Citizen Fashion: Using Craft as a Tool to Make Fashion Sustainable

pincushion on top of a pile of paper

Since last October I’ve been quietly working away on a secret project. On an idea that has been floating around and slowly taking shape in the back of my brain for a few years and draws together all the strands of my work over the past 21 years: my time working as a designer in industry, my MA investigating textile recycling, launching my own pattern line, writing books and teaching.

Citizen Fashion is a research project that I will be starting in October in the form of a fully funded PhD at Sheffield Hallam University. Yes, I am going to be a student again!  I’ve been awarded a scholarship by the university to spend the next 6 years working on my project.

Top left: some of my students in Brighton wearing clothes they altered and customised. Bottom left: me working in India in 2001. Centre: my 5 books. Right: work from my MA using recycled textiles.

I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise to many of you that the focus of my research is sustainability in clothing and I will be specifically be looking at the role craft can play in helping us to keep our clothes for longer. I will be based in the school of Art & Design at Hallam and my research will be practice based, which means that as well as a ton of academic reading and writing, I also get to design, make, create and play around with materials and techniques.  I honestly keep pinching myself, it feels like a bit of a dream!

My project will also build on important movements that are gaining traction in both the craft and fashion industries: the importance of inclusion; a move towards sustainability and away from over-consumption, fast fashion and fast craft; the importance of heritage, creativity and skills; a more frugal approach to materials and the inherent need we all have for identity.

The reason it’s going to take me 6 years is that I will be studying part-time, so that I can keep my other work (books, patterns, blogging) going alongside my research. So, hopefully I won’t be disappearing under a mountain of academic papers anytime soon.  One thing will have to change about the way I currently work though and that is my teaching. I have one last workshop coming up in September (more details on that soon) and then my classes will come to an end at least for the immediate future. However, keep an eye on this blog or my social media feeds (@thatwendyward on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook) or sign up for my intermittent newsletter because part of my research will involve working with the public and I’d love to include as many of you as I can in some of the research labs I will be running. I will also be getting involved in some teaching at the university alongside my research, so teaching will still be part of the mix, just in a slightly different form.

This new direction and amazing opportunity is huge, it feels like a monumental achievement for me, I was a girl from a working class northern background (my dad was a joiner, my mum was a school dinner lady), I attended what at the time had the reputation as being one of the worst schools in Sheffield, I scraped through that school with only 5 GCSEs at grade C and above, I was the first in my immediate and extended family to go to university and I have not had the privilege of family wealth backing me up through life’s ups and downs. For the first time in my life I’m not going to play this down or be modest about it. It’s an incredible achievement and I am ridiculously proud of myself.  

So, keep any eye out later this week for more about that final workshop in September and I’ll be sharing updates about my research and how you can get involved over the months to come.

24 responses to “Citizen Fashion: Using Craft as a Tool to Make Fashion Sustainable

  1. Pingback: Secondhand Cultures in Unsettled Times Symposium – My Workshop | Wendy Ward

  2. Sounds good but don’t get too self congratulatory and keep it real x


  3. Congratulations! That sounds like an amazing research project. I look forward to hearing more as you work in it.


  4. That is such an amazing achievement, and it’s lovely to hear you say that you’re proud of yourself 👏👏


  5. Congratulations Wendy! Love your work and it’s heart warming to read the academic world recognizes you for the brilliant work you do too! All the best in your upcoming challenges and adventures! What a perfect time in your own stage of development that this opportunity appears 🙂


  6. Ah Wendy this is fantastic news, congratulations. So glad this has happened for you in your home town too .


  7. Hi Wendy.Conratulations on gaining a post-grad place at Sheffield. Reading about your background seems very relevant today when the A Level results reveal the gap in attainment between the privately educated and the rest of us. You certainly have the right to be proud of your achievements. Let’s hope the next generation achieves something closer to equal opportunities for all!


    • Thank you so much and I couldn’t agree more. The disparity in a-level results yesterday was pretty depressing reading. It just feels as a nation we’re finding it so difficult to make any meaningful progress in the levelling up of education. Personally I don’t think private schools should exist but I realise that’s quite a radical opinion and something that definitely won’t happen in my lifetime.


      • I agree. At the very least they shouldn’t have charitable status. Back in the Middle Ages when schools like Eton and Harrow were the only places where non-aristocratic boys (not girls of course!) could gain an education, it was reasonable, but it definitely isn’t now, and only adds to the unfairness.


      • It’s completely outrageous thst they’re allowed to be classed as charities!!! It’s a complete misnomer, never has the word charity been more misused.


  8. I am so pleased for you Wendy it sounds so exciting and you should be very proud of yourself.
    You have worked so hard and have and will continue to inspired so many people.
    I look forward to reading your posts and hearing about how it’s going.
    If you ever need a pattern tester or any other way I can help put my name down.
    Have fun and enjoy.


    • Thanks so much for your encouraging words Irene! It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and I’m still pinching myself that I’m actually going to be paid to do it 😊


  9. Wendy I’m so excited for you what an awesome opportunity. I can’t wait to see what comes out of it. It sounds like a hugely broad subject for a PhD and I know you will do it justice. I’m so pleased you are proud of yourself, I’m proud of you too and I’m just a sewist who as appreciated your blog and books. I’ve also got a PhD so I’m aware of the work you are about to undertake. You are going to love it, find it tough at times however I truly believe that at the other end so many people will be better off for you having done this. 😃


    • What lovely things to say, thank you Anna! It is a broad subject but I’ve carved out a little niche in it that I’ll be diving into…. Fingers crossed the highs will be high enough to help me ride out those inevitable lows!!


  10. I have been following you for years now. I have all your books except your newest one on making Sustainability clothing; which, I have every intention on buying. Congratulations from Canada all your hard work is really paying off.


  11. Brilliant news, Wendy! Delighted for you. Congratulations 🤗


  12. Isabel Willshaw

    Delighted for you – well done!


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