The Fashion and Textiles Institute is driven by the environmental, ethical and moral challenges of our time. So, when third year BA Fashion Photography students were set a live brief set by environmentally conscious fashion curator Shonagh Marshall, it was the perfect fit.
Among various other projects, Shonagh writes Denier, a bi-weekly newsletter that responds to fashion’s relationship to the three pillars of sustainability: people, the planet and profit. In her live brief, Shonagh challenged the students to create a body of work that employed common tropes of fashion photography in a way that aided people and the planet over profit.
Shonagh was so impressed by the responses that she featured several students in Denier. “I think what blew me away was the level of research that each student undertook to develop their response to the brief. I asked them to think about the way fashion photography can be a site for ideology, not selling clothing. They embraced this cue, and each went down a path of discovery into a subject they felt they could explore through photography and would dismantle the very function of a fashion image – to sell something.”
We spoke to three of the selected students to discover how they approached the live brief, their thoughts on the importance of sustainable fashion and how working with Shonagh improved their understanding of the fashion industry.
Eva applied tropes from commercial fashion to the live brief. Reflecting on her images, Eva says that “by directly imitating the recognisable artificial, glossy style of fashion magazines and adverts, I intended to draw the viewer in with familiarity, leaving the important message behind the work to reveal itself.” Her message in the images is clear: the water waste and pollution in the denim industry is causing considerable damage to the environment.
"It was a refreshing experience to have worked with Shonagh Marshall, her efforts and empathy toward the fast fashion crisis helped me realise there are plenty of industry professionals, brands, and avenues among the fashion world who are dedicated to all sorts of avenues leading to a better fashion system for all.
"Overall, this experience helped me understand the positive potential of the fashion industry, and how I can personally pursue my passion for fashion photography in an ethically viable way."
Imogen took a more surrealist approach to the project. Her photographs aim to encourage the viewer to both re-assess and reconsider items otherwise viewed as rubbish. Commenting on her work, Imogen writes “people are so often focused on visual aesthetics, that they discard the effects that their appearance and clothing has on the environment.” By sourcing and utilising waste found in alleys, roadsides and skips, Imogen seeks to remove the concept of money and profit from her work.
"I think that Shonagh really helped me in terms of my understanding of working to industry briefs, as well as gaining feedback from an external professional.
"As well as a deeper understanding of the world of fashion photography, I've gained knowledge and experience working individually and with people of varying skillsets such as editors and directors."
Having grown up in a house full of upcycled items, Talitha decided to focus on the wastefulness of fast fashion. She had no trouble acquiring all the clothes needed for her shoot for free. The images emphasise the lack of thought that consumers put into their purchases; nearly 1200 gallons of water were required to produce the six pairs of jeans modelled in her photo. As Talitha writes “people don’t think about where their clothes go after they throw them away… nor do we think about how much waste is produced by the creation of garments.”
"This image emphasises the wastefulness we as a collective have become so accustomed to. Not even all the jeans received are in the photo, it may not even be half of them.
"I think the course has been a massive help in pushing those on it to create their best work and be their best selves.”