Behind the screens at DUCFS

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Last year, Durham University Charity Fashion Show raised a record-breaking £171,000 – living up to its reputation as the UK’s largest student-led charitable organisation. But DUCFS is set on being more than just a single event. It aspires to be a brand, a movement, a social force. speaks to this year’s presidential team to find out more.

Lockdown may have caused sales of alcohol, train tickets and condoms to plummet, but sales of clothing did not take the same hit. While we sheltered inside, delivery drivers worked harder than ever to bring us our new loungewear. It is this increasingly tight connection between the digital world and the fashion world that has grasped the imagination of the Durham University Charity Fashion Show team, informing their choice of charity and creative theme.

I spoke to Emily Kirkby (President), Soo Hahn (Vice-President, Creative) and Odi Oladuji (Vice President, Operations) for an early glimpse into this year’s DUCFS plans.

2020 has certainly unfolded in unexpected ways, but it is evident from their chatty manner that this has not deterred them. If anything, they view the unconventional format of this year as an opportunity to radically change the face of DUCFS. “This year was never going to be a traditional one,” says Odi, “so why not use that to our advantage, to try something different?”

Odi Oladuji, Emily Kirkby and Soo Hahn

In support of Create and 3 Sided Cube

The first ‘something different’ is their choice of charity. “We’re actually funding a partnership between an arts charity, Create, and a digital development agency, 3 Sided Cube,” says Emily.

As she explains their idea, I am struck by its inventiveness and originality. “Create supports young carers, the elderly, the disabled, and children in deprived areas through local arts programmes. They bring together people or groups who might not have a community of their own.”

“DUCFS is a creative hub,” says Soo. “It made sense for us to support a charity that fosters both creativity and community,” — just as DUCFS does.

But the key is that they are not simply handing over a lump sum of cash to Create. That is where 3 Sided Cube comes in.

“We want to ensure that the money is being used in a practical way,” says Emily. “Over the lockdown, Create had to take all of their work online. As a small charity, their digital capacities weren’t really the best. 3 Sided Cube is a digital development agency. The idea is that we fund 3 Sided Cube to help Create build their digital capabilities.”

#ReflectReset – a creative vision

I ask them to tell me about the black and white posters I’ve seen plastered around the streets of Durham.

The theme this year is #ReflectReset. It’s all about the dichotomy between the human and technological worlds. We want to reflect on internet usage, e-commerce consumption, and who we become digitally,” Soo explains. “Reflecting is a very human action.”

“Reset, however, is about moving forward. We often come across the word in relation to computers, but lockdown highlighted the benefits of resetting our attitudes, too.”

The clean, sleek graphics echo digital worlds, while the black, grey and white colour scheme was chosen for its simplicity.

In implementing this theme, Soo says she has “become hyper conscious of the different ways wording can be read. You have to see things from every possible perspective.”

Odi continues, “It’s important that the message is clear. In the past, some of the DUCFS graphics and videos have been very experimental, and perhaps disorienting.”

That’s why the creative vision for 2020/2021 is to reflect, reset and strip back to more minimalist design.

This year, DUCFS encourages us to be “mindful about our interactions with each other, whether that is in person or online.”

So, it’s all about living with technology, but not within it.

Behind the screens – events in a socially distanced Durham

DUCFS’ pre-show events are almost as in-demand as the show itself, and I’m curious to know how these will be run in a socially distanced world. 

In a whole new way, it seems. 

“In the past, DUCFS has relied on photoshoots and videos,” says Odi, “but these are hard to organise when everyone has to distance and there are limitations on group size.”

But Emily, Soo and Odi seem excited about having to rethink events this year. “Club nights have been done a hundred times before,” says Emily. “ The present situation gives an opportunity to try different types of events.”

A webinar series, DUCFS LIVE, where industry professionals will give talks about digital technologies in the world of fashion, is in the works.

And, never straying far from their community spirit, they’re involving local charities in order to bring together students and residents. “DUCFS is such a big platform. We want to give that platform to local charities in Durham,” says Odi.

Their plans to co-host photography and comic book workshops, in collaboration with Durham youth groups, have just been approved.

Get involved

Emily recommends applying to write for Thread, the DUCFS magazine. “Thread is going to be printed, as well as published online, so there will be a real, tangible result.” 

And what would be their advice to students thinking of applying for roles on the executive team next year? 

“Be unashamedly yourself,” says Soo, stressing the importance of showing your character. “Be confident, be energetic, but also be professional.”

Odi’s advice is to “understand the scale of what you are getting involved with. It’s like a full-time job; you need to be dedicated.”

A new definition of success

Their own energy and dedication certainly comes across in our Zoom call. What’s clear to me is that Emily, Soo and Odi want more than to organise a fashion show. They want to change the face of DUCFS.

Emily says, “It’s going to be really hard to raise the same amount of money as last year without physical events. Also, a lot of brands we might have asked sponsorship from in the past are facing financial hardship so they’re less able to sponsor us.”

“I admit I don’t see us raising as much as we did last year or the year before.”

Ever-pragmatic, however, Emily goes on: “that’s why we need a new definition of success. One that is not purely financial.”

And what exactly is that definition? I ask.

“Solid teamwork,” she replies. “Success is everyone feeling proud of their work, regardless of how much money we raise in the end.”

“For me,” says Soo, “it’s creating a better name for DUCFS. It’s not just an exclusive fashion show for tall, skinny models. It’s a community of creative people coming together — don’t forget that it takes artists, choreographers, videographers, lighting technicians, marketing strategists, designers and writers to put on a show.”

Odi agrees that DUCFS needs to be more inclusive — not only in a creative sense, but in a practical one, too. That’s why he has made sure that, this year, ticket prices for downstairs tables will not be more expensive than last year. The capacity upstairs will be increased, allowing more audience members to attend.

He concludes, “If we can be more engaged with social issues — global ones like sustainability in fashion, as well as ones specific to Durham University, like making events more financially accessible — then we will have achieved success.”

Images: DUCFS

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