With sustainability being fundamental to a better future, we are excited to introduce our new Eco-Textiles A level, led by Kate Turnbull, Head of Fashion & Textile Design. Headington is leading the way with this pioneering course, capturing the imagination of our students as they discover the importance of sustainability in all areas of life. With 22 students at A level, Eco-Textiles has been a huge hit and the students have been making great use of the fantastic facilities available in The Hive.

Kate Turnbull

As Head of Fashion & Textile Design at Headington School, Kate Turnbull, who has worked in education for over 22 years, is heading up the new Eco-Textiles course which promotes the use of natural dying and printmaking and teaches ancient craft techniques such as natural dyeing and printing.

Kate trained at Central St Martins alongside Stella McCartney, Hussein Chalayan, Phoebe Philo and Katy England and it was here that she first became interested in sustainable textiles. Kate has previously worked as a Fashion buyer at Browns and has sold her own Textile designs to designers including Alexander McQueen, Clements Ribeiro and Stephen Fuller, where one of her prints was worn by Kate Moss to open a runway show. She has produced hand printed womenswear for leading retailers around the world and her more recent collaboration with The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford was stocked by the world renowned Liberty of London.

Kate started teaching at Headington in 2009 and was excited to move into The Hive last summer. With the brand new facilities available to our students and staff, the opportunities for innovation have been exponential across the school, including fashion and textiles. Kate has introduced Eco-Textiles as an A level subject, the first of its kind in the UK and here she talks about why she is so excited to educate students about the importance of sustainability in the fashion industry.

Why Eco-Textiles?

As an educator and Eco-Textiles specialist, my aim was to merge both worlds and give the students at Headington the best grounding possible in sustainability and design. For many years there’s been a growing realisation that the chemicals used in the classroom were both unnecessary and harmful, and as the awareness for how poisonous the Textile industry has become, we felt it was time to shake things up in Headington’s curriculum. It began with simple changes, such as embargoing aerosols, acrylic paints and synthetic materials and through lockdown, we were able to focus on how to push this course forward and maximise the potential of an Eco-Textiles education. We began extracting and dyeing with colour from plants and making inks from berries and foraged botanicals. We make all our own colours to dye with, our own ink, glue and print pastes and up-cycle old sheets to dye and construct garments with.

Leading the way

Our aim is to create the first ever Eco-Textiles A level course which can be rolled out to other schools so that Gen Z will be fully educated in this emerging sector and be future champions of circular fashion and sustainability. Ethics is also an important aspect of what we are doing, having been inspired by Carry Somers of Fashion Revolution who began the “Who made your clothes?” campaign. Students are encouraged to shop in charity shops, swap and make their own clothes. This has been really successful and some students are actively avoiding the High Street in a bid to look more unique and vito some of the problems associated with poor working conditions and child labour.

Image: Kate Turnbull with Carry Somers and Lottie Delamain

Our projects

In order to fulfil these objectives, we are working closely with garden designer Lottie Delamain on her Natural Dye Garden design for Chelsea Flower Show. Students will be dyeing fabrics to be suspended in giant frames above the dye plants. This is a great live project for students who can put the natural dyeing skills they have been taught towards an exclusive opportunity and very exciting project. The garden itself will be relocated to Headington School where we will nurture plants and use for future dyeing projects. We have started a Dye Garden Club for our young horticulturalists, who have already planted some of the mediaeval dye plants such as Woad (blue), Madder (red) and Weld (yellow). When combined in certain combinations, these colours can make a myriad of hues and the garden itself will resemble a giant colour wheel!

Image: Lottie Delamain’s garden design for the Chelsea Flower Show

We have been sponsored by Project Giving Back in association with Fashion Revolution to help with relocating our Chelsea Dye Garden at Headington. The plants themselves are relatively inexpensive to grow; students will be nurturing them and the dyes we extract will all be free, as will the pre-loved fabrics we use to dye with!

Students are already reaping the rewards of this course, having learned so much about a sustainable approach to fashion and textiles and we were delighted to welcome Headingtonian Juliet Shepherd, founder of sustainable Ulu Swim and Surf, who ran a virtual workshop for our A level Textiles students. This was a fantastic opportunity for the students to get a first hand look at the inside workings of a sustainable fashion company.

The first cohort of L6 students designed their own range of kimonos for a Fashion Show which was held in The Emma Watson Gallery at the end of March 2022. They were tasked with creating their own kimono, made from sheets, using a range of natural printing and dyeing techniques taught on the course to embellish the garment. We have attracted interest from a number of sustainable companies since starting this course and have had a visiting lecture from Cloth Collective, who have offered to work with students on a live project for their forthcoming eco print collection. Fashion designer, Anna Mason London has approached Headington to work on naturally dyeing a range of dresses in her signature pink for her Spring Summer 2023 catwalk Show for London Fashion Week. This is an exciting time for our students here at Headington and as they graduate and go on to some of the top Universities in the country, they can build on their new found knowledge.