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Driving innovation and learning through the most uncertain of times : The University of Moratuwa’s distance learning platform Mora Craft Studio

By Naveed Rozais

While the physical world can come to a standstill, as 2020 has shown us, things like learning cannot. In times like these, when almost every aspect of our lives has been disrupted, it is more important than ever to keep the torch of learning brightly burning.

It is with this vision that the Department of Textile and Clothing Technology of the University of Moratuwa came up with an exciting idea to keep its Fashion Design and Product Development students engaged in learning through their “social innovation project” Mora Craft Studio, a distance learning platform that engages with students interested in exploring new craft techniques.

Based off a request received from the Family Health Bureau of Sri Lanka’s Adolescent and Youth Health Unit to formulate a special online programme that could empower youths and bolster psychological wellbeing during the lockdown we went through in March, Mora Craft Studio tries to harness the online presence and power of youths and create a positive impact through creativity and design. 

Mora Craft Studio was spearheaded by a core team of University of Moratuwa staff under the guidance of Department of Textile and Clothing Technology Head Professor Samudrika Wijayapala. The core team behind Mora Craft Studio were Dr. Rivini Matharaarachchi, Dr. Ayesha Wickramasinghe, Dr. Sumith Gopura, and Chinthaka Dharmakeerthi. 

“We exploited the trapped creativity of Covid-19 undergraduate students from the Fashion Design and Product Development degree who were in lockdown in bringing their craft interests to life through this project,” Dharmakeerthi explained, sharing that Mora Craft Studio reached students and larger society through its YouTube channel, presenting interesting Do It Yourself (DIY) videos developed by students that showed the development process of craft-based products. 

A socially responsible innovation and learning platform, Mora Craft Studio advocates responsible fashion and social innovation, highlighting responsible fashion, the importance of sustainability, a circular economy, and responsible consumption in the fashion industry through the purposeful use of apparel industry waste – either pre-consumer waste which are offcuts or excess fabrics in apparel manufacturing, or post-consumer waste that are slow-moving apparel in the store or used and worn-out garments – in a creative way to make value-added products. In this way, Mora Craft Studio hoped to boost the social and economic wellbeing of the individuals along with the ecological wellbeing of the environment during the lockdown. 

The majority of the craft-based products featured on Mora Craft Studio are made mainly using textile-related materials including “waste” fabric, accessories, and used garments. “Students mainly used home-based resources when they were in lockdown,” Dharmakeerthi shared, adding: “They used whatever readily available pre and post-consumer apparel waste and technology they could to innovate craft ideas and harness their creativity.” 

“Through this project, we expected to actively engage fashion design undergraduates in their interests during the lockdown, allowing them to practise their crafts skills, and keep their personal profile high, while adhering to the end-of-life circularity,” Dr. Matharaarachchi shared, adding: “We also wanted to give the adolescent and youth community a way to maximise their time in a productive way by learning new skills in the lockdown period instead of idling.” 

The idea of Mora Craft Studio was to keep students busy and engaged in learning activities while practising their creativity. “When the universities were forced into distance learning mode, all the activities related to forming Mora Craft Studio and delivering knowledge related to DIY videos were done online with the extensive effort of the initiative’s staff members, finding every possible way to make this starter happen and therefore, wishing for the students’ wellbeing during the lockdown,” Dr. Gopura said, adding: “In the meantime, the Family Health Bureau expected this creative work to be shared online for the broader adolescent and youth community to view and therefore, to keep them engaged in learning.”

Linking back to the University of Moratuwa’s curriculum and keeping students on track with their studies, Dr. Wickramasinghe explained: “We developed the Mora Craft Studio idea to create a pathway for fashion design undergraduates at the Department of Textile and Clothing Technology to ‘interact’ with the community, to ‘inspire’ them in order to ‘innovate’ new ideas. This approach of Mora Craft Studio also helped the Sri Lankan craft go global. Through Mora Craft Studio, part of the students developed their entrepreneurial thinking as well.” 

The Mora Craft Studio initiative has provided a novel experience for both academics and students to communicate, collaborate, and initiate new projects under extremely limited conditions, emphasising that even in troubled times, nothing is impossible.

Now, with Sri Lanka in the midst of a second wave of Covid-19 infections and just coming out of a slew of curfews, the Mora Craft Studio is working on growing by adding a new phase to this project through Mora Craft Horizon. 

Mora Craft Horizon will enable designers, local craft industry experts, and entrepreneurs to share their experiences and insights to the commercial, emotional, and social values of craft and creativity and help students generate new business ideas and cultivate a strong entrepreneurial attitude.