower fashion business model, virgin garments do have a relevance and play a significant part in our future fashion world and our creative and working lives.
Encouraging students to think about how design will help combat climate change!
David Attenborough has been hammering it home to us for years, even Prince Charles has banged on about it for decades! Bill Gates is investing millions into technology to support more efficient, clean energy, even if the man in charge over there is in denial and arguing it’s fake news! AND we see the British Government at last taking the lead and passing a commons motion to declare an ‘environment and climate emergency’.
WWF’s Living Planet Report stated that in just over 40 years, the world has seen almost 60% decline in wildlife across land, sea and freshwater and is careering towards an unbelievable decline of two-thirds by 2020! – In less than a generation.
As those in power start to listen through the activism of the people and a realisation that climate change is something we need to worry about, school children worldwide, inspired by the teenager Greta Thunburg, have rallied to join the campaign.
As educators, we need to support this in the everyday activities of school. In every subject and every action the school takes there needs to be an understanding that we need to participate, both as individuals and as collective organisations in doing our bit!
D&T is in a prime position to motivate and inspire young people to investigate, develop and promote new ways of combatting climate change. Product design is where we can instil the absolute requirement of circular products. Where we put as much emphasis on end life as we do the aesthetic.
Industry has been slow to move, politics and money hampering faster progress. But a fresh wave of technological innovation is deepening our understanding of tough environmental challenges and giving us new ways to solve them. We are seeing new approaches to measuring and reducing emissions of greenhouse gases such as methane;Scientists have also figured out a way to feed electricity to microbes to grow truly green, biodegradable bioplastics. We have already found alternative ways of powering vehicles, such as with electricity, but this needs scaling up with investment in infrastructure and much more efficient batteries battery-charging technology.
Food is another area where new technologies and ideas are needed to feed the 7 billion people on the planet. We know that 25% of the world’s global emissions come from production of food! And a part of this is meat consumption – the growing trend of vegetarian and veganism is but a drop in the ocean and alternatives such as lab-grown meat and meat substitutes might seem like the stuff of science fiction, but we must take this seriously. (Beyond Meat)
And it’s not just about new technologies and ideas. The fashion and textile industry has begun to wise up to the fact we can no longer support fast fashion. The water usage in growing dyeing, finishing, is already common knowledge and reinforced by the likes of TV personalities such as Stacey Dooley. The amount of fuel used to produce and ship textiles around the world is vast and yet we see the astonishing waste of clothing that has not seen the shop floor, sent straight to landfill or burnt(fashions dirty secret – and Burberry isn’t the only one)– this is untenable!
We must re-educate consumers to pay a bit more, buy less, repair, recycle and keep for longer. But this means industry needs to produce less, better fitting, higher quality products that are either, repairable, fully recyclable or biodegradable. Young designers need to be trained to understand it is part of their role to ensure circular design – what will happen to that gorgeous red polyester dress when your customer has done with it?
Some of the bigger brands are taking it seriously and waking up to the fact it is as much their responsibility to ensure their products do not continue to contribute to climate change.
Product development has to be circular, with the end life an essential part of that loop. Adidas has produced a great example of this called the Futurecraft.Loopshoe. The shoe is made using a single recyclable material, eliminating the need to disassemble before recycling. Adidas then accepts the shoe back from the user when it reaches the end of its life, to recycle into another shoe.
An intelligent and clever use of a variable structure, using the same material for specific purposes and the brand taking 100% responsibility on the recycle treatment of the product at its life end.
Our next generation of designers and engineers must be taught at an early age, to understand the full cycle of a product , including its end of life disposal.
The future of product design must include the end use and disposal, not just the aesthetic, need and fit for purpose. The future loop is the closed loop.