Learning how to be fashion detectives helps students make sustainable choices

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

“We noticed there was an opportunity in secondary education that bridges our rich fashion history while shedding light on real issues Australia is struggling with, like over-consumption,” National Trust of Australia (Vic) Education & Public Programs Manager Nicola Dziadkiewicz told EducationDaily of the inspiration behind a new excursion program.

Fashion Sleuths and Dress Detectives aims to give Victorian secondary students special access to explore a selection of garments from the Trust’s costume collection, guided by a curator and historian.

“Last year at a costume collection presentation for the general public, a teacher approached us, enquiring about whether her Design and Technologies students could gain access to the collection, and the idea for the education programs was born,” Ms Dziadkiewicz says.

National Trust of Australia (Vic) Education & Public Programs Manager Nicola Dziadkiewicz

“We have since created education programs that give students access to the collection while learning about past fashion trends, manufacturing techniques, society, and historical sustainability. To generate change in thinking about fashion, it starts with understanding the history – what’s been done before, how did we get there, what is our process, and what can be changed for the better.”

- Advertisement -

Looking through the lens of fashion history

Research shows that Australia buy more cheap, fast fashion compared to any other wealthy nation.

 “With The National Trust of Australia (Vic) having an incredible costume collection that spans many years of wear, we wanted to use these resources to shine a light on consumption, social change and the evolution of our history through fashion,” National Trust curator, Elizabeth Anya-Petrivna told EducationDaily.

“The use of historical dress as inspiration for sustainability is a unique concept which aligns with the cross-curriculum priority of sustainability whilst also staying in the National Trust’s wheelhouse. Looking at object-based learning and material-based studies we also intersect with history disciplines and other humanities learning areas.”

The program, says Ms Anya-Petrivna, draws on the incredible collection to introduce students to changing styles, technologies and societal ideologies, as well as providing inspiration from historical sustainability.

- Advertisement -

“By looking at the past we can learn how to use historic techniques and improve on the techniques of the past to problem solve in the present,” she told EducationDaily.

A curriculum-aligned approach to textile design

By working with teachers, and utilising Ms Anya-Petrivna’s expertise, Ms Dziadkiewicz says “we identified numerous opportunities that align with the level 7-10 Design and Technologies curriculum and the VCE Product Design and Technologies Study Design, as well as historical concepts and skills”.

“Most of the items in the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) costume collection are unique garments with fascinating stories behind them,” she told EducationDaily.

“This is the perfect context for students to explore changing techniques and technologies used to create garments throughout time, while focusing on sustainable methods and use.  Once we have conceptualised an education program, we trial it with teachers and students, seek their feedback, and enhance it before offering it to schools across the state.”

Their collaborative approach to this new education program has been well thought out and researched, Ms Dziadkiewicz says, “which is how we found that Australians buy more cheap fashion than any other wealthy nation”.

- Advertisement -

“In fact, we are the second largest consumers of textiles in the world behind the US – purchasing more than double the global average,” she told EducationDaily.

“Many young people care deeply about the environment, and fashion is a great way for them to demonstrate their sustainability values. We’ve come to realise that some Australians aren’t understanding the impact their overconsumption is having on our environment. It’s been reported that 6000kg of clothing and textiles are dumped in landfill every 10 minutes!”

Re-thinking the fast fashion addiction

In helping students to look back, Ms Dziadkiewicz hopes students who are part of the excursion program will be inspired by historical garments, equipment, tools, processes and technologies enough to “consider possible methods that could be utilised in the 21st century to create longevity and the opportunity to re-wear and re-design our clothes“.

“Offering these types of programs, she says, enables students to learn how to evaluate garments by deeply analysing the techniques and materials used.

“Students are given the opportunity to consider the historical garments and apply solutions and practical based approaches to modern challenges, and contemporary fashion,” says Ms Anya-Petrivna.

- Advertisement -

Students will be shown examples that may mirror certain aspects of their own wardrobe, and they will be inspired to utilise elements of historical dress, whether it be the stitching, the silhouette or the structure, in their own creative designs in class. The examples have been selected with the student cohort in mind – with many examples once worn or made by children, teenagers and young adults.

Students learn how to make a material difference

And the learning extends beyond attending the excursion.

“We provide teachers with pre and post-program lessons for student to apply what they learned to their designs and to further their learning.” says Ms Dziadkiewicz.

“Our history can tell us a lot about material culture and the Trust’s fashion and costume collection is the perfect springboard. We hope students come away with a new way of thinking about clothing and textiles. We want them to feel encouraged and empowered to innovate. We hope to do this by helping them understand how far we’ve come yet how far we still need to go, and their role in it.”

Share This Article
Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live