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IMPRESSED: Students show off their designs with Sarah, Duchess of York, which will be developed by women in West Bengal as part of the Women’s Interlink Foundation

IMPRESSED: Students show off their designs with Sarah, Duchess of York, which will be developed by women in West Bengal as part of the Women’s Interlink Foundation

Indian culture at heart of award winning fashion

Ten talented fashion students presented Sarah, Duchess of York, with a difficult dilemma last week as she returned to the University of Huddersfield to judge a fashion competition.

The Duchess had set students a brief to design textile products that could be made by Indian women who are being trained by a charity in which the member of royalty is closely involved.

On Tuesday 16th June, she came to see the results and hear the students explain how they developed their vibrant designs for clothes and bathroom accessories such as wash bags.

Then the Duchess had to decide which of the five portfolios would be selected for possible production and the prospect of being placed on sale by major chain Topshop.  She was clearly impressed by all of the offerings, even joking: “I would hate to be Simon Cowell.”

But although she finally plumped for an overall winner, she also decided that there would be no losers, because the Duchess – clearly moved and impressed by all of the work on display - then declared that all of the student teams would have their designs produced and showcased by a new charitable website she is launching.

Before she made this announcement, the Duchess selected the work of final-year students Emily Cliffe – who has studied fashion design with textiles – and Chantelle Mallin, whose course was fashion design and marketing.

DISCUSS: Students speak with the Duchess about their designs, based on Indian culture

DISCUSS: Students speak with the Duchess about their designs, based on Indian culture

The two students decided to concentrate on menswear for their range of wash bags, duffle bags and loungewear.  Emily, aged 22, from Bridlington, produced the prints and Chantelle – aged 23, from Barnsley – worked on the designs.

For inspiration they delved into Indian temple culture and the imagery of the god Shiva, while choosing bold, contemporary colours.

Shortly to graduate and seek work in the fashion industry, the two students were delighted to be chosen by the Duchess and they are excited that their designs, after being hand-made by Indian craftswomen, could be marketed by Topshop.

The project originated with the Women’s Interlink Foundation (WIF), which works with young women from West Bengal who have been exposed from an early age to domestic abuse.  Many have been trafficked into the sex trade.

WINNERS: Emily Cliffe and Chantelle Mallin, were the two overall winners, selected by the Duchess

WINNERS: Emily Cliffe and Chantelle Mallin, were the two overall winners, selected by the Duchess

The Foundation provides the women with accommodation in safe houses, where they are taught skills such as sewing and textile printing.  This enables them to produce garments that are sold overseas through an initiative named Key to Freedom, which will enable them to become economically independent.

The Duchess is closely involved with Key to Freedom, which is also partnered by major UK high street chain Topshop.  They seek bold new designs for textile products that can be made by the West Bengali women and then placed on the market.

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