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Year 6 slow down fast fashion

As part of their latest Unit of Inquiry, Year 6 have been exploring the negative impacts of fast fashion, researching how the industry can move towards a more sustainable, ethical future.

Year 6 have been pursuing the central idea that ‘Fashion is a tool to express yourself, beliefs and cultures.’ They have been exploring the following Lines of Inquiry: the value of fashion is impacted by place and time; sustainable fashion is an ethical imperative; the different properties of materials can determine their use.

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As part of their research, Year 6 have examined how fashion trends have changed over the course of the past 100 years, from the Flappers of the 1920s, to the miniskirts of the Swinging 60s, to the sky-high platforms and the bellbottoms of the 70s. They reflected on the shifts in technology, culture, politics and social norms that have influenced the changing trends in fashion.

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Year 6 have also been looking at the different ways people express their religious beliefs through fashion. In Judaism, for example, clothing reflects religious identification, with Jewish men traditionally putting on a prayer shawl and covering their heads with kippot during synagogue services. Buddhist monks wear saffron-coloured robes. Sikh spiritual clothing includes a turban and the five articles of faith: a loose undergarment, a wooden comb, an iron bangle, unshorn hair, and a ceremonial sword.

Given the clothing industry is the second largest polluter, with its complex production techniques and its supply chains that create a myriad of environmental issues, there’s never been a better time for our young people to learn about the impact of the fast fashion industry. After all, they will play a key role as the fashion designers and consumers of the future, in championing new attitudes towards clothing.

Year 6 discovered that fast fashion is a term to describe a design, manufacturing and marketing process geared towards producing high volumes of clothing. Its production relies on replicating fashion trends and streetwear as they appear in real-time, using low-quality materials in order to keep prices low for consumers. Fast fashion leads to over-production, over-consumption and high volumes of waste. Often the garments are made using cheap synthetic fabrics, toxic chemicals and dangerous dyes that seep into water supplies. It has a harmful impact on the environment as garments full of lead and pesticides are thrown into landfill. In addition, fast fashion often affects the health and wellbeing of the garment workers who produce the clothes, as well as the consumers who wear them.

In thinking more deeply about fast fashion, Year 6 started to reflect on some of the materials that clothes are made from: cotton, wool, silk, linen, polyester, nylon etc. As they discovered, all substances are made of small particles, which act differently when they are heated up. This can change the substance. They began to think about the effect that heat has on different materials and how clothing is affected by heat. They thought about the different substances that are used to make clothing functional, such as waterproofing for raincoats, thermal insulation for ski gear, and UV protection for beachwear.

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One of the advantages of being in a K to 12 School is the facilities. Year 6 were thrilled to have an opportunity to head over to The Athenaeum with Director of STEM, Dr Thompson, where they were able to familiarise themselves with the Science laboratory. It also meant they had easy access to resources, particularly water, so they were able to carry out a series of experiments. For example, they investigated whether the temperature of water affects how fast something dissolves. They used hot and cold water, ink, a clear beaker, an eye dropper and a measurement scale. They discovered that when water is heated, the molecules gain energy and move faster. This brings them into contact with the ink more often, causing it to dissolve faster.

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Finally, students were challenged to design their own piece of clothing. They had to decide its purpose – snowsuit, sleepwear, swimming etc – and decide on a target market for their chosen design. They had to choose a material to make their item of clothing, linking a scientific reason to their decision. For example, the material had to be suitable for a specific climate or temperature. Year 6 also had to articulate the inspiration and the thinking behind their design, as well as clarifying whether their design could be considered fast fashion. If so, what was their justification for this? Finally, the students had to create a brand name and design a logo for their company which encapsulated the philosophy behind their brand. The logo design had to contain rotational symmetry of at least Order 3.

This Unit of Inquiry has had a profound influence on Year 6 students. It has given them a new insight into the consumption of fashion, the choices we make about what we wear – religious, seasonal, practical, ethical, sustainable, cheap – to the full social and environmental impact of the fashion industry, from farming cotton through to the dyeing and making processes, to the negative effects of fast fashion on landfill. It’s also made them think about the philosophy behind different fashion brands and raised their awareness about eco-friendly brands, which enable consumers to enjoy shopping with a clear conscience!

Bravo Year 6 and Year 6 teachers!

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