The thing about the Fashion Explore Stage is that it’s all about developing an awareness of skills and gaining a bit more knowledge of fashion sectors. It’s often a very misunderstood area and when talking to young people (actually it’s not just young people, many people!) they tend to think it’s just designing clothes and making clothes. Yes, that is a huge part of the industry but it’s not all.

UK fashion has a global appeal, whilst supporting almost 900,000 UK jobs and contributing £28bn to the economy. The UK’s fashion industry continues to thrive and reflects the avid appetite of the UK consumer and within the almost 900,000 jobs there are thousands of different job types. Not that we have the time to showcase 900,000 jobs in the Fashion Explore Stage but what we do, do is explore the options and different fashion areas.
As you may have read in the Fashion Insight Stage we break down the fashion industry in 5 very broad areas; Trend, Design, Production, Retail and Communication. All very different areas, requiring a multitude of different skills. What we decided to do in our Explore Stage is look at a few of the areas in more detail.

Day One – Fashion Design, Make, Experimentation, Illustration and Graphics

This year, we held out Explore Day One within the Fashion Communication Department at Northumbria University. World class facilities with a world-renowned collection of fashion degrees. Our TICE intention – to develop further knowledge about fashion areas but also soak this up in a university environment.

Our TICE fashion students were split into two groups for the day, ready for mini masterclasses. They were introduced to two more of the TICE fashion team, Lottie Maddison (Illustrator) and Charlotte Liddle (Textile Designer). Both mentors designed their masterclasses around one concept: The White Shirt.

The whole idea is that one simple, often wardrobe staple could be redesigned, rehashed and reworked as a high-end fashion item. While Charlotte’s workshop concentrated on the practical elements of design and moulage, Lottie’s workshop focused on digital design, image manipulation and those all-important photoshop skills.

This mini-masterclasses helped showcase design ideas both digitally and hands-on but also presented skills and role in fashion design, production and fashion graphics.

To round up the day of hard work, the students then got to sit back a bit and take in some talks from some specials guests. We first invited in Gayle Cantrell, Programme Leader of BA (Hons) Fashion Communication at Northumbria University. Gayle gave the students a little more insight into the fashion degrees based at the university, showcasing current work but also where graduates and present students are working in fashion and lifestyle brands worldwide. Alongside Gayle, we asked in Laurel Outterside, not only was Laurel studying fashion communication on Gayle’s course, but she also completed TICE in 2012 and a former student of Longbenton High School, many of which the students on the day were from. Inspiration and food for thought as the students listened to what made Laurel choose the degree course and what she’d been doing since TICE.

Our final guest… Sally Smallwood from Wreckreation. To round up the day we thought it was important to showcase a fashion entrepreneur, a local fashion entrepreneur at that! Over the last few years, Sally has created an original, bespoke and identifiable brand called Wreckreation.

Image courtesy of

Sally told the group about building the company and presented the real-life challenges, the ups and the downs of starting something from scratch and creating what she has today.
All in all, we hope we did it… let the student explore fashion a little more and this was only Day One.

Day Two – fashion history, fashion business, textiles and retail.

Our second chapter saw us travel to Leeds to explore the Marks & Spencer Company Archive. After a rather early start, we arrived on site and were greeted by our host Caroline, who introduced us to the M&S brand, what the archive is and what happens behind the scenes of M&S.

We had a quick look at the archive, where we discovered how the garments are stored and cared for before heading into the seminar room. The students were given a range of tasks which would test their knowledge of materials and show an insight into how the technicians test the fibres when developing new items.

First up, Caroline asked them what benefits there would be to have an in-house laboratory. This sparked a great discussion where they unanimously said it would save money. They also agreed it would prevent other companies from using the same technology when creating their man-made materials.

Next up they got their hands wet with an experiment to determine the waterproof nature of fabrics. After an initial prediction, samples of nylon, cotton and waxed cotton were tested. It was surprising to see that nylon came out more water resistant and to hear their thoughts on how it could be used in manufacturing.

The next experiment required a little elbow grease to test the durability of nylon, polyester and denim. Each sample was tested by rubbing them with sandpaper for a set amount of time. One group had very definitive results as the nylon and polyester ripped in half. When discussing the results, it was clear they understood the fibres used in the fabrics when talking about why denim was the hardest wearing. This was further investigated with the final task when they examined some fabric samples to determine the composition.
Who doesn’t love a bit of dressing up?! The group were given a selection of original garments from the handling archive to look at and discover what materials were used. It was wonderful to see how animated they became when trying them all on. One thing that surprised us all was the sizing; we know sizes have increased as the years have passed but this really opened our eyes as to how much they’ve changed.

Prior to the trip, the students could choose a garment from the archive online, which was then laid out in the reading room for them to have a closer look. White cotton gloves were worn which enabled everyone to handle the garments.We had some free time to explore the exhibition which further explained the history of M&S from 1900’s through to present day, what new technologies are being developed and how M&S is striving to be the largest sustainable retailer. Once again, the dressing up box was a huge hit! But hey… this is fashion!