I’m absolutely thrilled to be able to showcase our ‘Stitched to Science‘ project which was recently funded by the British Ecology Society. The aim of this project was to bring fashion and science together to demonstrate the creativity and collaborative spirit that could be the hallmark of scientific public outreach and awareness of ethical fashion.

This pilot project was to bring the wonder and curiosity of the natural world to young people, even those who may have no interest in natural history museums, nature documentaries or natural history magazines. These young people do care about clothes though.

The project outcome was to produce a series of designs and fabric prints which showcased a custom-made garment that artistically depicted an ecologists’ field of research, the organism or environment to which they’d devoted their life and careers — their hearts on their sleeves. In turn, fast fashion, the young people involved would receive further understanding of the issues surrounding the fashion and textile industries in relation to ‘throw-away fashion’.

Why do we feel this is important? Our project aims to increase public understanding of, and engagement with, ecology through the topic of fast fashion. We aim to bring the sciences and the arts together showcasing a cross curricular project only not stimulating a discussion about ecology through the environment and society, but also showcasing career paths and avenues of research young people may never have been exposed to, or considered can work together.

Stitched to Science is focused on inspiring and enthusing young people about the science of ecology, especially those not previously interested, or those who have never considered the fashion industry through the eyes of ecology. Our aim is to bring two industries together over a common commercial topic which has serious undertone and plenty of research through both avenues of the sciences and sustainable fashion industry.

How did work? The project was a series of five workshops (5 days) and with the help and generous support of the people involved in each workshop the Stitched to Science project was great success, here’s an overview of how it went;

Day One: Introduction to Ecology and Fashion Ethics

This project was all about collaboration and bringing together expertise, with this in mind we had the support, advice and guidance from the Environmental Geochemistry & Ecology department at Northumbria University to help us along with the understanding of ecology. First we were introduced to Dr Mike Jeffries and Dr Peter Glaves.

Throughout the morning Mike and Peter took us through a fantastic, fun introduction to ecology. Starting with Ecology & Ecosystems. For this first initial task it was important to find out what everyone thought ecology was about and also to steer away from the stereotypical images of treehuggers!Within minutes, we had the students conjuring up drawings of what ecology meant to them. Considering ecosystems, attempting to showcase biological communities of interacting organisms and their physical environment. This image contained lots of trees, animals and generally nature!

Our next topic concentrated on Biogeography but putting aside illustrations for a minute here we had another creative way of explaining biogeography using tiddly winks…naturally! As strange as it sounds, this task really helped us all to understand the study of how species are scattered across the planet, simply by creating islands with bigger tiddly winks and using the ‘pinging method’ aiming to get the varying species (smaller tiddlywinks) onto the islands. It’s fair to say, there were tiddly winks pretty much all over the place! (I mean world).

Next step, after doing this task and also considering biogeography, it was now down to the groups to think about biogeography in a particular place…the place in question was Africa. Moving forward with the basic knowledge of ecosystems, thinking about biogeography, what would the next set of drawings present?

Did you guess? Yes… the Lion King. Pretty much every group came up with visions of stereotypical concepts of African landscapes, a few giraffes, a couple of monkeys, a glorious sunset and even Simba made an appearance! I guess, still a bit of work to do in extending that concept of ecology! What about cities and people?

So, for our next task. Peter and Mike went onto explain a bit more about ecological behaviour – this is the study of the evolutionary basis for animal behaviour due to ecological pressures. The best way of explaining this topic was again not to discuss it, but to BE it. One member of each group then became an insect, their task was to be blind folded and then to use their index and middle finger to try and pick up coffee beans. The others had to simply watch them figure this out for themselves… were they getting frustrated? What behaviour were they displaying?Our final discussion of the morning bought us nicely round to the values of nature, this very nicely got the students thinking about the effects we have on the environment and more specifically what fashion, our love of clothing and fast fashion is doing to our planet.

In the afternoon, it was now time to start thinking about Fashion Ethics. My task was to gather an understanding of what our students thought about the fashion industry. Where did trends come from? Do they know the process of the fashion industry? The life-cycle of a garment for instance? All in all, how the fashion industry and how consumer consumption was effecting the environment and how we could think about fashion in a different way. To help me with this, we invited Eleanor O’Neill from Study 34. Study 34 is a platform that strives to inspire by bringing together a collection of independent brands from all over the world. They manufacture their products in a way that reflects the values they place on people and the planet. Ellie was the perfect person to talk through and showcase sustainable fashion.
Day Two:
 Introduction to Fashion and the interviews.

For Day two we returned to Northumbria University but this time in the Fashion department with Senior Lecturer Ann-Marie Kirkbride. Ann-Marie discussed studying fashion in higher education, the courses that Northumbria University provides, the success of former and current students plus a tour of the facilities. This also included look at past work of students that had developed ethical fashion ranges.

After our talk Ann-Marie took us on a tour of the fashion facilities where our students could see the studios and what current students were working on.

Our afternoon was dedicated to pulling together the two subjects but more importantly devising questions ready to interview three ecologists. We were reacquainted with Peter and Mike but also introduce to Bruce Carlisle who were all happy to be interrogated (I mean questioned!). This stage was incredibly important as it was to be the basis of the design work to come. What each group needed was a good understanding of the ecologists work, for example, what research do they undertake? What was their favourite part of their job roles? What do they most enjoy about their research?

Day Three: Design Development.

TICE Mentor Lottie Maddison, took over for day 3. The day started with an ideas generation warm up exercise.  Each learner received a real flower and a print out of a fashion figure. The task was to pull apart the flower and rearrange the petals, stalks and leaves to create fashion designs.

With the three areas of ecology the groups would be concentrating on represented plants, insects and human behaviour. While completing the flower exercise, the students considered how they could apply the same ideas generation processes to their own ideas, exchanging the flower parts for images of insects, other plant materials and various other project related stimulus.

We moved from the warm up exercise to an inspiration board task. All of the information gathered to date was collated in a curated, aesthetic arrangement of images on Photoshop. From here, learners were able to select a colour palette, potential patterns and textures and other key details that would feature in their collections.

Day three finished with an explanation of the design development process and learners received fashion templates – the templates would be used to sketch out fashion illustrations of garments.

Day Four: The Final Outcomes.

Day four concentrated on the completion of the fashion line-ups. Students completed fashion sketches in the build up to day three and scanned them, ready for cleaning and editing on Photoshop. This was an opportunity for colours and pattern to be added to drawings – inline with the inspiration boards created.

Lottie introduced the steps involved in simple, step-by-step demonstrations. Lots of note-taking meant that we could continue to work on our designs independently. Consideration was given to fashion figures used in line-ups, and everyone added project related heads to their illustrations i.e. moths and bat heads replaced model faces.

Day Five:  The Final Showcase.

The final showcase was organised to enable the students to showcase their ideas back to Peter, Mike and Bruce. On the afternoon of the 19th May, we gathered together to first complete any work we needed and get everything printed out ready for the groups to present. Short presentations were prepared and when our guests arrived, each group showcased their work describing how they combined their understanding of ecology, the research areas they focused on and pulling it together in a visual form.

It’s safe to say each of the groups did an absolutely fantastic job. The work that was created was of a brilliant standard and each group clearly had grasped the project aims. In addition to bringing together to very important topics, this whole project idea is a new approach to combining and enhancing the relationship between the sciences and the arts and engaging young people who feel that they need to choose between one or the other.

Stitched to Science‘ has wonderfully encapsulated the future of fashion, allowing young people to explore the importance of integrating creativity and academics. With this in mind, our team of creatives have completed this project with the tools and knowledge to inspire and influence the future of fashion.

*A special thank you goes out to;
Dr Mike Jeffries, Environmental Geochemistry & Ecology, Northumbria University
Dr Peter Glaves, Environmental Geochemistry & Ecology, Northumbria University
Dr Bruce Carlisle, Environmental Geochemistry & Ecology, Northumbria University
Ann-Marie Kirkbride, Fashion, Northumbria University
Jayne Younger, Longbenton High School
Christine Egan-Fowler & Adam Goodwin, Royal Grammar School Newcastle
Lottie Maddison, TICE Mentor & Floss & Co.
Ellie O’Neill, Study 34
and of course all of the students who took part…Thank you!