With a record breaking 250 abstract submissions to our conference, held later this year, ‘What’s Going On? A Discourse on Fashion, Design and Sustainability’ I reflect this week on the work of one of CSF’s Professors, Helen Storey, which conveys one of our conference themes ‘Society’.
Since her first trip to the Za’atari Refugee Camp in 2016 CSF’ Prof. Helen Storey has learnt a great deal about what it means to be a community, to live together in a ‘society’, to form a new one from scratch in a place where conditions are hard and everyone is starting with very little, having fled things that ‘us’ in the West can never imagine. Those she has met during her visits to camp have taught her, and the team, a great deal. What started out as a journey to see what ‘we’ could do to contribute to the lives of the refugees has evolved into a realization of how very much they have to teach us.
The camp manager on the first trip explained that the refugees have taught them the conditions for dignified living. That the camp is built, day, by day, by the refugees themselves, and that UNHCR are in service to them. The camp has evolved from a small collection of tents set up in 2012, to a settlement of some 80,000 persons, 20% of whom are under 5. With 29 schools, a hospital, 11 health centres, an informal market with over 3000 shops and businesses and an average of 80 births a week. With the average time for resettlement of refugees being 26 years, making conditions for what life and living means in refugee camps is a uniquely challenging experience.
So far Helen’s work with the refugees has included delivering a UAL accredited beauty course to women dreaming of developing their own enterprises, coordinating the delivery of soap and perfume training and working with the TIGER (these inspiring girls enjoy reading) girls to create their own personalized LOVEcoat, a project designed with them and inspired by their hopes for the future.
With a love for fashion, an aspiration to develop making skills and their wish to be able to gift to others, along with a fear of the winter, LOVEcoats was developed. A creative journey, embedded with trust and belief, which brought everyone together to create something that touched those who now wear them. Fashion design is a powerful and yet personal process which is able to connect with its user in a way, especially when you are the creator, that is empowering and that can gift great confidence in oneself and what we are truly capable of.
Helen returns this week from another trip to camp to support the delivery of advanced makeup training, supporting 14 women in gaining skills that will hopefully lead to them beginning their own mobile beauty enterprises, enabling contribution to their society and developing its community. And what’s next…LOVESCARVES – building confidence, learning, collaboration, transformation, gifting, community and celebration – this is a project which seeks to redeliver and increase further, the value and enjoyment of the LOVECOATS.