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Leanne McFadyen: The graduate designer using fashion to raise awareness of hidden homelessness


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By its very nature, hidden homelessness exists out of sight, invisible to the majority of people living in Britain. From living in overcrowded conditions, squatting, sofa-surfing, sleeping rough in hidden locations or involuntarily sharing long-term accommodation with others, many homeless people are unknown to authorities and therefore not provided with the required support.

Without help from authorities, it is a great challenge for people living in hidden homeless conditions to successfully move into secure permanent accommodation. According to ‘The Homelessness Monitor: Great Britain 2016’ report by Crisis, “both concealed and overcrowded households can be stuck in that position for considerable periods of time, with this persistence worsening after the recent economic crisis.”

Research suggests that hidden homelessness in the UK is on the rise. Crisis found that “on the most recent (2013) figures 701,000 households (3.1%) were overcrowded in England; the highest level in recent years.”

Leanne McFadyen is a graduate designer, working to raise more awareness of hidden homelessness through her graduate collection ‘Concrete Shadows’.

In the collection, McFadyen challenges common assumptions of homelessness in Britain to encourage an awareness of the diversity of it. Reminding consumers that homelessness exists far beyond “a man sitting on the concrete begging”, McFadyen’s collection explores the extensive issue, highlighting that many homeless people remain unnoticed by authorities and are “slipping through the cracks in society”.

The collection has an important message, showing that it is impossible to know somebody’s housing situation based on appearances alone. Using luxury fabrics such as silk, lamb nappa and goat and pig suede, McFadyen’s collection deliberately rejects an expected image of homelessness as a person wearing damaged and inexpensive clothing. The garments may not look representative of homelessness, but McFadyen emphasises that a universal image of homelessness does not exist.

Rather than considering how homelessness might look when designing her collection, McFadyen instead explores the feelings of isolation and social exclusion of living in a homeless situation to influence her designs. The expressive use of etching and print in ‘Concrete Shadows’ subtly encourages consumers to rethink their understanding of homelessness to consider the human thoughts and feelings beneath the visual exterior.

McFadyen hopes to sell ‘Concrete Shadows’ to a high-end market, with the intention of donating a proportion of her profits to a homeless charity. In addition, McFadyen hopes to soon create garments for the high street at a lower cost. She tells me: “I have a diffusion collection on ‘Concrete Shadows’ where a sportier print aesthetic is carried throughout the pieces. It’s far more casual and I feel would work well with a younger target audience.”

Professor Green’s ‘Hidden and Homeless’ documentary that aired on Channel 4 in February 2016 was an important step to increase social awareness of hidden homelessness in Britain. However McFadyen firmly believes that more still needs to be done to make hidden homelessness more widely recognised and understood, and hopes that ‘Concrete Shadows’ will help to reveal the hidden issue.

You can find out more about Leanne McFadyen and ‘Concrete Shadows’ here.

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