Exploring ways to recognise the contribution of all those involved in the creation of fashion through participatory methods involving listening, making, reflection and action to challenge fashion’s hierarchies.
Shared Talent explores the relationship between ecological damage, human inequality and current definitions of fashion. The project questions the true nature of collaboration and places a geographic and cultural lens on notions of sustainability in relation to fashion.
This people centred initiative challenges the hierarchical approach usually associated with fashion production and emphasises the value of each person’s contribution to both process and product.
To date the project has brought together universities, businesses and NGOs from across the world and from diverse areas within fashion. Shared Talent allows participants to interact in ways not usually experienced either in the classroom or workplace. The project seeks to develop resilient working practices within specific communities or crafts, made vulnerable by economic models and ecological challenges.
Methods include participatory practice, experiential learning techniques and connection to nature, underpinning the ethos of Centre for Sustainable Fashion.
2007 - Shared Talent South Africa
London College of Fashion established a partnership with LISOF, brokered through the Fashion Business Resource Studio.
Dilys Williams devised a project to bring together a multidisciplinary group of LCF and LISOF students with members of Buotemelo, a women’s co-operative in Johannesburg, South Africa. The project aimed to create an immersive design and making experience that can facilitate an exchange of skills, knowledge and expertise. The intention was to establish practical methods to support the co-operative and at the same time develop empathic understanding that can transcend geographic, linguistic and cultural barriers.
Participants involved in the design, communication and consumption of contemporary fashion experienced first hand the implications of their decision making, whilst co-operative members experienced fashion industry parameters. A Shared Talent ‘workroom’ was set up at South Africa Fashion Week and interviews with participants are televised nationally and internationally.
Many participating students developed distinctive design identities influenced by their experience. Including Ada Zandition, Julia Crew, Gabrielle Miller, Laura Queening. A commercial contract was signed between Buotemelo and a leading European brand and Dilys Williams compiles the first research phase of Shared Talent.
2008 - Shared Talent South and West Africa
Drawing on the experience of Shared Talent 1, Shared Talent 2 looked to evolve and apply the model in a broader context. Partnering with Tabeisa, the project offered longer term localised support to marginalised co-operatives and developed in depth research case studies. The meant the project to offered viable commercial support to co-operatives was realised through Exclusive Roots, Tabeisa’s on-line retail platform.
Each participant was paired with a co-operative, varying in size from sole traders to businesses involving 25 community members, many with limited access to resources. The participating co-operatives were carefully selected based on their existing and potential skills and capacity, a recognised need for design innovation and a wish to access new markets.
Over one-month, participants worked on location with their co-operative partners, establishing methods and means of communication and sharing skills and expertise in a variety of ways. As some of the locations were remote and not easily accessible, a five-day workshop is set up in Durban, half way through the process. The workshop offered a means to exchange learning and to explore and address shared challenges and opportunities ahead of the final work phase.
Outcomes included commercially viable collections, sold through Exclusive Roots, offering access to new markets for the co-operatives. This retail opportunity contributed to their ongoing development and the application of their skills. Participating students went on to develop sustainability led design businesses including Beautiful Soul by Nicola Woods. The case studies gathered provided evidence for further Shared Talent project research.
2009 - Shared Talent India
Shared Talent attracted recognition in a global sustainability dialogue and various national and international agencies begin to take an interest in the work.
The UK government’s Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Indian Department of Textiles offered support for a third manifestation of Shared Talent to:
Explore and establish ecological, ethical and cultural criteria for fashion textiles sourced in India.
Create innovative products and visual narratives to promote the uptake and recognition of these textiles in the European market.
Transcend geographic, linguistic and cultural barriers through a collaborative design and development process
Research and fieldwork was undertaken to define specific geographic parameters for sustainability in Indian textiles. A road trip across parts of India established relationships with mills, co-operatives and community groups. Swatches and materials were collated for the next phase of the project.
Methods and guidelines were drawn from the previous shared talent projects and the initial textile research. Practicing designers were recruited from UK and from India through a partnership with Pearl Academy Delhi. An interdisciplinary group of students from London College of Fashion, Pearl Academy and Amsterdam Fashion Institute were also recruited to take part in the project. Together designers and students took part in an immersive design and making workshop in a village on the outskirts of Delhi.
Participants engaged in dialogues with a diverse range of contributors including large and small-scale Indian textile suppliers, craftsmen and UK buyers. The testing of this participatory design method took place through the creation of collections using materials selected from the first phase of the project. An invitation to showcase project outcomes at London Fashion Week in September 2009 was supported by Monsoon. Harold Tilman, Chairman of the British Fashion Council, introduced the project to industry and media. Selected work was also shown at India Fashion Week and brought to life through an editorial fashion shoot.
2010 - Shared Talent India Sourcing Toolkit
Research, resources and insights established through the Shared Talent India project were collated and communicated through an online sourcing toolkit. The website offered insights into the opportunities and challenges when sourcing in India, as well as creative inspiration, practical advice and a database of suppliers, aimed primarily at UK designers. The Shared Talent India website went live at the end of 2010 and provided an invaluable resource to connect designers and buyers with forward thinking Indian textile suppliers. Livia Firth and Lucy Siegle host a roundtable discussion with UK retailers and designers to launch the toolkit and a short film is released to accompany the project.
Professor Dilys Williams
Contact for the project
Professor Dilys Williams, of Fashion Design for Sustainability, UAL