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University of the Arts London awarded highest UK honour for its pioneering work in environmental and social sustainability in fashion

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University of the Arts London (UAL) has been awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for excellence in Higher and Further Education in recognition of its outstanding role in influencing perceptions and actions towards environmental and social sustainability across the global fashion system.

The Queen’s Anniversary Prizes, awarded every two years, recognise the work carried out by UK’s universities and colleges that delivers real benefit to the wider world through education, training and showcases quality and innovation.

The honour marks over two decades of work across various colleges and research centres at UAL to shape the fashion industry of the future, enabling everyone from designers to manufacturers and suppliers to thrive amidst the challenges of the twenty-first century through new thinking and transformation. 

Environmental and social sustainability in fashion

UAL’s Centre for Sustainable Fashion, based at London College of Fashion (LCF), has shaped the discourse in fashion and sustainability for over 15 years. It has created internationally acclaimed research with some of the world’s leading designers including Alexander McQueen and Gucci, set agendas in government including contributing to work around Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery, trained over 3000+ industry professionals, and has pioneered world relevant curriculum not only with students across UAL but also through open-source courses for thousands of people worldwide.

The work of London College of Fashion, UAL’s Portal Centre for Social Impact was also showcased through the prize, with the Making for Change programme highlighting the university’s sector leading work in community engagement and social impact initiatives. This programme, first established by the Ministry of Justice with LCF, UAL in 2014, and initially designed for serving and recently released women prisoners, has been expanded to tackle the culture of worklessness amongst women from east London communities. To date over 150 women have achieved industry-recognised qualifications and support which, for many, has led to long-term employment, positively changing their lives for the better.

Chief Social Purpose Officer of UAL, Polly Mackenzie, said:

“I’m delighted for our staff, students, and alumni that our excellence in environmental and social sustainability in fashion has been recognised in this way. By bridging the gap between academia and the fashion sector through our teaching, research, and industry partnerships, we have demonstrated a long track record of using creative education as a tool for positive social and environmental impact, showing that caring for others and the planet is at the core of who we are. We are incredibly proud of every individual and team across UAL who has contributed to this vital work.”

The negative environmental and social impacts of the global fashion system are never far from the headlines, but UAL’s award-winning work is a welcome reminder that not only is change possible, but that the status quo can and should be challenged, to create an equitable and sustainable fashion sector for all.

The Queen’s Anniversary Prize

The official announcement of the Prize-winners was made at a reception at St James’s Palace yesterday (Thursday 16 November 2023) and will be followed by a Prize-winners reception and dinner at the Guildhall City of London on 21 February 2024.

The Prizes are managed by The Royal Anniversary Trust, which is an independent charity. The Trust was established in 1990 to create a national programme of educational activities and other events marking the 40th anniversary of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s accession in 1992. This is the fifth time that UAL has been awarded the prize, and the certificate presented to recipients is the result of a 2009 competition by graphic design students at Central Saint Martins, UAL.

      President and Vice-Chancellor of UAL, James Purnell, said: 

      “At UAL we believe that the world needs creativity, and this is particularly evident when it comes to fashion and sustainability. Through our research and partnerships, and by targeting the sectors that matter, we can help solve pressing societal issues, and in doing so create a better future for all. This award acknowledges the power of working together to transform the global fashion industry for the planet and people alike”.

      Professor Dilys Williams, Director of Centre for Sustainable Fashion and Chair of UAL Social Purpose Advisory Group, said:

      “Challenging fashion’s status quo is at the heart of the work we do at Centre for Sustainable Fashion. It is fantastic to be recognised for the important work that every person involved in the Centre is doing to create a fashion system that places earth and equity at its heart. Our guiding principle is to transform fashion from a sector where profit is gained through extraction and exploitation to one where wealth is recognised in environmental, social, cultural and economic terms.”

      Claire Swift, Director of Social Responsibility at London College of Fashion, UAL, said:

      “Making for Change is just one of many projects, programmes and partnerships that we have at UAL that explore and challenge contemporary issues and ways in which the fashion community can positively contribute to our society. Our ambition is to develop an inclusive and accessible fashion industry that can employ and empower individuals from all walks of life and this award is a fitting tribute to the steps we are taking to make this happen.”

      Sir Damon Buffini, Chair of The Royal Anniversary Trust said:

      “The Queen’s Anniversary Prizes for Higher and Further Education are an integral part of our national Honours system, shining a light on the ground-breaking work taking place in universities and colleges across the UK. All 22 Prize-winners demonstrate excellence, innovation and impact, with many tackling some of the toughest problems we as a society face today. They are to be commended for reaching this pinnacle of achievement in the tertiary education sector. Congratulations!”

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