Dress For Our Time by artist, designer and researcher Prof. Helen Storey, uses the power of fashion to communicate some of the world’s most complex issues, notably climate change and the mass displacement of people. The dress is created out of a decommissioned UNHCR refugee tent that once housed a family of displaced people at Zaatari Camp in Jordan and was gifted by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
Through fashion, science, and wonder the project seeks to help change the way we think and act upon climate change and global displacement. In giving the tent a second life, it endows this public art installation with an unbreakable bond to humanity and represents the importance of nurturing and protecting all people and safeguarding generations to come. It is a symbol of what it means to be human and the precarious nature of our existence.
Dress for Our Time
Using the power of fashion to communicate climate change and the mass displacement of people. The dress is created out of a decommissioned UNHCR refugee tent from Zaatari Camp, Jordan.
Four years in the making, the project began with a meeting where Helen gathered climate scientists, businesses, universities, and researchers to look at how we as a species are or are not responding to climate change. In the meeting, 2020 was mentioned as the tipping point for us as a species. The urgency for action was clear.
Helen brought together collaborators and supporters including Holition, Unilever, Met Office and the UNHCR, people from very different backgrounds in science, business, education, technology, humanitarian work, and fashion, to explore ways to prompt a public debate about the critical issues of climate change and mass migration of people.
The dress has traveled to various locations where it has digitally displayed scientific data, showing the impact of climate change on our physical world, broadening the dialogue around migration, and highlighting the millions of displaced people and the paths they take in search of a better life.
The first installation of the dress at St Pancras International train station on 26 November 2015 for four days, focused on mapping & predicting climate change. As the gateway to Paris – the host city for the United Nations Climate Change conference COP 21 – it was an opportunity for the delegates passing through the station to come face to face with the world’s first digital couture dress dedicated to exploring climate change and its human impact. The dress digitally displayed data which showed us the impact of climate change on our physical world in 3 stages and powerfully shared the impact on our planet, if we DON’T DO ENOUGH to mitigate it. The dress was developed in partnership with award winning interactive creative agency Holition, and the data was taken from a study conducted by a team of global scientists and provided by the Met Office.
The UNHCR UK and Helen continued to work together after the dress was shown at St Pancras. The dress went on as a live performance piece at the UN Geneva, as part of the TEDxPlaceDesNations Transforming Lives event in February 2016. Its appearance there began a dialogue around migration and the experience of refugees, sparking provocative and inspirational conversations trending on social media.
The dress then appeared on the Pyramid Stage to open the Glastonbury 2016 Festival, worn by UNHCR Ambassador, singer Rokia Traore, as she sang her song ‘Ne So’, written after her own visit back to a refugee camp in Mali, the country of her birth.
Partnering with Holition again, the dress appeared at the Science Museum as part of their Our Lives in Data exhibition in 2016 – data was provided by the UNHCR annual report on global migration, highlighting the millions of displaced people and the paths they take in search of a better life. Pixels of light were projected onto the dress, each one representing one hundred displaced people and showing the paths refugees take from their country of origin to the different places they settle. As the pixels of light moved up the dress, reaching different locations and branching off again, the outlines of countries became apparent. What resulted was a map of human movement. Bringing together these numbers, with the dress, has a palpable connection to the people affected and reminded viewers of the humanity behind the numbers involved the refugee crisis. By displaying the data on a dress- an object that is worn so close to the human body, and one that used to provide shelter – it served to reinstate human beings at the centre of the crisis.
Since 2016, the dress has continued to act as if a ‘worn flag’ for the ever-increasing refugee crisis, whether perpetuated through war, or climate change. And again, most recently in 2021, as part of the climate parade for the UAL ‘Carnival of Crisis’ and at the centre of a new film, by David Betteridge, to mark World Refugee Day 2022. The dress was choreographed into a performance by the students at Wimbledon College of Arts and together with World Wide FM, captured and celebrated refugee music from around the world too.
To date, the dress has been shown in UK and international venues. These include Buckingham Place, St Pancras International train station, UN Geneva, Science Museum London, Glastonbury Music Festival, UN Peace Talks in London and Dubai International Humanitarian Aid & Development Conference, and Venice Biennale 2019.
Various films have been created by international production company The Free Associates and award-winning creative director and filmmaker David Betteridge.
You can see a selection of films via the Dress for Our Time website.
Professor Helen Storey, Professor in Fashion Science, UAL
Anna Fitzpatrick, Project Coordinator at Centre for Sustainable Fashion, UAL
Rebecca Munro, Head of External Relations at London College of Fashion, UAL
David Betteridge, Freelance Photographer
To see a full list of the project collaborators, see the Dress for Our Time website.