CUT is a strategic design project connecting creatives across disciplines with the aim to illustrate to young people that they have a choice in shaping their lives to be more purposeful. It leveraged the power of fashion activism, craftsmanship, and storytelling to shift the current narrative around youth violence.
The project was funded by the Great Place scheme and delivered throughout 2020 by London College of Fashion (LCF) in partnership with London Borough of Waltham Forest, a network of manufacturing businesses with Blackhorse Lane Ateliers at the core, and Catalyst in Communities.
Transformation of knives into CUT buttons.
With research showing the multiple factors inherent in knife crime, working across public agencies, community stakeholders and industry professionals to bring about positive action was essential. Project CUT has enabled a multidisciplinary team to come together to share their knowledge and respond to the experiences and aspirations of local young people, determined to activate positive change.
Levels of serious violence between young people in London are persistently high. Knife offences involving people aged 10-17 have risen from 2,639 in 2013 to 4,562 in 2019 (Ministry of Justice, 2020).
This is not a new story, and not much is changing to address this issue. With this in mind, the purpose of Project CUT was to turn knives – the very weapons that can take a life – into something that could support a life. The assumption behind this project was that a knife is only dangerous in someone’s hand; up until that point, it is just a piece of metal.
To shift this narrative, 270 knives were received from KnifeSafe – an organisation that collects knives in bins to make public places and venues safer and securely disposes of them, by crushing the metal.
Project CUT transformed – through water jet technology – the metal of the knives into buttons and rivets which were used in a bespoke collection of 150 jeans, donated by Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, a denim design and manufacturing business based in Waltham Forest.
In doing so, the project also contributed to demonstrating that adopting a public health approach is needed to give youth agency and produce social change in order to subvert the potent allure of knife crime.
Young people participating in CUT project at Blackhorse Lane Ateliers. Photo by Adam Razvi.
The CUT project team organised co-creation workshops with young people from Waltham Forest to customise and produce a collection of jeans, aimed at protecting young lives, through fashion activism and raising awareness. Participating in the project, the young people have gained agency and new skills that will make a lasting impact on their lives. Project CUT demonstrated how design operates within a cultural context and provides room for relational engagements and strategic experimentation. It illustrated the power of fashion to shape better lives, and showed how culture, creativity and collaboration can play a crucial part in tackling some of the most challenging issues facing society. Putting young people at the heart of the creative process has enabled them to influence the shape of the programme, leading to meaningful connections and lasting impacts.
Building on the success of the project, London College of Fashion, in partnership with Catalyst in Communities, has received a grant from Foundation for Future London to deliver ‘Scaling Up CUT’. This follow-on project will be delivered from June 2021 for 12 months and will entail a combination of expert training in fashion design, media and social entrepreneurship, alongside transformational mindset coaching and business mentoring.
Through ‘Scaling Up CUT’, knives will be transformed into a collection of fashion items, co-created by young people from four east London boroughs (Waltham Forest, Newham, Tower Hamlets, and Hackney) and local fashion brands. The project will provide opportunities for the young people involved, to gain new skills and build employability. The project aims to further explore the meaning of fashion, supporting learning about materials and making processes, leading to valuing more the garments which we wear, nurturing diverse competencies, and catalysing change in others as well as in oneself.
Detail of CUT jeans. Photo by David Betteridge.
A hybrid public engagement event consisting of a panel debate, film screening, a performance, a pop-up exhibition, and an auction of the jeans will be delivered in Summer 2021. Funds raised from the auction will contribute to supporting a charity with on-going activities using fashion against knife crime and providing opportunities for young people in the fashion industry.
This will be also an opportunity to celebrate the receipt of a ‘Good Brand Award 2021’ from Sublime Magazine in recognition of advancing social and environmental sustainability, evidencing the potential for socially engaged innovative and collaborative business models and inspiring and leading the way for future fashion brands.
In fact, Project CUT offers a generalisable framework that can apply meaningful techniques across different settings linked to diverse subject foci. Such an initiative sought to work locally to map the drivers and barriers for knife crime, co-creating knowledge as well as products with young people and youth workers, to make a difference in local communities, and to increase relational networks.
Building on the experience of the young people, new skills, relationships, and opportunities are generated. The potential focus of such a design activist project as well as its creative network, skills and techniques are numerous and scalable and offer opportunities for incremental of knowledge from local data.
Young people participating in co-creation workshop. Photo by Adam Razvi.
Professor Dilys Williams (Director of Centre for Sustainable Fashion, UAL) said:
“Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF) shapes and contributes to Fashion Design for Sustainability as a field of study that conceives, realises, and communicates multiple ways in which fashion can manifest equity and take place within earth’s carrying capacity. Project CUT takes place at academic, personal, professional, and societal scales. It seeks to create conditions for mutual learning, reflection and action that are open to and representative of the living world with people of generational, locational, community, gender, and racial diversity. Participatory practices of design as transformation enable learning in situated contexts, manifesting fashion as sustainability in action”.
For more information, read the project report and watch the short film below.