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

pincushion on top of a pile of paper

Since October 2020 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.