Case Study

Natural Fashion Challenge

A group of young people in yellow t-shirts posing and looking at the camera

natural fashion challenge

In 2022, the Fashion and Textile Department and the WOVEN team were successful in being awarded a small participatory research grant from the University of Huddersfield to test ideas around children’s attitudes to natural dyes. The project set out to explore, through creative activity and observations, how young people felt about the process of making, colour fading and fashion.

Wrapped around the project was the imagined idea of a world in which there are no chemical dyes and what would fashion look like if we only had natural resources. 

Three schools took part in the programme:
Gomersal Primary School 
East Bierley Primary School 
Meltham C of E Primary School 

Each pupil was given a t-shirt as the base for the project. All 140 t-shirts had been prepared by first scouring and then using a mordant. Scouring is a process in which the fibres are cleaned in preparation for dyeing and a mordant or dye fixative is a substance used to set (i.e. bind) dyes on fabrics. Here we used soap and soda to scour the t-shirts and a mineral called alum as a mordant. The t-shirts were prepared in large batches at the university by the wonderful project manager and technician.

Over the course of 10 weeks teachers and pupils worked both independently and with a dye practitioner and fashion photographer to develop their ideas. They were also given a log book to record their thoughts, feelings and observations.

The practitioners introduced the schools to the project concept and ran workshops on foraging for dye plants, using food waste and a number of different dye processes. Teachers then took the project on to support the marketing and social media for their new fashion range ! Each school also took part in a fashion photoshoot with professional photographer Laura Mateescu from the university.

We just loved the social media campaigns and hashtags the pupils developed for their fashion range! 

#getmorenaturalclothes #notfromunnaturalshops #savetheworld @naturalfashion #naturalfashionrules! #eclothes! #wearethefashion! #toweareco#newtrend #ecot-shirt #helpingenvironment #naturaldiy

It might be all helping the world whilst creating new fashion trends.

Save the turtles by natural dye.

However some students were cautious of social media and not sure if this would be the right campaign for a kind product.

Well some people on social media can be nice but the others could be mean so I’m really unsure.

This project was wonderful for the larger WOVEN Growing Colour Together as it enabled the teams, along with teachers and students, to test assumptions about natural dyes, how young people feel about them and the properties they hold as a part of our fashion lifestyle. 

We know that two out of the three schools are now developing their own natural dye gardens and we can’t wait to see how they get on!

student feedback

The log books captured how the students were reacting to learning more about natural dyes, the impact on the environment, how dyes may fade and whether that’s a bad thing…

Some people loved their t-shirt?

I love my natural t-shirt, I would rate it 10/10. I didn’t think it would turn out like it did.

I really like my t-shirt because I like that it is natural and no animals were hurt. I like they patterns and where I cut the t-shirt. I like how the black is faded.

I find it so interesting how you can tie-dye but instead use food! It was so fun to do. I have never thought you could do it with food. I loved it so much and I called mine a chicken dinner. I would wear it and make my own. Thank you for doing this with us. 

I really love it because I liked going on a bit of a scavenger hunt to put things on the t-shirt. I also liked the way it turned.

I am proud of my t-shirt because I put a lot of effort into it. I would definitely wear it again.

I would wear it everywhere I am very proud of it.

I like it because it is better for the environment and it makes me feel like I actually did make it and I also quite like the pattern and some of it’s also faded but I like it like that.

Some weren't quite so impressed

I like the flower in the middle but I wouldn’t wear it.

It’s creative but it’s a little bit faded.

I didn’t like it because it looked like a flower.

It’s one way to save the planet but it’s not my choice of clothing. I’d probably wear it at home or to my nana’s and grandi’s.

Disappointed because I liked the colours before they were put in the washing machine.

For some the process was a little stinky!

I liked it but I got a bit disgusted.

I liked making it but I don’t like the ending because it smells and grows mould.

Disappointed but they stank.

How do you feel about colour change?

I really like my t-shirt and it turned out better than I thought it would and I like how the colour faded a bit on my t-shirt.

I feel ok about it because I can re-dye it.

If my t-shirt did change I would still love it.

I think it’s amazing how it changes, just like nature does!

I feel like I’m saving the planet a bit because I’m using natural things.

I feel in the middle with it because some of the colours faded but it was a nice yellow.

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