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Turning back time through up-cycled fashion

Ladies living in an Optivo sheltered scheme have become an instant hit with first year Fashion students from our Canterbury College after they embarked on a joint project to give new life to old clothes.

The project was conceived by Canterbury School of Visual Arts (CSVA) Fashion and Textile Tutor Christina Broadbridge, who wanted to develop a project that had sustainability at its core and engaged not only students, but also members of the local community.

The project was developed by Industry Liaison Officer, Denise Knights-Toomer, who sought out Margate based upcycling designer Gloria Jane Royner whose ethos is to deliver sustainable design solutions to create a waste-free mindset within the fashion industry. Gloria agreed to mentor the students, sharing her knowledge and expertise of the industry with the budding designers.

As all of the students have trained as Dementia Friends, Denise felt it would be worth engaging with sheltered housing schemes to bring the project to life, and was fortunate enough to meet Alex Buckingham who is the scheme manager for Optivo Housing.

Alex agreed that many of the scheme’s residents would enjoy working with students to bring their old clothes back to life and pass on their knowledge of fashion through the past 60 or 70 years.

Alex said: “Many of my residents are feeling very lonely and vulnerable, so the chance to talk to younger people by video link and help with a project would be so beneficial to their mental and physical health.”

The residents (Shirley, Rita, Maria and Dee) all jumped at the chance to be involved, offering up unwanted clothes to be upcycled and giving copies of photographs of them in their youth to the students.

The students met with a number of the residents virtually recently, getting the chance to interview them on their experiences of fashion and hearing tales from their past. The students found out so much, from the fashion of “their day” to an insight into their lives. This project has bought together the young and young at heart, during a time when it has been so painful for all.

The Fashion Design students said that they loved the interaction with the ladies, after months of looking at a screen and working remotely, this made the project come alive and meeting their clients’ was so much fun.

 Rosette March Team Manager at Optivo Group said: “Thank you to the students for bringing youth and vitality to our residents, who also wanted to pass on their praise, compliments and gratitude to everyone involved. They had such a laugh and giggle and most importantly, it gave them back their self-worth.”

Alex added: “The ladies are excited for their next facetime. I really enjoyed it, it made my day seeing them laughing and enjoying themselves. In fact, I was still laughing on my way home. It reminded me of why I came into this line of work.”

Not only has this given these people their passion for life back, it’s been a welcome respite in the testing and caring for Covid patients by these dedicated key workers

Once the students return to the college and the fashion design room, work will commence on the upcycled clothing. One resident of the sheltered scheme said: “I can’t wait to wear my new clothing which is being created by someone who may be very famous one day!”

Ben Kidger Head of CSVA commented: “This project has shown how important our students are to the community and how important working with the community is to them. We will continue to engage in projects and work experience that embraces all aspects of our society.”

As a thank you, the ladies will not only receive their garments back but also a handwritten letter of thanks and a description of how their stories have inspired the students in their design process.