Dilys_Williams Dilys Williams, Director and Professor of Fashion Design for Sustainability

Dilys Williams: “A new fashion system is emerging”

Since a large part of the fashion industry is still caught in a non-circular way of doing things—why not put our faith in the new generation of designers? Dilys Williams, Professor of Fashion Design for Sustainability at London College of Fashion, sees a new fashion system on the rise.

“Fashion has been a determining part of my professional and personal life through many style and work changes, but none so pivotal as what is happening now. Fashion is at a turning point, the context of our lives is rapidly shifting, impacting our identities, our politics and our beliefs. Around me, I see people questioning what it means to live well, turning away from the ‘old order’ and turning towards fresh ways of living.
As I am based at London College of Fashion UAL, I have an amazing opportunity to work with those who are shaping, and are shaped by, the future of fashion. Surrounded by colleagues in the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, students and forward thinkers from the industry, a new fashion system is emerging based on whole systems of thinking applied to innovation via a nurturing of creativity.

Designers are developing new kinds of skills and knowledge. Take Kering’s Environmental Profit & Loss account (EP&L) for example—an incredible tool that our students use to measure the costs and benefits of decisions to the environment. The mindset of a whole new generation of designers, and some leading companies, is to stand up and speak out. They are stepping up in ways that others are not, they are tuning inwards when everything around them is noise and pollution and what gives them focus is a re-evaluating identity and the meaning of creating fashion outside of a system which is broken.

Whilst digital technology allows us to make more and more connections, it can also lessen our ability to truly connect—to have a sense of kinship. Contact is not the same thing as intimacy, and as humans, we need a sense of shared as well as individual identity. Technology may have given us the ability to track the individual algorithms, which anticipate what we might need and want, but can disconnect us from contact and real engagement—and so the gulf between thought and action is widening. What makes me hopeful is that the University can offer students the space to consider, to look at things from different angles and to engage in critical enquiry.

« We are finding that students are not content with taking things for granted, with quantity over quality or with people and nature being disrespected »

We are finding that students are not content with taking things for granted, with quantity over quality, with people and nature being disrespected. They, like so many citizens, are waking up to a world where you need to find your voice. My own research is based on a real belief in the ability that fashion has to give voice. I Stood Up’ is part of that research within a wider project, Habit (AT), exploring the influence of fashion on our cities and way of lives. The project encapsulates London College of Fashion UAL’s ethos of Better Lives, using fashion as a catalyst to drive change, build a sustainable future and improve the way we live.

Projects such as this are rooted in the long tradition of fashion being used as a powerful form of communication to empower and influence. From my great mentor, Katharine Hamnett, meeting Margaret Thatcher with an anti-nuclear weapons slogan T-Shirt to the more recent PussyHat Project, promoting women’s rights, fashion is more than the clothes we wear or the shops we visit—it speak volumes about who we are. I see an increasing interest in social good, in fashion that has a purpose, whether through it’s making, designing, buying or wearing.

Many more of our graduates are taking the leap into starting up their own businesses and forging communities to share concerns, knowledge and ultimately profits. They are more collaborative and prepared to work in open systems. Here at LCF we have committed to a curriculum where sustainability runs through the fabric of student experience. They have much to teach us too: I recently met with a group who were developing a manifesto for their work, wanting to take a stand against distraction, recognizing that the culture of distraction is severely affecting people’s ability to maintain focus, maintain trust, loyalty, identity and direction. This reach back into authenticity is not a reach back into the past, but a new kind of kinship—a new kind of fashion system.”

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