- Megan St Clair Morgan
How can collaborative units and live briefs impact the student experience?
Since 2014 we’ve coordinated a collaborative unit with students from across London College of Fashion, working on a live brief with luxury conglomerate Kering Group. Working toward solutions using collaborative practice, we caught up with the students who were selected to present their project to Kering’s team in Paris earlier this year. Talking of their experience in the cross-discipline collaboration, as part of the unique, and first of it’s kind, opportunity for London College of Fashion’s postgraduate students. Each year, students from across LCF’s 3 schools apply to work on this industry project led by CSF’s Education team.
"It is our responsibility as educators to design learning experiences that enable students to work collaboratively, bringing together knowledge and approaches from different disciplines to push forward and transform the role of fashion. This 15 week curriculum challenges students to explore the context of our times from different perspectives, shared values and practical explorations of fashion and sustainability." – Gabrielle Miller, CSF’s Education for Sustainability Assistant & Project Coordinator
This year’s winners who presented to Kering’s team in Paris were Rubie Striker-Goorwitch who studies MA Fashion Media Production, Dhwani Kathotia a student on MA Strategic Fashion Marketing and Camilla Cicchetti, a MA Fashion Retail Marketing student.
What prompted you to apply the Collaborative Unit project with Kering?
With the association to CSF and Kering – Camilla, Dhwani and Rubie all noted how exciting it was to learn from industry experts who are so involved in sustainability. Rubie added it was “especially appealing to me due to the direction of my final MA project”. Whilst Dhwani noted the impact of the unit structure, it “showed that there would be a lot of learning across different realms of sustainability and that was very enriching.” Noting the embedded teaching LCF offers in sustainability, Rubie said “I think we all engage with and learn about sustainability through our time at LCF”. While Camilla added – “What prompted me was my curiosity towards sustainability. As a fashion student, you come across this word almost every day at UAL which made me realise how little I truly knew about the topic.”
Coming from different specialisms, how did the mixed expertise influence and help in creating the group values and manifesto?
Dhwani: To create our group manifesto, we spent time understanding how we personally define sustainability, what we want to change in the industry and what questions we don’t have the answers to. Through this we narrowed down a common focus – throwaway culture and consumer-focused strategies by luxury brands. Coming from a marketing background, my career focus has been communicating sustainability in an effective manner to the consumer. This manifesto allowed me to further explore consumer behaviour and consumption culture. The industry perspective that we gained from the unit, allowed us to streamline our ideas in a more practical, applicable manner.
Rubie: As a MA Fashion Media Production student I spent the time understanding the core values and visuals of Kering and CSF prior to creating the manifesto, undertaking the task with a creative working approach in order to produce something aspirational and in keeping with the brands. I wanted our group to have a distinct aesthetic of our own, that complimented Kering and CSF visually and ethically, and feel this was reflected throughout as an extension of our manifesto which set the ground work for our final concept and film.
Camilla: I believe that our differences turned out to be our strongest asset for this project. In our first meeting we began by trying to discover how much each of us knew about sustainability, and what our personal areas of interest were. Having identified from the beginning that the discussion on throwaway culture was set to be the overarching focus for the project we simply broke our group values down into three words: slow, valued and mindful. These three words were inspired by the contemporary issues we identified in our areas of expertise Retail, Media and Marketing, as most impactful – such as the promotion of fast consumption in fashion.
How was it to work as part of a multi disciplinary team?
Rubie mentioned, collaborating on “all aspects, sharing and valuing each others opinions in order to produce an outcome, that not only combined our skills (utilising our individual disciplines and specialisms) but also united our values together.” Whilst it was seen as a highlight for Camilla as “working in this team was probably the best experience I had in the past academic year. Even though, initially we thought we were going to struggle since we were the smallest group within the whole unit.” Dhwani seconds this, “I would say that the outcome would not have been possible if the team was not multi-disciplinary. The highlight of this project for me was working with Camilla and Rubie.” Camilla added “uncertainty was quick to fade away when we become all equally so invested in our idea it became a seamless collaboration. Communication was also such a big part of our project, we did not necessarily meet face to face but instead had endless conversations over the phone to talk about any doubts or ideas. The key was that no matter how busy all of us were, we were extremely accommodating with each other’s time.”
Differing perspectives are always helpful in projects, whilst also acting as a great learning experience Dhwani notes – “hearing new perspectives and being introduced to new ways of working really helped me push my boundaries and execute the project with skills that I did not previously possess. It was exciting to see how differently each of worked, which also helped us collaborate and find the middle ground between our opinions in many instances – much like what we would have to do in the real-world.”
Camilla commented on how the “collaboration was genuine as we treated each other we kindness, respect and above all we always actively listened to each other. There was to ‘ring leader’ amongst the team as we all truly came together to work collaboratively.”
How did you navigate finding a shared manifesto that expressed each of your core values?
Camilla: Having picked the cultural agenda for this project, our values based on creating a manifesto with the intent to raise consumer awareness on ‘throwaway culture’. However, we decided to take a different approach than the sustainability campaigns out there. Rather than focusing on the negatives aspects of consumer behaviour (as the waste generated from fashion consumption), our message was to create a manifesto embracing self-reflection and positivity. We thought that from a consumer perspective, we would not want to point the finger toward anyone, but rather allow people to explore the relationship they have with their clothes and celebrate it. In this way, incorporating our core values slow, valued and mindful within our manifesto.
Rubie: In a way, I do think we were incredibly fortunate that our group dynamic clicked instantly and our core values aligned naturally. We met and shared our experiences and understanding of our agenda and in turn, sustainable fashion.. honing in on a mutual awareness and understanding of the culture of dress, as portrayed and consumed in the 21st century. Thus highlighting throwaway culture and consumption as a collective interest/key theme. Within our manifesto, we wanted to share our vision but also how we were all feeling in order to express our values. The visuals, text and sound come together to be a little overwhelming, intentionally staged to represent how we felt about the relationship between fashion and sustainability at the beginning of this journey.
Dhwani: The underlying core value for our group was to understand why consumers consume/discard, and what can be done to change their behaviour. We also saw a gap in strategies of luxury brands where although sustainability efforts were being taken, they were not communicated effectively to the consumer. These were common areas of interest within the group, so we recognized and further developed from this starting point. Along the way, we developed it further – one of us would question longevity of luxury products or another would question consumer awareness and through this our ideas were moulded. The best part was that the three of us were always open to seeing another point of view and accommodate everyone’s ideas collectively, and that worked in our favour for this project.
Were the solutions you’ve created a reflection on your experience within fashion?
Dhwani: The campaign that we created was a culmination of our areas of study in fashion i.e. communication for Rubie who put the film together, retail for Camilla who conceptualised the offline space, event and marketing for myself, who strategized the online execution of our idea. Since we each had experience in the broader fashion industry, we were able to get involved in all roles and contribute throughout. Aside from the existing experience each of us had, I think that working together and being mentored by industry experts definitely helped us further that knowledge and apply it more effectively.
Rubie: I would say most definitely in some sense, I think experience influences a lot of work, especially within the context of fashion as it is so close and personal to us and our nature and forms a big part of how we navigate everyday life. For me, this project gave us the opportunity to challenge what is culturally accepted about fashion within society from the mindset of the consumer and the creator which was a really challenging but exciting perspective to explore.
Camilla: Absolutely! We wanted to make it very personal and intimate in order to start a conversation with consumers by asking people ‘what is their relationship with their clothes’. Though we started looking at ‘millennial’ consumption – the beliefs and behaviour the project was based upon were our experiences and the ones of our peers. It was about understanding the most effective ways of communicating and delivering the message of celebrating clothes in the most personal way. In doing so, we understood that a simple campaign can be the most powerful means to tell a story, with the intent to raise as awareness. As every individual will relate and react to the campaign in a different and unique way.
The project you’re presenting relates to the relationships we all have with our clothes, what is your relationship with clothes and how did you use personal insight as a team?
Rubie: We all wear clothes and thinking of dress as human, places a heightened sense of value to the garments we own as an extension of our skin. I think I have always felt attached to clothes beyond aesthetics, I can remember what I was wearing/feeling in relation to a specific time and place better than what I ate for breakfast yesterday, or even this morning! Researching the intimate relationship wearers have with their wardrobes resonated with me, especially when exploring memories and values. The ability to be able to wear or appreciate a garment or item that evokes a sense of connection to a person/time/place is significant. It’s in this sense that fashion has this powerful sensibility in a way that, to me, nothing else does. As a team we used our own and others experiences in forming a narrative that explored valuing fashion represented through the lens of dress alongside the connection formed with garments.
Camilla: Today, the irony or the paradox is that we tend to buy more but wear less. More broad topic like the food we eat, (we understood the true value of food) yet knowing that the skin is our biggest organ we tend not to care as much with the clothes we put on it every day. We are not careful in terms of fashion consumption hence why mindful was one our pillar values in the manifesto. On the other hand, my relationship with clothes has been largely affected by the culture and reality I grew up in, Italy. In a way I was lucky because Italy is country that still very much relies on independent clothing shops and boutiques selling garments that often are made locally supporting local/regional businesses. Also, growing up I was lucky enough to grow up in your typical huge Italian family, where in our case most of the members were females. Therefore, we tended to buy less as we shared most of wardrobes even with my grandma! Still to this day I ‘borrow’ clothes from my mum as they hold a sentimental value since I don’t get to spend much time as I used to since I moved to the UK (which works as a great excuse as well to ‘borrow’ more stuff from her!). Hence, from my perspective clothes are sentimental, aspect which we all agreed to include in our campaign because it fits the idea that we all experience fashion in unique ways and sustainability should not be any different. We need to emotionally engaged in order to truly make a change.
Dhwani: My relationship with clothes and fashion items have changed drastically over the past few years. I think it’s only when you pay attention to what you’re consuming and how often you’re doing so is when one realises what’s active/inactive or used/unused. After several wardrobe audits, my fashion purchases are focused on items that are of a high quality and long-lasting; I now always check the composition of clothing too. A similar shift in behaviour was seen in my two teammates as well. Since we work in fashion, we thought our conscious purchasing behaviour was biased. We wanted to explore what other consumers think and where the gaps are. Through our Material Dimensions project, we interviewed consumers from other fields to see how much they knew – there was intent to purchase sustainably but lack of information from brands; most of them didn’t even associate luxury brands to sustainability. This led to our idea of creating something that involved the consumer, that educated them but also formed those attachments that we personally had with our clothes.
Film created by Rubie Striker-Goorwitch, Dhwani Kathotia and Camilla Cicchetti
Describe your creative process, what did you learn from each other’s creative approaches?
Rubie: My creative process is always full of a lot of questions, and not always of answers – open minded and a bit chaotic, but organised. Collectively I think we were all on a similar page and open to changes in direction when it came to creative decisions – seeing what worked/what didn’t and taking a step back to assess and more importantly reflect, learning a lot from each other in the process.
Camilla: Our creative process consisted in brainstorming ideas that inspired us the most as consumers. A lot of the time we would share content in terms of videos, articles and social media posts on our group chat to identify both best and worst practice examples within sustainability, whether it was fashion-related or not. The open-minds of the team allowed a constant and seamless flow of ideas which showed the importance of having such approach. Ultimately, possessing the capability of being flexible is essential to make room for effective collaborative creativity.
Dhwani: Having worked in social media marketing and as a design consultant, my work has a minimal aesthetic. Where it was easy to collaborate was this aspect as we agreed on a similar visual aesthetic – which I believe is very important. We had our different styles of working but it was great how easily we adjusted and adapted to each other’s style. I think the end result was no one person’s visual aesthetic – but a combined aesthetic of all three of our ideas. This become our group aesthetic – modern, abstract and minimal; something that we stuck with for the entire project. Looking back, I think we understood each other’s creative processes and also made room to adapt our own styles to each other’s. I pushed my boundaries, understood other styles of working and learnt so much through every interaction we had. This is something I will definitely take back when I work in the industry.
How did making the film together offer a creative research approach? Did it offer new insights and unexpected findings? How did making the film inform your work outcomes and project next steps?
Rubie: We wanted to create a film to visualise our message in a way that left those watching it intrigued, and enlightened and therefore went with more of a conceptual approach in order to convey a feeling/emotion. The film provides context to the campaign concept our outcome proposed, acting as a mini manifesto for the project and combines our knowledge and skill sets within fashion, media, marketing and business practice. The whole premise of our outcome highlights the need for garments that out live us in order to protect the future, valuing fashion and nature as connected beings.
Camilla: Yes – that surprisingly I have filming skills! Initially we had grand, ambitious plans for the video with models in a studio, that ended up being in Rubies’ living room… What we understood was that the best way to deliver our message was to do it ourselves ,and the fact that all three of us came from a different cultural backgrounds enriched the film with diversity. The idea was to keep it aspirational and abstract, nothing overly structured or with an intricate narrative. The formula was very much about powerful visuals and simple open-ended questions inquiring the relationship we have with clothes. The film allowed us understand how impactful simplicity can be, particularly in fashion. Our aim was to raise awareness with the film by starting a personal and intimate conversation with the wearer, making it relevant and relatable only to them. It is very much like the relationship we have with scent, it reminds us of different experiences yet it unlocks personal memories, it gets you thinking.
Dhwani: I had never actually made a film before. So the whole experience was very new to me. Despite the fact that Camilla and I had no experience in film-making, we took charge of two cameras and shot parts of it. The process that led to making the film were 1) secondary research and 2) mind-mapping/ group brainstorms. We researched person-product attachment, digital marketing strategies for millennials, luxury collaborations, campaigns and consumption culture. This helped us back the video with hard facts and narrow down our idea to something that we deemed most effective. All our ideas were mapped out and then narrowed down to the final outcome. As someone who is very organised, it was interesting letting go of that trait while filming as we decided to keep the creative process more open-ended.
Do you feel this experience of working with students from across the university give you a sense of community at LCF?
Rubie: It does, in a way – all three of us are not only from different courses and backgrounds but also from different countries so we got to learn a lot about each other in the process. It was a really positive and rewarding experience and I am grateful to Kering, CSF and LCF for the opportunity and also the knowledge shared throughout!
Camilla: I think the idea of collaborating with other students allows to challenge yourself to bring out your best version. You learn about your skills so much faster; how capable you are in certain situations and allows you to identify your strengths and weakness because it is such a demanding project to the point where you must become a team player in order to keep up. The added pressure also arises by the fact you are in this game with one of the biggest players in the luxury industry and therefore representing a huge opportunity for your future. It showed me what real collaboration looks like and I know it may sounds cliché, but when you have fun it truly does not feel like hard work, therefore finding a topic that you truly are passionate about or simply interested in can change your entire outlook.
Dhwani: I think the collaborative unit was one of the highlights of this year, and a unit in which I learnt a lot. Not just working with students from different disciplines but the fact that this was combined with workshops and mentorship from Kering and CSF, it enhanced that learning twofold. This experience helped me narrow down my career focus to sustainability strategy and has shown me the potential there is for sustainability in fashion and need for this change in the industry.