How does your faith inspire what you wear?

This was the question on the mind of 20 Christian and Muslim girls at the Three Faiths Forum’s fashion summer school last week.

The three-day ‘Faith and Fashion’ course at the London College of Fashion included a one-day session called ‘The Empty Hanger’, which was conceived by the Rev Joanna Jepson.

She is passionate about seeing young budding designers find inspiration from their faith when it comes to the clothes they wear and the clothes design for others.

“Many of the girls come from conservative religious schools, which means that for many of them the connection between faith and fashion will never have been made,” she says.

“They will never have thought of fashion as being a part of their faith or an expression of their faith and their devotion, and we are saying: they are very much entwined.”

Much of the course was about helping the girls to understand who they are, what they believe, and their place in the world, and allowing those insights to guide what they put drew on the pages of their sketchbooks.

To help them in this, each girl was asked to bring along an item that either said something about them or had a special meaning to them. Over the course of the next three days, they moved from reflecting on that object to creating a final design that expressed who they are.

Samma Mughal, 15, said she could find inspiration for clothes in most things.

“Anything and everything inspires me, even a ring, for instance.

“If you look at its history and background, from that you can develop an idea into a dress.”

Not only did the course help the girls to explore their identity, it also trained them in drawing skills and fashion design techniques.

For Joanna, faith can influence all aspects of fashion design, right down to the cuts, colours and choice of fabrics used to create outfits.

There may be some rules or norms about what women of faith can or should wear, particularly for Muslim girls, but the course deliberately approaches the edicts of faith as a liberating force in fashion.

“We are really about getting to the spirit rather than to the letter of the law and seeing how, within those guidelines, the girls can find new freedom in what they wear,” Rev Joanna explains.

“Rather than trying to design things that are prohibitive, we explore what it means to be modest and come at it from the point of view that this is who I am and this is how I reflect God as an individual.

“From there, we can turn those things into a wonderful expression, creatively, of who I understand myself to be.”

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