Climate, education, art, design and communication
It is amazing where the development of our shirt designs takes us. One of the many evolutions from our work on the Climate Code shirt has been to work with Sarah Blackie, Head of Art at Lodge Park Academy in Corby, Northamptonshire.
Sarah had seen the Climate Code shirt at COP26 and got in touch. It’s always nice to hear from people about our work, it’s a real privilege of the profession, and of course, we love to talk ‘shop’. The arts team at Lodge Park have their fingers on the pulse of what young adults care about, helping them discover their voices and hone the skills needed for life, so there was plenty to talk about.
Sarah asked Andy (founder) if DressCode could share some of the development, the ideas and the environmental values that had gone into the Climate Code shirts with the Year 10 GCSE students at the school. After a couple of video calls to explore how this might be done and what would be helpful to the students, we arranged a hybrid lesson/video meeting (due to Covid rules at the time) where Andy would share the Climate Code story with the students.
The Climate Code reaction
There’s so much hype about what the next generation of people think, their ambitions and values that getting the opportunity to talk, in real-life to a bunch of these people was not only insightful, but also refreshing. Their knowledge about our Climate and the need to change our processes, the environmental impact was very apparent, they are very knowledgeable with all the stats, naming the main offenders and more.
It was refreshing to hear that they had just as many ideas about how things could, and should, be done differently. Andy shared some slides and gave a brief introduction to the DressCode design and development processes before giving the students the opportunity to ask questions. Which, after some initial trepidation, became a really enjoyable and insightful conversation, where the questions came thick and fast.
What did Andy learn from them?
“I learnt that this is a group of people who know a lot about the environment and the need to protect our planet. I learnt that they are no different from previous generations of teens, they love music, videos and the internet. Their values are strong and clear, the environment and its protection is right up there with family, friendship, community and mutual respect.”
What did the students learn?
“The students have learnt so much from the experience and have grown in confidence as a result. This kind of collaboration plus the opportunity to raise students' self-esteem, making them feel they can contribute towards the world around them is one of the reasons I value teaching.” Sarah Blackie
After a successful first session – where we simply ran out of time with the Q&A in full flow – we followed up with Sarah to check that she was happy with what had been covered. From there we explored what would be the next step, agreeing to develop a ‘live project’ for the students. We then worked together to develop a brief, which would be undertaken as part of their GCSE coursework this year.
With the brief written, checked and ready to go Sarah walked the students through the process in class – research, find key facts – that can be defended if needed and then develop that research and fact finding into ideas, designs and ultimately a shirt design.
There’s a lot to think about
We (Dresscode) are often asked about this part of the process and starting in the right place is an imperative. That place is – Research - it is key to everything that comes after, “You want to develop something that is important to people, their values and their lives” says Andy.
“Science is quite complicated, environmental science is even more complex, you need to find a simple way to share it. That can be really tricky, some of these processes are huge, simplifying them is not an easy task. With your research done and a decision made about where you will focus it’s time to start the creative wheels turning. How will you express this? What colours are important? How will it work as a repeat pattern? What kind of scale is right on a human body? The legibility of text and icons within your design. How the colours you select work, their affects against skin/hair and alongside other garments.”
No time to waste, let’s get to work
Under the watchful eye of Sarah Blackie the students began their projects, there wasn’t a huge amount of time, 8 weeks sounds reasonable until you realise that they only have a couple of Art lessons a week, so it was more like 16 hours of in school time.
The plan was to develop designs so that the students could submit them as part of the course work towards their GCSE grades. We arranged a presentation day, where Andy would be walked through the work by each of the students, before the work was sent away to be graded.
Let’s see your Climate Code designs
As the founder and design lead of DressCode, we’re going to let Andy explain more, “When I arrived at Lodge Park I’m not sure who was the more nervous – the students or me? It’s been a while since I was ‘at school’ and this place was packed to the rafters with young adults, who knew exactly where they were, what they were doing. As an adult I stood out, not least because I wasn’t in uniform.”
“Thankfully the navigation of campus was undertaken by Mrs Blackie, who met me in reception and guided me to the Art studios. As we bustled down busy corridors and I found that the students were polite, opening doors and greeting Mrs Blackie with a healthy mixture of friendship and respect. The volume of noise was as we walked along was off the scale, like being at a music gig, but the overall atmosphere was one of focus, as the students went from class to class, taking their lessons with a great deal of respect for one another.”
Face to face
Once in Mrs Blackie’s teaching room, there was a nice message on the screen to great Andy. As the students filed in behind, it was clear that they were feeling the pressure too. The vibrance and fun of the previous session had been replaced by a more subdued nervousness. “Feelings that I totally recognise and remember only too well from both my school days and in my professional life too.”, says Andy.
“At this point I’ve not seen any work, but I took this nervousness as a good sign. If you’re passionate about something and have worked hard to develop it, it’s to be expected that there will be nerves before you share that with other people.”
“Sharing it with your contemporaries is one thing and that is often nerve wrecking, but sharing it with someone from outside the school! I could tell, this was taking things to another level for the students, and it was my opportunity to help them – by making this experience fun and enjoyable.”
The student climate design work
Each student had their own presentation space, and they all had the same amount of space within which to showcase their work. No two were the same, everyone had taken up the challenge with great passion. The designs varied enormously, the way they had been developed was equally diverse and interesting – refreshing to see pens, paper, ink and paint being used with more enthusiasm than screens and digital technology.
Each student stood with their work, some chatting, some feet shuffling, uneasy at what was about to happen. It was clear that this was new and something that some of them found really uncomfortable. “I felt it was my role to help them, asking why you’ve done something can feel a little interrogatory, so I went in from as many different angles as possible, asking about materials, mark making, what they had enjoyed, starting with lots of smiles.”
“There were a few, ‘I’m not happy with how this has turned out comments’ that came from the students. I think that this was a kind of pre-emptive strike, saying this was mental preparation, a defence mechanism that they put in place should be over critical – which I was very aware not to be.”
Going the extra mile
Several of the students had created entire workbooks of research and development. One student had created a personal on-screen presentation, walking Andy through all of the background work and evolution of the project. “It was very impressive, the level of thought and passion, the creativity and the presentation.” That’s just one example, we could go on…and on, the standard was very high. Many of the students had taken it upon themselves to work on the project outside of school and timetables lessons – which was simply fantastic to hear.
Picking a winner
Andy had agreed with Sarah that the DressCode team would create a high resolution render of the winning design, giving back something to the students that was useful. These professional renders are great assets to sit alongside the course work.
After looking at all of the work, it was clear that this was going to be a difficult decision, never the less a decision was needed. “My criteria for awarding the 1st, 2nd and 3rd places was very simple, how commercial was the finished design? This isn’t fashion week, we’re not looking to push the boundaries of garment shape and construction, we’re here to develop the message, tell a story. There were a number of designs that were really interesting but lacked some of the commercial, stand out that a product needs to really connect with people. I was looking at things like, what message do I get in the first 3 seconds? Could the design be produced commercially? The use of colour, scale and format across the garment and several other factors”.
The winning design
The winner was Ruta Klimaviciute who achieved the top grade of level 9 in her GCSE Art. Ruta is only 15 years old, taking her exam a year early. This is an amazing achievement for anyone in just one year of study, let alone someone who is only in Year 10!
Pride of place in the community
Ruta has recently had her artwork on display in two exhibitions as part of Northants Open Studios 2022. https://www.northantsopenstudios.co.uk/
Lodge Park student work in professional exhibitions
A handful of other GCSE and A level students (including Ruta) have exhibited alongside professional artists at Lamport Hall near Northampton and at the Rooftop Arts Centre in Corby. Lodge Park Academy are the only school in the county that has students exhibiting in NOS22. “Needless to say I'm very proud of her and the other students”, said Mrs Blackie. An emotion that we cannot echo loud enough. Mackenzie Robinson-Webb, who came second in the Dresscode project, has recently won an award for one of her lino prints as part of these events.
The enthusiasm for the project, the breadth of applications, materials and thought that went into all of the work, has to be commended. Thank you to everyone who got involved in the project, both students and teachers. “For me, it is great to see art and design being nurtured within education and the formative years. The possibilities for these people, I believe is endless and I hope this project has inspired them to try new things, explore and innovate the future, because we have to keep pushing, for our planet, our home.” Andy Boothman