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1. Textile artworks produced by the pilot project participants. Photo by JC Candanedo-01.j

The project aims to develop a framework for decolonised design practice by advancing a cultural sustainability agenda within a fashion and textile industry context. The project team will work together with refugee communities based in East London to scope the research in relation to their reality and lived experience of resilience and inform a process of reciprocal learning and making, through textile heritage.


Oral histories will be collected in relation to the refugees’ cultural heritage and used to collectively outline visions for a sustainable future. Fashion and textile artefacts will be co-created, grounded in the cultural heritage of the participants, and a social enterprise model will be outlined with the aim to enhance the resilience of the refugees. Policy recommendations for sustainable regeneration will be outlined, with a focus on refugee communities in the UK. Finally, dissemination activities will be conducted to amplify the impacts of the project. 

Decolonising Fashion and Textiles

Design for Cultural Sustainability with Refugee Communities. Participatory action research engaging refugees based in East London with the aim to develop a framework for decolonised design practice by advancing a cultural sustainability agenda within a fashion and textile industry context.

Research Context

The mainstream system of fashion production and consumption is proving unsustainable in terms of cultural heritage, social equality, autonomous livelihoods, and environmental stewardship. Improvements in these areas are unravelling at a slow pace, and new research is urgently needed in order to build back better and shape a more sustainable future. Besides the three commonly recognised pillars of sustainability (i.e. environmental, economic, and social), there is a need to consider also a cultural dimension (meaning diverse cultural systems, values, behaviours, and norms) as an essential component of a sustainability agenda.  


Historically, until now, the textile heritage know-how of minorities has often been the object of abusive cultural appropriation practices undertaken by fashion brands or has been systematically obscured or undervalued as 'non-fashion' produced by 'the other'. Moreover, with a harrowing 89.3 million people worldwide having been forcibly displaced at the end of 2021 due to global and local political, economic, and environmental issues (UNHCR), it is clear that we need to rethink and address the needs and aspirations of migrant minority communities and find ways to honour their diverse cultures. Adopting a holistic approach to sustainability, the project focuses on fashion and textile artisanal practices carried out by refugees and asylum seekers who, despite their traumatic journeys, retain their culture, customs and faiths, as well as a variety of invaluable craft heritage skills.  


Furthermore, to avoid the current situation where designers (originally from or trained in Europe and America) are 'parachuted' into marginalised or disadvantaged communities with the assumption that they can bring their own knowledge and expertise to solve their problems, the project intends to 'decolonise' such dominant approaches. This means dismantling colonial systems of oppression and exploitation, and empowering a multiplicity of voices and agencies, whilst leveraging the values of diversity and sustainability.  

Project Outputs

The findings from the research will inform the development of a range of outputs, including: 

  • 'Textile photo-stories’ created by the participating refugees, representing their unique identities, stories of displacement, cultural heritage and diversity; 

  • Collective visions for a sustainable future co-created by the participating refugees;  

  • A collection of fashion and textile artefacts co-created with the participating refugees, embodying their cultural heritage; 

  • A social enterprise model aimed at engaging the resilience of the refugees;  

  • A set of policy recommendations for sustainable regeneration, with a focus on refugees in the UK; 

  • Short films documenting the stories and journeys of the refugees participating in the project, amplifying their voice and agency; 

  • Panel debates with researchers with extensive experience in socially engaged design with ‘diverse locals’ both in the UK and in other contexts; 

  • Teaching materials and student project briefs;  

  • Conference paper and journal articles; 

  • Interim showcase of the co-creation process, and exhibition of the project outputs, alongside a series of public engagement events. 

Project Team

Advisory Board

Contact for the project 

Dr Francesco Mazzarella, Senior Lecturer in Fashion and Design for Social Change. 



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