THE BLOG

By Challenging the Status Quo, Fashion Can Play a Vital Role in Showing Us What's Possible

26/04/2015 19:20 BST | Updated 26/06/2015 10:59 BST

Since 2005 I have enjoyed the privilege of being Head of London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London, one of the world's leading fashion education institutions. Right from the beginning I wanted to embed the importance of using education to transform lives which is why I'm so proud to have been nominated for a WIE award for Services to Education.

I have seen first-hand how fashion education can drive change, build a sustainable future and improve the way we live which is why I was keen to partner with LDNY and the UN Women and Trade programme, which brought together our womenswear and menswear students with artisans from places such as Ethiopia and Mongolia. The resulting collections which will be shown at tonight's LDNY catwalk show before the WIE awards, exemplify the best of new design and ethical manufacturing, whilst supporting some of the world's poorest communities.

What makes being nominated for this award so gratifying is that it will shine a light on projects which I am really passionate about and my ethos of 'Better Lives', which has been one of the cornerstones of my Headship here at London College of Fashion, UAL. It is a wide agenda that I feel encapsulates how we need to work as educators; it is a dialogue between staff, students and the wider community to develop an understanding and definition of what sustainability and diversity means to us.

We did this by setting up the Centre for Sustainable Fashion back in 2005 cementing our aspiration to put sustainability at the heart of what we do. Its work revolves around safeguarding our industry for future generations and to secure the future of the millions of people worldwide, the majority of whom are women, who rely on the fashion industry for their incomes. We have never advocated fashion at any cost.

I have also overseen the development of a range of outreach activities, social enterprise projects and community partnerships such as Style Young with teenagers in Hackney and with the charity Art Against Knives, where we have repeatedly found that not only do we have a positive impact on the lives of these young people but we also have much to learn from them; this in turn has changed the way we think about teaching and learning.

Another great example of how social enterprise can turn people's lives around is our work with the prison service. Just last year we opened a manufacturing unit at HMP Holloway prison which came as a result of many years work embedding fashion education into the prison system. The unit engages female offenders in learning machine skills, a skill in high demand as fashion manufacturing moves back to the UK. The aim of the project is to reduce the rate of re-offending by providing the women with marketable skills that they can use to escape the poverty trap that many find themselves in.

By challenging the status quo and making our world a fairer and more equitable place fashion can play a vital role in showing us what's possible - by its very nature fashion is constantly evolving, renewing itself, innovating and creating a world which we can aspire to. If we look at fashion in its broadest sense, beyond clothing and fast fashion, and look at the power of fashion to communicate some of the biggest problems of our times we have incredible opportunity. You just have to look at the latest project by one of LCF's leading researchers, Professor Helen Storey's Dress For Our Time, which is tackling climate change, to prove what fashion and education can achieve.

But of course none of this could be delivered without our links to industry. Last year we partnered with Kering - whose portfolio of world leading brands include Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen. Our students have the unique opportunity to generate innovative sustainable solutions to real problems, whilst taking into account the individual values of each brand. It's no mean feat and will result in changes to our curriculum as well as changes to Kering's business practices. It demonstrates that education cannot work in isolation. Working hand in hand with industry energizes our practice and ensures enterprise and employability are embedded in the student experience.

I strongly believe that when our students graduate from London College of Fashion, UAL they should leave with the confidence and abilities to shape our world, to plan and respond to challenges in ways that are inconceivable to us now. Whether they study pattern cutting, cosmetic science, journalism or management, each graduate will go into industries around the world with a questioning mind and able to give a challenging perspective on the future of our industry, its values and possibilities. They represent the future of the fashion industry and have the power to change it from within.

I am greatly looking forward to tonight's proceedings and being in the company of some of the world's most inspiring women who, like me, are trying to push the boundaries of what is possible, to ask difficult questions and not shy away from the issues that some might feel are controversial. I hope that all of the incredible work bought to the fore by tonight's awards will inspire people to do the same and to support those issues which they feel passionate about.

Frances will be tweeting live from the event @fcorner