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Why do I engage in social impact projects?

Blog by London based Fashion Illustrator Elyse Blackshaw


Wandsworth Arts Fringe 2024
"Fashioning Wandsworth" exhibition for Wandsworth Arts Fringe 2024

When fashion is fabulous, is community cool? There can be a bit of a stigma that community projects are not as esteemed as working with a high profile brand. However, community is at the heart of ensuring talented individuals have access to the arts and have the opportunity to become the next big designer or start a high profile brand. It is easy to forget that talented adults were once children. As someone from a small town in Greater Manchester with lack of art opportunities, let alone fashion illustration, I know what it is like to feel so far removed from the industry. If I am offered an opportunity to engage young people with fashion illustration, provide creative joy and freedom - then I'm 100% going to do it. There is no shame in inspiring others and sharing your skills.


I recently collaborated with Wandsworth Borough Council on "Fashioning Wandsworth" to create window installations in libraries across the London Brough as part of the Wandsworth Arts Fringe. This involved delivering fashion illustration workshops to primary school children aged 8-10 and explaining to them what fashion illustration is. For some perspective, most young people are not exposed to fashion illustration unless they study GCSE Textiles at secondary school. I gave them the full fashion illustration drawing experience, something I would usually deliver to college and university students. Mark making, life drawing, faces, figures and even large scale collage. It was full of energy and excitement.


If you have followed me for a while, you'll probably remember how I started my fashion illustrations with collage faces - see below:


ASHISH 2019 Fashion Illustration by Elyse Blackshaw
ASHISH 2019 Fashion Illustration by Elyse Blackshaw

To a small borough, the fashion industry can feel a world away, if it even exists to them. It was important for me to ensure the children felt connected to their illustrations and so we collaged their faces on to the illustrations. The project was all about self expression through fashion illustration and what they wanted to say to Wandsworth and the World. All illustrations included a message on their clothing, through colours and texts, inspired by designers such as Vivienne Westwood, ASHISH and Viktor & Rolf.


The messages were actually really touching, expecially coming from 8-10 year olds. Here are some of the messages that were written on the artworks:


  1. Save wildlife

  2. Be loud

  3. Never give up on your dream

  4. You can do what you believe

  5. Be happy, kind, playful, colourful

  6. Chase your dream

  7. Never hate people, it's a strong word

  8. Feel good about yourself, you are unique

  9. Free Palestine and no taliban in Afghan

  10. Recycling rules

  11. Shine

  12. Always be you

  13. Say the truth

  14. I want to know what's going on bro

  15. Respect for all

  16. Everyone matters

  17. Football is not just kicking a ball

  18. Free Gaza

  19. Fight for what's right

  20. Either you try and probably fail, or don't try and definitely fail


The messages range from self-empowerment and motivation to politcally aware protest messages. Projects like this allow individuals, especially young and sometimes disadvantaged children, to express themselves creatively in a safe environment - that is why I engage in social impact projects.


Next up - Visiting Vivienne Westwood at Christie's Lates.

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