Students from Gray’s School of Art at Robert Gordon University are making the final touches to a sustainable textile collection, inspired by Harris Tweed Hebrides, for their Gray’s Fashion Show at Aberdeen Art Gallery on May 5.

The collaborative fashion design project, ‘Uniform’ will feature six fashion looks, created by 12 Fashion & Textile students from Gray’s, who are working in partnership with Harris Tweed Hebrides to produce a sustainable fashion collection through the use of dead stock 100% wool tweeds.

Over the past two years, Gray’s School of Art has led a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), which has just recently completed, to support the growth of a year-round, sustainable business for Harris Tweed Hebrides and the home weaver industry on the isles of Lewis and Harris.

Gray’s ‘Uniform’ fashion project complements the KTP partnership and the designs featuring on the catwalk celebrate the culture of innovation-led design at Harris Tweed Hebrides, the largest of the three Harris tweed mills based in Lewis and produces around seventy percent of all Harris Tweed fabric.

Harris Tweed weavers, work independently from their homes and outbuildings who handweave every length of tweed on a treadle loom, where the company kindly donated their fabric for this live project. Students were asked to integrate this authentic, sustainable fabric into their designs, following in the footsteps of leading fashion designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Tom Browne, Stone Island who have used Harris Tweed in their collections.

Students also collaborated with the Uniform Archive Collection from Aberdeen Art Galleries at the Treasure Hub as a primary source of inspiration to create their contemporary garment designs.

Gray’s textile tutor, Charles Hackett, explains more: “This has been an incredibly successful live project with the students being inspired by one of the most famous fabrics in the world. ‘Uniform’’ epitomises this concept be it retail, armed forces, religious, social, or political, and students have been challenged to make anything they fancy that relates to uniform theme!

“By working with a global and iconic Scottish heritage textile brand, Gray’s students have gained invaluable industry experience and worked as part of a design team as if they were working for a fashion and textile brand. The students had to design one garment to complete each fashion look and by doing so, had to learn to deal with the intricacies and challenges of working together, to coordinate the complete design look. This included detailing such as pockets and buttoning, the silhouette, the complete aesthetic, colour, and finally styling it for a photoshoot. We are all very excited to be presenting the student’s designs on the catwalk at Aberdeen Art Gallery, and I’d like to congratulate everyone involved.”

One of the students involved in the project, Sophie Bishop from Dunfermline in Fife, said:

“For the ‘Uniform’ project I was inspired by snow-sports as I was learning to ski throughout second year. My final piece incorporated silhouettes from mountain ranges, tubing slopes and the padding associated the snow wear. I really enjoyed working in a design team, we collaborated to create an exciting colour palette that tied all our uniform themes together.

“We had a variety of tweeds to choose from and decided on a bold tweed to represent our overall theme “Home is where the heart is”, relating to our personal and family related uniforms. I used the tweed on the front of my hood to frame the face making it the focal point of my garment. The tweed was difficult to work with at times, but I loved the challenge. It gave us great experience with new fabrics and learning about the heritage of the tweed was really interesting and made me want to work with it again in the future”.

Another student who’s designs will feature on the catwalk, Joanna Robertson, added: “Working with Harris Tweed Hebrides has been a fantastic opportunity to work with heritage fabrics in new and contemporary ways. As a team we selected colours and themes that worked well together, which supported our looks in the fashion show. Harris Tweed is made by a community, as are the looks we have put together as a group of new designers.

“With a family history of weaving, it felt really important to do something exciting and bold, to really show case the fabric, so as a team we decided to create really big contrasting silhouettes to highlight the sculptural qualities of tweed. It’s been an incredible process seeing how a garment can go from a sketch on a piece of paper to being walked on a runway in the middle of an art gallery.”

Beth Wilson, Design Sustainability and quality officer at Harris Tweed Hebrides, said: “We are delighted to be collaborating with RGU through this exciting KTP project at Harris Tweed Hebrides supporting young emerging design talent at Grays and providing the opportunity for innovative design solutions and products. It is fantastic that Harris Tweed Hebrides is inspiring the next generation of designers and I wish everyone involved with Gray’s Fashion Show at Aberdeen Art Gallery the best of luck!”

The KTP that encompasses the ‘Uniform’ fashion project, was led by a team of RGU academics, including Josie Steed from Gray’s School of Art, and Karen Cross from the School of Creative and Cultural Business. The KTP associate, Beth Wilson, is now working as a full-time member of staff at the Harris Tweed Hebrides mill in Lewis, to further support the company’s sustainability ambitions initiated through the design-led KTP project.

Gray’s School of Art’s Josie Steed said: “We are delighted to be working closely with Harris Tweed Hebrides, to support the company explore new opportunities and non-seasonal products that can help the mill and weavers have year-round work. By partnering with the University, Harris Tweed Hebrides has gained a raft of technical expertise and resources, and Gray’s students have gained invaluable entrepreneurial skills from one of Scotland’s most prestigious, textile brands.”

The project is funded by Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Partnerships programme and co-funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council. Knowledge Transfer Partnerships is a UK-wide programme that has been helping businesses for the past 40 years to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK Knowledge Base.

Watch a live feed of the show at 8pm:

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