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Dress For Our Time


Dress For Our Time by artist, designer and researcher Prof. Helen Storey, uses the power of fashion to communicate some of the world’s most complex issues, notably climate change and the mass displacement of people. The dress is created out of a decommissioned refugee tent that once housed a family of displaced people at Za’atari Camp in Jordan, and was gifted by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Through fashion, science and wonder the project seeks to help change the way we think and act upon climate change and global displacement.

Project Development

First sketch by Helen Storey

Four years in the making, Helen has brought together collaborators and supporters including Holition, Unilever, Met Office and the UNHCR, people from very different backgrounds in science, business, education, technology, humanitarian work and fashion, to explore ways to engender a public debate about these most critical questions.

When Helen first learnt that we consume 30% more resources each year than our planet can replenish (this figure is taken from WWF’s The Living Planet Report), and that if we continue at this rate we will need at least 3 more planets to survive, she knew that all of her work needed to be directed towards finding creative and unusual ways to help engage us in the urgent issues of our time. The project began with a meeting where Helen gathered climate scientists, business and researchers to look at how we as a species are, or are not responding to climate change.  A date was mentioned during the discussion, the tipping point for us as a species – 2020, and this date has changed everything for Helen.

With various partners, voices and agendas it’s been an interesting and a continually developing journey, one which has and still raises many issues and concerns for us as a team; crucially, how we communicate difficult and often scary subject matter? How do we engage people on this?  Especially when the most common responses to climate change have been ‘technology will save us’, ‘God will save us’ and/or ‘it’s not happening’, ‘it’s too complicated’ or ‘no-one else is doing anything, why should I?’

And from Helen’s personal interviews, the worst thing she’s heard is, ‘well, everybody I know and love now will be dead by then, so I don’t care.’

The Film

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A film was created by international production company The Free Associates and award winning creative director and film maker David Betteridge to mark the launch of Chapter 1 at St Pancras International in November 2015.

Chapter 1 - St Pancras

Dress For our Time at St Pancras International, image by Sam Lane

Visitors leave comments, image by Sam Lane

The first chapter focused on climate change with the opening physical embodiment of the ‘Dress’ installed at St Pancras International train station on 26 November 2015 for four days only. As the gateway to Paris – the city hosting the United Nations Climate Change conference COP 21 – many of the delegates that pass through the station came face to face with the world’s first digital couture dress dedicated to exploring climate change and its human impact.

The dress digitally displayed data which showed us the impact of climate change on our physical world in 3 stages and powerfully shared the impact on our planet, if we DON’T DO ENOUGH to mitigate it. The dress was developed in partnership with award winning interactive creative agency Holition, and the data has been taken from a study conducted by a team of global scientists and provided by the Met Office.

In giving the tent a second life, it endows this public art installation with an unbreakable bond to humanity and represents the importance of nurturing and protecting all people and safeguarding generations to come.  It is a symbol of what it means to be human and the precarious nature of our existence.

“None of us have all the answers – but by using creative ways to discuss the issues which really matter to us and future generations – we can find new ways to explore the evidence and stay in relationship to its truth” Helen Storey, Huffington Post


Chapter 2- UN Geneva

UNHCR UK and Helen continued to work together after the dress was first shown at St Pancras and was a live performance piece at the UN Geneva, as part of the TEDxPlaceDesNations Transforming Lives event in February 2016. Its appearance there began a dialogue around migration and the experience of refugees, and sparked provocative and inspirational conversations trending on social media.

Chapter 3- Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury

The dress appeared on the Pyramid Stage to open the Glastonbury 2016 Festival, worn by UNHCR Ambassador, singer Rokia Traore, as she sang her song ‘Ne So’, written after her own visit back to a refugee camp in Mali, the country of her birth.

“There’s no better place than Glastonbury to wear the incredible Dress For Our Time,” said Rokia. “We’re in the middle of a huge pop-up tented city and I’m wearing a dress made from a UNHCR tent which sheltered a Syrian refugee family for months. I’ve seen for myself the work of UNHCR supporting refugees from Mali and the difference that shelter can make to people who have lost their homes.”

Chapter 4- 'Our Lives in Data' at the Science Museum

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Partnering with Holition again, the dress appeared at the Science Museum as part of their Our Lives in Data exhibition.

Data provided by the UNHCR annual report on global migration highlighting the millions of displaced people and the paths they take in search of a better life, was projected onto the dress using data visualization developed by Holition.

“Worldwide, one in every 113 people on the planet is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking shelter – but numbers means nothing, if they don’t affect your own heart. This project uses the power of fashion to help us connect to the previously unimaginable and asks how each and every one of us can remain a humanitarian in such a time of colossal and irreversible change” – Professor Helen Storey.

Pixels of light were projected onto the dress, each one representing one hundred displaced people, totaling eight million, showing the paths refugees take from their country of origin to the different places they settle. As the pixels of light moved up the dress, reaching different centres and branching off again, the outlines of countries became apparent. What resulted was a map of human movement. Bringing together these numbers, with the dress, has a palpable connection to the people affected and reminded viewers of the humanity behind the refugee crisis. By displaying the data on a dress- an object that is worn so close to the human body, and one that used to provide shelter- served to reinstate human beings at the centre of the crisis.

Chapter 5- Za'atari Refugee Camp

Helen has visited Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan (where the tent originated) twice in her capacity as an academic in 2016 and is developing a cross disciplinary educational, cultural and business programme focused on women and girls in the camp, as well as a series of interventions to address ‘Winterisation’, facilitated by and with local UNHCR Jordan partners. This will be an ongoing programme for the foreseeable future.

The dress has led a path to being able to turn her creativity and that of many others into a series of practical projects, which seek to improve refugee life and living.

To share the stories of her visit to Za’atari Camp, Helen and the dress appeared at the first London Peace Talks in November 2016. The Peace Talks brought together a number of different speakers from a variety of backgrounds and industries to discuss how we can all work together to promote peaceful and inclusive societies. In our increasingly interdependent world, respect for diversity and cooperation among sectors are not just desirable. Speakers shared tangible experiences, personal stories and ideas to highlight the role that each and everyone one of us can play in contributing to more peaceful societies. At the same time, the event looked at the role that individual citizens and United Kingdom as a country can play to support sustainable peace at the global level.

The dress will continue to tour globally in 2017, spreading the message of support for refugees to an ever wider audience.

Follow the project on: Instagram and the website – add to the conversation using #Dress4OurTime