Ravensbourne Technical Tutor named Honorary International Research Fellow

Avis Charles standing with three artisans from Mongolia

Article by: David Millett

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We would like to extend our warmest congratulations to Avis Charles, Technical Tutor in our fashion atelier, for being awarded the title of Honorary International Research Fellow by De Montfort University, in recognition for her amazing work empowering women artisans from developing countries.

Avis has had a varied and wildly successful career spanning almost five decades in the fashion industry. From designing for some of the most well-known names in the world, to advising some of the biggest luxury brands in the business, she has done it all.

Her star-studded resume of haute couture clients includes the British Royal family and Oprah Winfrey. In 1995, she founded Avis Charles Associates (ACA), a strategic fashion consultancy that has worked with the likes of Vivienne Westwood and advised on the launch of Victoria Beckham’s eponymous label.

But it is her work helping and empowering artisans across the globe that has led to her most recent accolade. In August 2020, Avis was named an Honorary International Research Fellow in the Faculty of Arts, Design & Humanities at De Montfort University, Leicester. Honorary Research Fellows are prestigious titles bestowed on individuals to honour their outstanding contributions to specific fields.

Avis Charles standing with three artisans from Mongolia

Avis (second left), with Mongolian artisans Nans, Badmaa and Nara in London

Helping and educating others, whether that be students or artisans, has always been strongly rooted in her work. She currently works as a Technical Tutor in the Ravensbourne fashion atelier, helping to coach students on the technical aspects of creating garments while working on a PhD by published research, which she is now undertaking at De Montfort University.

Her PhD draws on the wealth of experiences and research she has collated over the course of her career. The subject matter is around 'Decolonising the International Fashion Curriculum’, and it will examine the context, narrative and discourse surrounding cultures who have contributed to the fashion industry, but remained largely unrecognised.

Avis said she was “humbled” to receive the esteemed award. “It goes to show that you really do not know who is watching you,” she told the Ravensbourne news team.

Avis teaching artisans at Portcullis House

Avis teaching artisans at Portcullis House

The artisanal sector is one of the world’s largest employers in the developing world, particularly for women. A cornerstone of Avis’s work in this sector came in 2015, when, at the behest of the UN, she led on a huge project working with a group of artisans from across the world, including Ethiopia, India, Mongolia, Palestine, Papua New Guinea and Peru. The goal was to upskill them so that they could take their own goods to market.

Avis arranged VIP treatment for the artisans when they were invited to London as part of this programme, the same as high profile western designers might enjoy. The women were taught how to make portfolios, mood boards and develop business plans. Staying in the heart of London, they could also learn to appreciate how fashion and other goods were displayed and sold in the West.

The project culminated in an event hosted in the Palace of Westminster, where all the women attended, dressed in their own cultural dress.

Avis with Genet, an artisan from Ethiopia

Avis with Genet, an artisan from Ethiopia

After they returned to their home countries, Avis mentored them over months to help them source fabrics and design their own capsule collections. Part of the process involved teaching them the true value of their highly sought-after work and materials, such as cashmere wool.

This work then led to a fully-fledged fashion show at the UN’s headquarters in New York, which fed into the formation of the LDNY Foundation, which supports young people from lower income communities in the UK, the US and the developing world to gain entry into the creative industries. Avis is its creative director, voluntarily.

Her work with this group of artisans has paid real dividends. Members of the group have since gone on to own their own factories, create franchises, form working groups with other women and be able to afford putting their children through university.

The event was so successful that it has led to a number of other projects in collaboration with the UN. It laid the foundations for SheTrades, a global platform that provides networking, support, coaching, business opportunities and more for women entrepreneurs and business owners across the world.

Reflecting on the success of the project, Avis said: “Every single one of those women are still working. Seeing where they are now is phenomenal. But I don't think that it is purely because of me or the team that helped me do this, I think it's just because of their own determination. I feel that once you give people the tools, and you believe in them, they can do it. And that to me is no different from our students at Ravensbourne.”