Exploring design through nature

Last month I escaped to Dartmoor’s national park for a fashion conference with a difference. Aptly titled By The Fire and led by Kate Fletcher and Liz Parker, experts in the field of sustainable fashion, the event centred on fashion’s relationship to nature. Armed with a tent, walking boots and a plethora of rain gear, I gathered with fashion educators, sustainability experts and designers hailing from as far as Helsinki and Barcelona at Newton Abbot train station where we began our journey into the wilderness.

After setting up camp, we were encouraged to release our connection to the outside world by giving up our phones and began reconnecting with our natural environment. We studied the ancient beech wood as if we were explorers, visiting a foreign land for the first time and made scent cocktails amongst fruit bushes and tall grasses. We took a journey back through time, learning about the changes the site had undergone from 4.6 billion years ago to the present day.

We discussed what the land can teach us about operating within nature’s limits and how we can apply this to fashion systems. We observed the fabric of our clothes through a magnifying glass and compared the complex structures to those we saw in the veins of a leaf or in the creases of our skin. We explored the role of clothing as a medium between our bodies and the natural world and divided the garments we brought into categories that best expressed their relationship to the environment. Adaptable, protective, compostable, problematic.

The event culminated with an evening of festivity. We donned crowns woven from fern and rosebay willowherb, feasted on poached pears and shared stories around the fire. We made a toast to the moon and howled at the stars. Our final morning was spent reflecting on the question; ‘how can I serve the community of the land?’.

The experience helped me contextualise fashion within the natural landscape and shifted my perspective from an aesthetic view of clothing to a more sensory one. The space encouraged us to not only open our senses but also our minds and hearts to the possibilities within nature, something I wish to take with me into the busyness of everyday life.

Follow the links for more information about By The Fire and Change in Nature, who hosted the event.

Photography: Tara Mooney

Exploring the beech wood
sniffing things
Scent cocktails
gathered things
Gathered things
Listen to the river with ‘backward ears’
Sensing nature

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