Representing the creative future

A conversation on remote teaching with Charles Jeffrey, Phoebe English and Stephanie Cooper

What are the the unique challenges of remote fashion learning?

Alongside students, design tutors have also faced unique challenges to adapt their processes, shift to online teaching and blended learning all whilst motivating students to maintain their passions throughout an onslaught of socio-political upheaval, Brexit-based anxiety, and Covid woes. 

Teaching the newly combined Experimental Textiles and Visual Identity projects during the UK’s third national lockdown, Phoebe English and Charles Jeffrey were tasked with developing the textile-making and visual storytelling skills of second-year FDM students from an entirely remote perspective; whilst both were grappling with the effects of Covid at their own labels. As part of our coverage on the project, we sat down with Charles and Phoebe along with FDM pathway leader Stephanie Cooper to discuss the unique challenges of educating the new generation of design talent against the backdrop of a rapidly changing fashion industry. 

What has teaching remotely been like? How have you adapted over the last year? 

Phoebe: I was strange at first but I’ve actually really enjoyed teaching remotely after almost a year. Although it felt really sad not to be able to see students in person, and for them not be able to be with their classmates. I feel that they have adapted really fast and have been creating such incredibly strong projects despite us all being separated. There have been lots of instances where students have used their surroundings as inspiration and the basis of what they are working on, responding in real-time to their situation with their design practice. This is a key skill you continually need to be able to rely on when working in the industry. Although it has been such a sad time, I hope it has also given students resilience and abilities they can rely on in the years to come.

Charles: Teaching remotely has become so normalized in some ways due to the length of time I’ve been doing it. I’ve adapted in many ways, I now know it’s always best to teach from my studio. I have access to lots of books and printed paraphernalia that I can show my students which is good when in relation to portfolio work.

Stephanie: Remotely teaching a creative subject that is tactile and 3D has specific challenges, but the teaching platforms have allowed a really clear communication channel to share and interact with the students’ design process, and students have been able to focus on editing and presentation skills when preparing for tutorials at the same time as working on imaginative and experimental design processes.

“Whilst the students have been working on the marketing side of things, it’s made them think more deeply about what their projects are actually about, which in turn has then gone on to inform the design side of things.” – Phoebe English

How has combining the developmental and visual aspects of the two projects affected the way students approached their design process? Is this ultimately a better way of working? 

Charles: Very much so, I think it is a good project and method of training students to start always thinking like this, one of the great things about the Fashion Design with Marketing course is that it gets students to work and to see other designers work within a larger context, not just in terms of making patterns and stitching. This project has helped the students to understand the worlds they are building and also gives them tools to express them.

Stephanie: Working on garment design and creation whilst considering the final fashion image and promotional outcomes has given students a unique insight into how the fashion industry works and what to expect when they come back into the final year – when they’re only working on the design of their final collection and communicating their visual identity as young, graduate designers going out into the world.

Phoebe: It’s been a clever way of supporting the making aspects alongside a thought-out way of displaying the end results. It’s been interesting to see how both projects have been able to feed into one another. Whilst the students have been working on the marketing side of things, it’s made them think more deeply about what their projects are actually about, which in turn has then gone on to inform the design side of things. Often, with a long making project, you can run out of steam towards the end of it, and the end imagery can end up being a rushed add-on. Combining these two projects has allowed the students to have the support and mentoring to really develop how they convey the end result, so it’s as strong as the garments themselves. The work is strong and well-rounded, students have been able to perfect and discover new practices which they will take into the final year and enter into developing their collections with confidence.

“Even simple things like how to edit your photos using various apps, you can as a student get into a bubble and forget that they exist without realising how technology can support and push your work to new places. ” – Charles Jeffrey

How have the restrictions affected your own design practice?

Phoebe: The restrictions have greatly affected how my studio has been run over the past year. We have been working at a different pace and remotely from each other, which means we have to communicate regularly and be really organised to keep everything moving along. We have had to be really agile and respond to the situation week by week. As a team we have also found strength and joy in thinking of new ideas and having extended time to put this towards the research and development of our key values, so that we can work with deeper environmental research going forward; doing more by making less. Being static and inside during this time has given us much more time to think more carefully about what we are doing and why. I have certainly seen that with the students, there is some brilliantly poignant work being produced.

Charles: In some ways, it has affected the way in which my work is communicated. We have experienced a huge and quick shift to digital lately, which I think has allowed me to be able to give the students some more interesting and innovative ideas on how to think about their own practice in that context too. Even simple things like how to edit your photos using various apps, you can as a student get into a bubble and forget that they exist without realising how technology can support and push your work to new places.

Why is it still important to keep creating in such a difficult and transformative era?

Stephanie: Fashion is a lightning rod barometer of the times we live in. Clothes are carriers of human experience and communicate our identity, personal points of view, and our wildest fantasies, so creativity is a vital part of existence whatever the era brings.

Phoebe: It is ESSENTIAL. We are living through an extreme time in our history. I hope that the legacy of today’s awful sadness and trauma around Covid will go towards the regeneration of how we can exist with less damaging and destructive methods. We will never be able to do this without creativity, imagination is what will save us from replicating systems and values that just aren’t working.

Charles: Creation is a fundamental part of human behaviour, you have to keep reworking the world you see around you and communicating it back to yourself and to others in order to move ideas along and to grow. Even in times of strife, creation can heal and solve problems on both a micro and universal scale, you have to always let creativity be part of life.

“Visuals are just as important as the product and we work on them hand-in-hand. ” – Charles Jeffrey

Why is it important for designers to explore and develop textiles in their process? What effect does it have on your finished garments?

Phoebe: It brings another dimension and level to your work and finished garments. It gives you the opportunity to create your material from scratch, designing upwards from the very fiber. It gives you ultimate control and the ability to fully design with your personality and intentions, it can make your work look richer and more personal. It opens up the opportunity to explore and innovate with materials that aren’t in general use yet, such as natural bio-plastics and chemical-free dyes. Your work can be entirely unique to you, and it crosses between material development and surface design – the possibilities are basically endless. I’ve worked with textiles for over ten years and I still don’t think I’ve even begun to scratch the surface of what I can do with them yet.

“Ultimately, austerity and obstacles are always overcome by creative thinkers and wild inventiveness.” – Stephanie Cooper

Why is it important for designers to establish their aesthetic and visual identity so early in their careers? What effect do visuals have on your design process?

Charles: Visuals are a form of self-validation which is important in the early stages of your career when you are unsure of the landscape and only really have yourself to rely on. If you have built a world for yourself, it helps to steer decisions and answer questions you might not know the answers to, moving you into a place where you begin to move forward. Visuals are just as important as the product and we work on them hand-in-hand. It’s such a fundamental process for me as a designer.

What advice would you give to any aspiring designers who are feeling unsure about studying design in the current climate?

Stephanie: Don’t ever give up chasing dreams and imagining. Ultimately, austerity and obstacles are always overcome by creative thinkers and wild inventiveness. Self-expression, finding your true aesthetic, dressing up and glamour will always win.

1 Granary

Magazine Issue 6

With unprecedented honesty and depth, 1 Granary Issue 6 dives into the work and lives of fashion designers today. As a response to the construction of desire and personality cults that govern our industry, the magazine steps away from the conventional profiles and editorials, focussing instead on raw work and anonymous, unfiltered testimonies. For the first time ever, readers are given a truthful insight into the process, dreams, fears, hardships, and struggles of today’s creatives.

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