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CREDIT: Simon Hyde

Make, Mend and Sustain

A sustainability project involving The Open Eye Gallery, university students and local charity shops

One of the best things about being Spotlight Editor is having the opportunity to delve into interesting and fascinating projects and find out what inspires and motivates people to create or take part in them. 

Open until 4th September at the Open Eye Gallery in Chester, Make, Mend and Sustain is an exhibition created by a number of students in BA Fashion Design and BA Photography from the University of Chester.

Working in collaboration with the Open Eye Gallery and local charity shops, ‘Save the Children’ and ‘ShareShop’, students have got together to design and photograph a sustainable fashion collection which was created by upcycling donated clothing. The designs were then exhibited in the charity shop windows in the Chester city centre.  

At the start of the project the students visited the charity shops to gain a better understanding of how the shops operated and to learn about their key objectives so that they could integrate these elements into the design of their garments. The students then joined the volunteering team to help out in a donations sorting day. The fashion students collected textile materials to use in their designs whilst the photography students documented the unseen work and the journey behind the distribution of donated clothing. 

During the project the photography students captured the creative process, from hand painting on textiles to trousers made from duvet covers. The finished pieces were photographed in a fashion photoshoot staged at the charity shops involved and in ShareAid’s donations distribution centre in Mold. Both the final designs and photographs were exhibited in the high street facing windows of the charity shops as part of Open Eye Gallery’s festival LOOK Photo Biennial 2022: Climate. 

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I asked a few of the students involved in the project to tell me about their experience.

Simon Hyde, Student in BA Photography

As someone who is keen to promote sustainability within the fashion industry, openly condoning the harmful effects of fast fashion, Simon was very motivated to take part in the project. Simon also feels passionately about helping his community. He says that the project has allowed him to become more socially engaged with the community and that he now has the confidence and the motivation to use his photography to continue working on community projects.

I can be part of shining a spotlight on people who are doing so much good for the community.

Simon is a documentary photographer at heart and initially his role was to document the project on behalf of the fashion students, something which he felt comfortable doing. However, towards the end of the project Simon was given the opportunity to photograph the fashion shoot. For most photography students this might seem like a real stroke of luck, but what you have to bear in mind is that Simon has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as well as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD.) Simon found it very challenging and was taken out of his comfort zone and beyond. He often feels overwhelmed when he is with other people and naturally puts up a barrier. As a coping mechanism, Simon uses his camera to hide behind, something which is easy when he is taking documentary images. 

My camera is my way of saying, ‘I’m doing this so I don’t need to talk’.

However, not only did Simon ultimately enjoy the fashion shoot, but he felt that it had a positive impact on his self-esteem and self-confidence.

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The project also enabled Simon to enter the world of abstract photography, something which he was not at all familiar with. Using some of the textiles, Simon experimented with long exposures and intentional camera movement to create colourful abstracts. One of Simon’s images was then printed onto fabric and forms part of the exhibition. Simon is immensely proud that one of his images is strong enough to be exhibited as a standalone piece of art.

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Louise Morgan, student in BA Fashion Design

“As I put sustainability at the heart of my projects, I thought this was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about how we can be inventive and creative while still staying sustainable.

I really enjoyed working with photographers as I learnt a lot about how they work, especially when we were on site for a photoshoot. Prior to this project, I was unaware just how technical photography can be, especially when on location as you must think about every detail from lighting to being aware of others who do not want their photo taken.  On reflection I think that everyone should collaborate with other creatives as you gain such an insight into how others work and in doing so how you work.”

One of Louise's designs is called the 'landfill' skirt and  came about as a result looking at landfill sites in Ghana and seeing how people suffering from poverty are treated within society.

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Becca Porter, student in BA Fashion Design

“I appreciated the opportunity to collaborate with creatives who are also passionate about the climate crisis. Due to COVID-19 and much of our university experience being online, I’ve lacked the opportunity to work with others. Brainstorming and discussing ideas with other creatives is really valuable as it gives you other perspectives to look from.

Projects like this show the community how accessible sustainable fashion really is. When I was designing and creating garments for this project, a lot of my focus was on making something that a member of the community with little to no experience would easily be able to follow and recreate themselves. There is a lot of stigma associated with sustainable fashion being expensive or bland but, by using everyday items from local charity shops, it shows that people can be sustainable on a budget or create something new from the items they already own.

I believe it’s a positive way of highlighting the climate crisis and making people aware of how much their daily life has an effect, especially in the way we shop. However, it’s also showing them that they can make small changes that would make more of an impact then they might have thought.”


All images by Simon Hyde.