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NTU x THE VERY GROUP: adaptive fashion project 2022

Fashion and knitwear students at Nottingham Trent University collaborate to create inclusive design collections for disability in partnership with

Lead image Very CoLab project

A group of 95 second-year students from BA Fashion Design and BA Knitwear Design, in the Nottingham School of Art & Design, have worked together on a new collaborative learning module to answer a brief set by online fashion retailer to create ‘inclusive, adaptive design solutions for the disabled community.’

In early February the students were introduced to the adaptive design brief and given a talk about the Very brand by senior womenswear designer Kelly Walker, who graduated from BA Fashion Design at NTU herself in 2013.

Kelly asked the students to challenge preconceptions of disability and, through research and end-user considerations, choose an area for investigation to inspire innovative ideas for new design concepts. Sustainability and reinvention were also key elements of the brief.

Kelly’s presentation was followed by an insightful and thought-provoking guest lecture, titled Demystifying Disability, by award-winning disability activist and TEDx inclusivity speaker, Shani Dhanda, who is listed as one of the UK’s most influential disabled people. She spent time with the students and answered questions to help them form ideas and concepts for the project, as well as feeding back on final designs later in the project.

Once students had started working in groups to develop their ideas, they were also given insight into innovations in the area of fashion for disability by visiting designer and researcher Jo Gooding of Adaptive Fashion. A lecture by inclusive fashion designer, Von Ruz, also focused on the importance of user-centred research in design development.

NTU x VERY CoLab development session at NTU
NTU x VERY CoLab development session at NTU

At the NTU project finale later in March, the student groups presented their collections to Very, with fully-researched and developed concepts for trend-inspired, affordable collections for a range of both physical and hidden disability challenges. They received high praise from the Very team on the quality and breadth of their research, their level of design innovation and new thinking, and their approaches to developing new concepts embracing some of Very’s core brand values.

Speaking about the project, Kelly Walker, Senior Womenswear Designer at Very, said

“For me, it has been a wonderful experience to come back to Nottingham Trent after graduating nearly 10 Years ago, and to see that the tutors and students are as passionate and hardworking as ever. It was a pleasure to see the students’ collaborative work and research pay off through thought provoking and confident presentations. They did a fantastic job!”

The Very team were so impressed that four groups were selected to visit their London offices in May, where they presented to the senior design and buying team. Work focused on disability conditions spanning cerebral palsy, shorter stature, mobility impairment and sensory processing disorders. At an inspiring session they were congratulated by the team on their passion and commitment to positive change within adaptive fashion, their professionalism, and their attention to detail in answering the brief.

Project finalists in London. Very team front LtoR Etain Grant, Kelly Walker, Sally Goodwin, Fleur Riley
Project finalists in London. Very team front L to R Etain Grant, Kelly Walker, Sally Goodwin, Fleur Riley

Sally Goodwin, Head of Design at Very, said

“We’ve been really impressed by the work presented by the students and as a team we have all learned a lot today too; they have shown us several ideas that are worth considering going forward and it has been great to see their new design approaches”

Following on from the success of the project, Very will be offering mentorship opportunities for a number of students who wish to develop their collection concepts through into designed adaptive fashion products in their final year.

Sue Walton, Senior Fashion Design Lecturer at NTU, said

“This has been an incredible project inspiring a new generation of fashion and knitwear design students to challenge their preconceptions and discover new design opportunities in exploring fashion solutions for our wider community. They have embraced the opportunity to question the ‘norm’ and take risks, producing meaningful inclusive design concepts which acknowledge the significance of emotional design approaches as well understanding specific user needs. An outstanding cohort of creative change makers!”

Maggie Burnett, Creative Partnerships Manager at NTU said

“It has been great to work with a brand who embraces difference and the need for a fresh approach to inclusive and adaptive fashion; the Very team have been fantastically supportive of our students and we’ve also had amazing input from external disability advisers and industry experts. Congratulations to all the students and thank you to everyone who has contributed; it has been a hugely valuable learning experience which has raised levels of awareness and understanding and started important new conversations for forward development.”