Fashioned from Nature at the V&A

A look inside the V&A’s latest exhibition exploring fashion’s complex relationship to nature from 1600 to the present day. 

The exhibition follows the diverse ways nature has been used as both a source inspiration and a resource to be exploited over the past four centuries.

The display takes the viewer chronologically through fashion history, from a muslim day dress embroidered with beetles wings from the 1860s to Emma Watson’s MET Gala 2016 Calvin Klein dress made from recycled plastic bottles. The exhibition reflects fashion’s evolving relationship to nature and documents the emergence of sustainable fashion in the mainstream.

According to the curator Edwina Ehrman, ‘We’re asking two questions: What can we learn from the past? And how can we design a more sustainable future?’

The first section dives into the V&A’s historic archive to showcase the evolving use of natural materials in clothing between 1600 and 1900. During this time, the expansion of global trade and more efficient manufacturing methods saw the introduction of exotic materials and an upscale in production.

It was shocking to see materials rarely used today such as exotic bird feathers, ivory, wale bone, seal fur and tortoise shell on mainly British-owned clothes and accessories. A map illustrating the trade routes between Britain and the locations of various precious materials such as North American furs, Peruvian precious metals and Middle Eastern silks revealed the extent of anthropocentric and imperialist thinking. While admiring a waist coat intricately embroidered with macaque monkeys it was hard not to be reminded of the price paid by nature for the human pursuit of beauty.

Plants, animals and people have long been viewed as resources to be used and exploited.

The birth of mass manufacture and the impact of increasingly intensive farming methods was documented. By displaying finished garments next to the raw materials they are made from, the exhibition emphasised the natural origins of many garments; a fact which can be so easily forgotten when production is geographically distant from the end consumer.

The final section showcased the various ways designers in the last few decades have addressed growing concerns over resource scarcity and unsustainable production practices.

Fashion activism in the form of a ‘Who Made My Clothes’ campaign placards and Vivienne Westwood slogan dresses revealed the need for designers to take responsibility for their supply chains as well as the importance of consumer led action.

Innovative material use from Stella McCartney and novel production methods in garments such as GStar RAW’s first cradle to cradle certified pair of jeans looked to the future and the role of science and technology in finding sustainable alternatives to current practices. In contrast, upcycled garments by Katie Jones looked to what already exists and the potential of make do and mend.

The importance of transparency and traceability could also be seen in a Bruno Pieters suit from his Honest By label, which incorporates information about the fabric and origin into its design. Even fast fashion was represented in the form of an H&M conscious collection dress made from ocean plastic.

While not all garments were convincingly sustainable, the overall message was overwhelmingly positive. It seems hopeful that in the future fashion will have a more respectful relationship with nature. As one of the top five most polluting industries in the world this is essential.

Negotiations; Youth Fashion Summit 2017, Day 2

Meeting with industry stakeholders on the second day of Youth Fashion Summit 2017

On the first day we worked in small groups dedicated to one or more of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 to develop fashion specific targets for positive change.  On day 2 it was time to put those targets to the test with industry stakeholders. Each group met in turn with a representative from the luxury sector, the high-street, government, manufacturing and civil society to negotiate their objectives for the future.

The High-street was represented by Hendrik Alpen, Sustainability Business Expert at H&M.

The Luxury Sector was represented by Dax Lovegrove, Global Vice President of Swarovski and Myriam Coudoux, Head of Communications.

The Government was represented by Lars Mortensen, Head of International Cooperation and Partnerships at the European Environment Agency.

Civil Society was represented by Lu Yen Rololf, Communications Lead for ‘Detox My Fashion‘ Campaign at Green Peace.

As part of Flourishing; The Ecological Agenda team, we requested action in four different areas related to Sustainable Development Goals; 13 Climate Action, 14 Life below water and 15 Life on land.

In regards to land use we urged all sectors to work together in the implementation and upscale of alternative ecological materials in substitution of conventional cotton. We requested that by 2030, conventional cotton must be phased out of supply chains. We urged the industry to reduce landfill reliance and invest in recycling technology. This was well received by Hendrik Alpen from H&M, who felt confident these were an achievable target for the High-street. H&M is already on track to reach their personal target of 100% sustainable cotton use by 2020.

When discussing water usage, Dax Lovegrove from Swarovski suggested fashion companies together with manufacturers commit to water stewardship programmes and disclose personal targets for the responsible water consumption.

In order to preserve marine life and protect the health of our oceans from micro-plastic contamination, we also appealed to fashion brands to take the necessary steps to reduce the use of virgin fuel based products by 2030.

We asked companies and manufacturers to the disclose their chemical reduction targets and to comply to frameworks such as the Greenpeace Detox Campaign with the aim of eliminating the use of hazardous chemicals by 2030. We requested the fashion industry move towards a low carbon business model (following Global Climate Action targets set at COP21) and asked companies to publish science based targets for 2022.

We received valuable feedback from all of the stakeholders which enabled us to refine and develop our initial targets into dynamic and achievable objectives. We spent the afternoon condensing this work into a final resolution to present the next day at Copenhagen Fashion Summit.

Something to take away…

Harvard principles for open and honest negotiation…

People – treat people and problems separately

Interests – put interests at the centre of discussion rather than positions

Options – before deciding on solution develop a range of options

Criteria  – build result on objective decision making principles

 

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Vivienne Westwood says SWITCH! at Fabric

As part of her continued environmental activism, last Monday Vivienne Westwood launched SWITCH! at Fabric; a club night for the environmentally conscious, fashion crowd.

Vivienne’s social enterprise Climate Revolution teamed up with Ecotricity to host the event with a clear message; it’s time to switch to GREEN ENERGY!

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On entering the club we were reminded what it was all about; A Climate Revolution.

Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity, Britain’s largest green energy supplier, opened the night with a video. He spoke about his former life on the road as new age traveller and the lessons he learnt from being self reliant. The idea of Ecotricity was born through the experience of making his own energy via a windmill on the roof of his van. He explained how a connection to nature and concern for the unsustainability of life as we know it has been the driving force throughout his life. Since burning of fossil fuels for electricity forms the biggest single cause of climate change, switching to green energy is perhaps the most significant change we can make as individuals.

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Next, Dame Viv herself graced the stage with an entourage of models sporting her latest collection titled ‘Ecotricity’ in tribute to the energy supplier. She reminded us of our power as active citizens to shape our economy, our future and our planet. The paper crowns served as metaphor for taking back power from the “rotten financial system” and richest 1%. She explained the imminent risk posed by climate change using the world map behind her. The red area indicates uninhabitable land if the sea level were to rise by just 5%. She urged the 900 strong crowd to “stop the demand for fossil fuels and further fracking and make choices that stop climate change”.

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After the speeches, guest DJ ‘A Guy Called Gerald’ provided the soundtrack to night with a little help from Eli Li who owned the stage (in Vivienne Westwood of course).

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Embracing the post apocalyptic, Mad Max theme.
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Guests wore Vivienne’s latest collection ‘Ecotricity’

Switching to green energy is the “one truly political act you can make as an individual”.

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“Paper crowns mean people power!”

Instructions on how to make you crown at Climate Revolution.

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In a truly sustainable fashion, guests were encouraged to reuse their cups.

While a club night during Fashion Week -one of the most highly consumption driven events in the year – might not seem an appropriate place to discuss climate change, this is where action is needed the most. It is essential to engage with fashion enthusiasts in order to generate change from within.  The resounding message of the night was people power and if the Climate Revolution starts now, what a way better to welcome it than through dancing.

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Finally, a couple of photos of me and my great friend Ffi. I didn’t get the memo about the dress code so went for a piece from my final collection teamed with sash made by Susanna Molla, an amazing craftivist and member of Sisters Uncut. Check out her online shop here.

Vivienne Westwood at Cheltenham Literature Festival

Self proclaimed Queen of Punk, Dame Vivienne Westwood did not disappoint in bringing rebellious views to the table at this years Cheltenham Literature Festival. Here to promote her new book Get a Life, a diary style biography compiled of blog posts she began in 2010. The book entwines her deep interest in fashion, climate change and activism.

Political from the first Westwood began by asking for our help. She reminded the audience that climate change is each of our responsibility and as a collective we can begin a climate revolution. The first step, according to the dame herself is to fill out a letter to Theresa May (handed out pre-show) with advice on how she could be more environmental in her daily life.

Westwood’s main priority has been communicating the threat of climate change with fashion shows becoming an avenue to creatively express frustrations. Her talk similarly centred on her views of the ‘rotten financial system’ and the injustice of 1m controlling a population of 7bn. Focusing on the selfish nature of ‘rotten’ politicians who ‘serve central banks and promote big business’ at the expense of the tax payer and corrupt foreign policy which says ‘fuck everybody but us’.

Westwood urged her audience to go home and switch to green energy, highlighting in a slick info graphic the impact rising temperature will have on the level of inhabitable land. She claimed ‘once the rising temperature goes beyond the tipping point it will run away to +5°, there will be only 1 bn people left by the 21st century’.

Provocative and outspoken as always Vivienne Westwood conveyed her passion for the planet and the people in it. While it is difficult to agree with all of her hard lined views on the ‘wasted lives’ of politicians, hearing her talk with such vigour and energy after five decades in the fashion industry was a good reminder of the capacity each of us has to make a difference. As Kirsty Wark eloquently put it ‘there’s nothing like a dame and certainly not this one’.

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