Meet Chloe: Student Woman of the Year finalist

Back in March, for International Women’s Day, we launched our nationwide search to find the UNiDAYS Student Woman of the Year. Nominations flooded in from female-identifying students who were making waves in everything from technology and entrepreneurship to gender equality and projects that support charities. Chloe, who attends Durham University, was chosen as one of our finalists and she shares how she organised the largest student fundraiser in the UK!

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Tell us a bit your work with Durham University’s Charity Fashion show and your involvement in it

I got involved with DUCFS in my second year as Fashion Director which was such a great experience. I had done some charity work and event organisation prior to that but nothing close to the scale of the fashion show so it was an incredible thing to become a part of. When I was offered the role of President for 2020, I was initially concerned about the work load as I was going into my final year of uni but I felt that it wasn't an opportunity I could turn down and I'm so glad I didn't. DUCFS has been running since 1986, raising money for various charitable causes through an annual fashion show. In recent years, the organisation has grown exponentially to become the UK's largest student-led fundraiser with events running over the course of the academic year. Our 2020 campaign was focused around human labour rights and worker exploitation across global supply chains. We partnered with two amazing charities, Stop the Traffik and Fashion Revolution, to build and launch a campaign that would directly address these issues.

Throughout the year, we hosted club nights, discussion panels, clothes swaps, creative workshops, an arts showcase, a podcast series and even a race to Paris, all of which helped to promote a meaningful engagement with our cause and raise funds. We also launched an online publication, Thread, and released a second issue of its annual print edition. All of this culminated in the fashion show itself, which took place over 3 nights to a collective audience of over 2,800 guests, after tickets completely sold out in under 5 seconds. The models wore clothes by a range of international designers, we had live performances from solo artists, bands and dance groups, and the food and drink was kindly provided by our sponsors. All of this contributed to the final sum we we able to raise for our partner charities, which was a record-breaking £171,000!

How do you balance the work you do for DUCFS alongside your studies?

I definitely didn't get this completely right! Because DUCFS does so much beyond just the fashion show, it was a constant balancing act throughout the year. I found it really helpful to wake up early and do a couple of hours of DUCFS work before the day began. That meant that when I was studying I could focus purely on that and make my time as productive as possible. Setting my own deadlines well in advance of the actual deadline was another useful way of ensuring that I got my work done in plenty of time, allowing some leeway in case of unexpected DUCFS work cropping up (which often happened). I'll admit that when it came to the final weeks before the show, academic work went out the window as there was so much else on my mind. Once the show was over though there was plenty of time to catch up.

Why is it so important for you to support Stop the Traffik and Fashion Revolution?

In 2019, DUCFS supported the Environmental Justice Foundation with a campaign that shed light on the environmental costs of the fashion industry. This was at a time when sustainability was starting to become a bit of a buzzword and so I wanted to ensure that it didn't become a trend that we simply dropped after a year of making positive changes to the way we operate and promoting meaningful discourses surrounding the topic amongst students. I decided that sustainability needed to be incorporated in the ethos of our organisation and so focusing on the humanitarian cost of industries across global supply chains was the logical next step. Fashion Revolution view environmental and humanitarian sustainability as intrinsically connected and we felt that this was a really powerful message for the development of a positive and all-encompassing sustainable future. Stop the Traffik's work complemented this well because of their focus on the multitude of different forms that human trafficking and modern slavery can take. Working with Stop the Traffik and Fashion Revolution in tandem was definitely an ambitious idea, but we felt that by harnessing the strengths of both we would be able to collaborate in a way that would go beyond just a simple donations of funds. As part of the collaborative campaign, we were able to produce, fund and launch the sixth issue of the Fashion Revolution zine series in response to some of the UN's Sustainable Developments Goals.

I am proud to say that this kind of collaboration was a brand new endeavour for DUCFS and it is great to have a tangible record of the research currently being conducted along with some creative responses to these fundamental humanitarian crises. If you're interested, the zine is now available to buy on the Fashion Revolution website.

There are three main points of advice I would offer here. Firstly, choosing a cause that you are truly passionate about is so important. There are so many incredible charities that deserve support, but if it isn't a cause that you yourself have a fundamental interest in or knowledge about, then you won't be able to successfully engage with your audience, potential sponsors and collaborators. If you have a personal investment in the cause, your passion will come across. Secondly, you're only as good as the team surrounding you. Having a group of people that are equally dedicated to making a real change is so vital, not just on a professional level but a personal one too. Don't underestimate the outcome of engaging with likeminded people and bouncing ideas off one another - pretty much everything we do as an organisation is the fruit of a collaborative effort. Finally, don't give up. Perhaps this sounds obvious but it really is important. There were a lot of hurdles we had to overcome throughout the process and, whilst some felt insurmountable at the time, they often led to new ideas that were just as successful if not more so. Remember what you're working towards and keep going!

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