Francesco and the participants in the Forest Coats programme. Photo by Adam Razvi.

Making for Change: Waltham Forest is a partnership project between London College of Fashion (LCF) and London Borough of Waltham Forest (LBWF). Adopting a design activist approach, the project team engaged, through fashion and making, local schools, businesses and residents in order to develop and retain creative talent in the borough and address issues affecting the community, such as deprived youth, skills shortage, fashion manufacturing decline and unemployment.

 

The project also contributed to bringing together LCF and LBWF as long-term partners with aligned strategic objectives and shared plans, in light of the College’s move to East London and in line with the vision of the Fashion District.

Making for Change: Waltham Forest 

A programme of activities in relation to education, manufacturing and community engagement, aimed at creating positive change and activating legacies within the community.

Education, Manufacturing, and Community Engagement 

A total of 1,550 participants engaged in the project throughout the London Borough of Culture 2019, including LCF staff and students, alongside Waltham Forest residents, and volunteers through the ‘Legends of the Forest’ and ‘Future Creatives’ programmes. Educational resources were developed to support local students in developing skills around sustainability and making, as well as increasing their understanding of the career pathways available to them in the fashion industry, in line with LCF’s overarching strategy for public and community engagement.

 

Three research residencies contributed to embedding sustainability and innovation within heritage fashion manufacturing businesses. The project team also engaged the local community in a range of collaborative making activities which contributed to nurturing social agency and developing a culture of fellowship, whilst also demonstrating ways in which fashion contributes to shaping Better Lives, one of the core values at LCF.

 

Finally, through piloting cross-sector collaborations, a long-term partnership was built between LCF and LBWF with aligned strategic objectives and shared plans aimed at place making and creating tangible legacies within the borough, such as the very first fashion hub of the Fashion District which was established in a formerly disused supermarket space

Project Outcomes

Sustainability Awareness

Participating in the project, local community members increased their awareness of the contribution of fashion design towards sustainability and social innovation and gained a better understanding of how they could approach fashion in more sustainable ways, within their borough. In particular, ‘I Wanna be me, I Wanna be (E)U’ demonstrated fashion’s activist and environmentalist agenda within a Brexit context, and the ‘Better Lives’ symposia shed a light on how fashion can contribute to improving people’s lives. Furthermore, community members participating in the ‘Art for the Environment’ residency gained experience in using fashion to express their personal identities and cultural diversities within the context of climate emergency.

Empowerment and Skills Development 

Through a series of co-making workshops and the ‘Forest Coats’ programme, members of the local community gained skills in creative repair, natural dying, zero-waste pattern cutting, embroidery, and garment construction. Having built capabilities, people felt empowered, more hopeful and this in turn enhanced their self-confidence.

Career Pathways

Three women participating in the ‘Forest Coats’ programme gained employment: two as technicians at LCF, and one was hired by a local sustainable fashion brand. This achievement had significant implications for them to gain self-confidence and pave their own futures. One LCF graduate established her sustainable fashion brand at Arbeit Studios Leyton Green, and is contributing to the commercial sector of the borough. Furthermore, building on the learning from the ‘Forest Coats’ project, she decided to switch her business model into that of a community interest company, making long-term plans to continue delivering creative workshops for less advantaged communities.

Community Engagement 

The project participants gained social agency and became more connected with fellow community members; some people also expressed that they felt less isolated upon participation in the project’s activities. ‘Forest Coats’ offered a safe space away from everyday life challenges for the women to engage in making activities; as a result, they were able to reduce their negative emotions and increase their wellbeing. Participation in a number of exhibitions and symposia has meant that the local community was able to engage with the work of LCF prior to the College’s move to east London.

Networking and Partnership Building

A model for long-lasting collaboration across departments at LBWF and LCF was piloted, and a network of partner organisations was built across the borough. A core partnership has since been built with the social enterprise Forest Recycling Project, which hosted a series of co-making workshops and further iterations of ‘Forest Coats’. A partnership plan was built between LBWF, LCF and Fashion District; the plan outlines a vision for a thriving fashion industry and set out work areas and outcomes to be achieved in order to build the legacy of London Borough of Culture 2019. Another core partnership was established between LBWF and Arbeit Studios, which led to the transformation of a disused supermarket space into a fashion hub, which hosts 13 creative businesses.

Legacies

To sustain the legacies activated throughout the London Borough of Culture 2019 and amplify the impacts of the ‘Making for Change: Waltham Forest’ project, the following activities were delivered subsequently. Continuing Professional Development (CPD) workshops were delivered for teachers and businesses applying the ‘Fashion Futures 2030’ toolkits. Another UAL student was selected to undertake an ‘Art for the Environment’ residency at Arbeit Studios Leyton Green, responding to one of the four fashion futures scenarios through immersion in the natural and urban environment and engagement with the local community in co-designing creative outputs that embed sustainability and contribute to an enhanced sense of place. The women previously participating in ‘Forest Coats’ took part in the ‘Forest Kimonos’ workshops to learn the more advanced skill of zero-waste pattern cutting and upcycle fabric waste into kimonos for themselves or for donation.

 

Finally, project ‘CUT’ involved young people to design and make a bespoke collection of jeans whose buttons and rivets were cut out from metal from knives. The project illustrated to young people that they have a choice in shaping their lives to be more purposeful, and leveraged the power of fashion activism, craftsmanship, and storytelling to shift the current narrative around youth violence. A public engagement event will be delivered and the funding raised from auctioning the jeans will contribute to supporting a charity with on-going activities using fashion against knife crime and providing opportunities for young people in the fashion industry.

Project Team

  • Dr Francesco Mazzarella, Research Fellow in Fashion and Design for Social Change at CSF 

  • Laura Gander-Howe, Former Director of Public Engagement and Culture at LCF 
    Anna Millhouse, Senior Project Manager (Stratford) at LCF 

  • Mina Jugovic, CSF Director Administrator 

  • Helen Lax, Director of Fashion District at LCF 

  • Anna Fitzpatrick, Project Coordinator and PhD Researcher at CSF 

  • Anna Schuster, LCF Graduate 

  • Xandra Drepaul, Lecturer in Womenswear 3D Development and Realisation at LCF 

  • Fiona McKay, Fashion Curator and Exhibition Maker

  • Camilla Palestra, Associate Curator at CSF 

  • Chloé Vasta, Independent Fashion Designer 

  • Violeta Vasquez Lopez, LCF Graduate 

  • Philip Bodger, UAL Graduate 

  • Megha Chauhan, LCF Graduate 

  • Olivia Weber, LCF Graduate 

  • Tiff Radmore, Collaborative Unit Coordinator at LCF 

  • Justine Wright, Head of East London School Engagement at LCF 

  • Jo Reynolds, Special Projects Manager at LCF 

  • Romero Bryan, Associate Lecturer at LCF 

  • Hannah Middleton, Knowledge Exchange Leader at LCF, Fashion Business School 

  • Susanna Cordner, Senior Research Fellow: Archives at LCF 

  • Marie Jones, LCF Graduate 

  • Nicole Zisman, UAL Graduate 

  • Harriette Meynell, UAL Graduate 

  • Alisa Ruzavina, UAL Graduate 

  • Claire Weiss, LCF Graduate 

Contact for the project 

Dr Francesco Mazzarella, Research Fellow in Fashion and Design for Social Change

 

Email: f.mazzarella@fashion.arts.ac.uk