A lost generation: Plight of missing people inspires innovative textiles collection

A talented design student at Robert Gordon University’s Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen is putting the finishing touches to her final-year project ahead of the School’s annual Degree Show. 

Missing people textilesEmma Kerr (21) a fourth-year Textiles and Surface Design student, has created a unique textiles collection which aims to tackle the social issue of missing and homeless people.

Every year over 10,000 people go missing or run away from home in the UK, and with this shocking statistic in mind, Emma has creatively adapted textile garments including dresses, shirts and blouses to help raise awareness.

During her research, which included interviews with the public and community workers, Emma came across the mother of a missing teenager from the South-east of England who disappeared over six years ago following a night out with friends.

Emma explains: 

“We corresponded via email and she was very responsive to my research highlighting the heartache and confusion for those left behind when someone goes missing.

“One of the most poignant things she mentioned was that she feels more could be done to raise awareness of missing people but that it needed to be done in a creative or alternative way. As a designer, when an opportunity arises to positively affect society, I feel an obligation to make a difference.”

The concept for Emma’s work originally developed after a trip to Berlin visiting Jewish monuments around the city where displays highlighting the numbers lost in the Holocaust are often comprised of shoes, clothes, glasses and other personal items of victims.

For her collection, Emma has sourced second-hand clothes from vintage and charity shops and worked directly onto them transposing key excerpts and text from her research, producing a new version of the garment.

Combining print and subtle textures directly on the garments via laser cutting techniques, she hopes to deliver compelling messages ranging from isolation to hope. By using second-hand clothes, which have the essence of a previous owner, a past life is also reflected.

Emma adds:

“Second-hand garments have left their owners’ lives for many different reasons and portray a sense of a lost identity. This mirrors the emptiness and helplessness felt by relatives of missing people who have been left behind with only their memories of a loved one.

“I want my collection to not only represent the wearer but also the lives of other, often forgotten people, who are absent from normal society.”

The budding designer also interviewed a community worker involved with assisting homeless young people who struggle to find shelter and receive basic medical treatment. By hearing first-hand accounts, Emma has incorporated comments on society into her work such as ‘no money, job or prospects’. 

She continues:

“The community worker highlighted the real problems faced by homeless runaways – even simple tasks like registering with a doctor is hard if you don’t have a fixed abode.

“My exhibition will also feature a sleeping bag on the floor surrounded by my collection to represent the thousands of ‘lost’ people in our own towns and cities. I hope my work manages to shine a light on an often overlooked problem in modern British society.”

Gray's School of Art Degree Show 2012, sponsored by BP, will be launched on Friday 15 June. The show will then be open to the public from 16 to 23 June. For more information, visit:

Issued by:
Sarah Grieve

Communications Officer
Robert Gordon University
AB10 1FR
Tel: 01224 262206