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.

Every Object is Political

The story of a pair of Primark cargo trousers, made in Bangladesh 2013.

At first it might seem that there is nothing significant about this pair of trousers. They are mass-manufactured, cheap and common place. They are made of machine stitched cotton twill with plastic buttons and steel zip. They were manufactured by New Wave Bottoms in Dhaka, Bangladesh and were sold in Primark stores across the UK in 2013/14. 

They are part of ‘fast fashion’, a system developed by large retailers and supermarkets for rapidly producing low-priced, trend-based clothing. 

If you were around in 2013 you might have even bought a pair but by now they are likely to have ended up in the bin or in a charity shop having worn out or become unfashionable.

You might wonder why such a pair of seemingly insignificant trousers is currently on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum of decorative art and design in London. The reason lies in what these trousers represent. They were produced in the Rana Plaza garment factory, a building which housed production for many well known high street brands including Primark, Mango, Matalan and Benetton.

On the 24th of April 2013, garment workers in Rana Plaza were ordered to return to work despite rising concern about the safety of the building which had visible cracks in the walls. Tragically, hours later the building collapsed, killing 1,130 people. Most of whom were young women.

The incident, which remains the most deadly industrial disaster in recent history, symbolises the inherent flaw in the fast fashion system.

Short runs and aggressive pricing strategies have led to increased demands on productivity throughout the supply chain with the people at the bottom feeling the most pressure to produce more for less. Ultimately it is those who are the most vulnerable who pay the true cost for our clothes. 

The trousers reveal a broader story about the dark side of global supply chains.

They are not an example of exquisite craftsmanship or timeless design but what they represent forces us to question inner workings of the current fashion industry. They symbolise our detachment from production and the shift of focus away from respect for quality, craftsmanship and longevity. As consumer’s it is important to know the wider political context of the clothes we buy which is why I think these trousers deserve a place in one of the largest and most prestigious collections of decorative arts and design in the world. 

I hope that soon fast fashion will become a part of our history. An artefact to be regarded with sorrow and a story not to be forgotten.

The trousers are part of the V&A’s Rapid Response Collection. Objects are collected in timely response to major moments in history that touch the world of design and manufacturing. Each acquisition raises different questions about globalisation, popular culture, political and social change, demographics, technology, regulation or the law.

This ongoing display, which changes each time a new object is collected, shows how design reflects and defines how we live together today.

Welcome to the Remakery Frome

After ten weeks of hard work, perseverance and a lot of love, Remakery Frome is now up and running!

What it is

The Remakery is a shared workshop equipped with tools to enable making, fixing and up-cycling in Frome. People can use it for their hobbies, projects or to incubate a making business. Our vision is bring people together to inspire each other, repair more and enjoy making.

How it works

Members can drop in anytime between 3-8pm Monday to Friday, and in the morning whenever there is no workshop or class running. The cost is £15 a year plus £3 each time you drop in (concessions available).

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Remakery Repair Festival

We celebrated the launch with a week long festival of repair and up-cycling. Events included table making with Stu from the Chisel and Grain, textiles up-cycling with Louis Montero and Stina Falle and finally PC TLC with Allen McClaren.

The finale of the week was our official launch party where we presented the Remakery to the community at its current stage (there is still a lot of work to do!).

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We put on an exhibition of upcycling featuring the work of local designers and craftspeople including a dress by Haley Trezise of Raggedy and jewellery by Christina. Local artist Sarah Godsill captured the proceedings through beautiful sketches (see more of her event illustration here) with photography by Finley John and myself. ScaneScreen Shot 2017-06-11 at 12.34.33 pm

Edgy Veggie laid on a delicious vegetarian feast with lentil burgers, roast potatoes and mixed veg and we had the pleasure of hosting young musicians Evey hunter and Kane Pollastrone to play for us.

We hosted an open workshop in the Remakery where we invited members of the community to help us with the final touches to the space while Sophie from Yssabeauchet ran a crochet workshop.

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In the afternoon we ran a World Cafe around the subject of our relationship to ‘stuff’. Participants sat together in an informal Cafe setting to discuss the value of the stuff we own individually and as a collective. The conversation looked forward to how our perspective might change in the future. It was a great opportunity for reflection and exchanging insights about the value of sharing, repair and education. At the end of the session we came together to summarise our opinions and make some resolutions for the future.

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All in all the day was a great success. It was incredibly rewarding to see the community respond so positively to our work and to see people engaging about the subject of a repair economy in Frome.

Interested to find out more? visit our website or emailwelshmill@edventurefrome.org for a free trail session.

Commitment to Change; Youth Fashion Summit 2017, day 3

On the final day of YFS we presented the final draft of our UN fashion resolution at Copenhagen Fashion Summit

Copenhagen Fashion Summit serves as a platform for all areas of the industry to meet and discuss the ever pressing issue of sustainability in fashion. The event was led by inspirational speakers from leading NGOs such as Green Peace and experts on circularity such as William McDonough, author of Cradle to Cradle and Ellen MacArthur, founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The theme of this year was Commitment to Change with a focus on creating ‘common understanding and industry-wide commitment on the most critical issues facing our industry and planet’.

Our resolution addressed each of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 and covered areas including education, well being and civic empowerment as well as circularity, transparency and pollution. Following our presentation (which you can read in full below) Lise Kingo, Executive Director of the United Nations Global Impact invited us to present our resolution at the UN Global Compact Leader Summit in New York during the UN General Assembly. Kingo emphasised the need for a future where “sustainable business is mainstream business” and reminded us of our responsibility as future fashion leaders “to write the playbook for the next steps the industry needs to take today, to create the world for tomorrow”.

It was an honour to present our resolution on stage alongside thought leaders like Lise Kingo, Eileen Fisher and Livia Firth and I hope our resolution will help others in the industry wake-up to the urgent for change. From the all the speakers, the message I took from the summit was the time for action is now.

Read our full resolution below;

1. Expects the fashion industry to begin immediately working with non-profit initiatives and government groups to reduce inequality, alleviate poverty and ensure food security, with progress made by 2030, including through:

(a) helping to reduce inequality by reinvesting 0,7% of annual sales to support local manufacturing communities;

b) providing all workers with access to free health insurance, day care facilities, a meal a day and professional training;

c) suggesting governments and industry leaders enforce sustainable agricultural practices to help ensure food security by increasing the share of organic polyculture farming by 50%;

2. Urges all stakeholders in the fashion industry to establish global and local partnerships to make the world a more equitable, just and peaceful place, by:

(a) requesting all stakeholders to collaborate on breaking existing barriers between people, companies and member states to enable a flow of sustainable progress;

(b) welcoming the UN to develop a full sustainability report by 2020 that provides a holistic evaluation of the fashion industry, measuring performance not only in relation to monetary value;

(c) encouraging the UN to facilitate the implementation of a third-party organ by 2025 to monitor the status of collaboration between stakeholders related to the fashion industry;

(d) insisting that fashion stakeholders fully commit to a standardized performance system, by 2025;

3. Compels relevant stakeholders to strengthen the human bond, from maker to wearer, through education and changing the mindsets of producers and consumers by:

(a) requiring fashion companies to provide on company websites, labels, social media, and in reports transparent information per garment of each step in the whole supply chain by 2030;

(b) demanding manufacturers to empower workers by prioritizing educational activities regarding labor rights, personal financial growth, leadership, and worker representation in 10% collective ownerships;

(c) encouraging the UN to facilitate an interactive platform in at least five languages, bringing people together to take action against inequality by participating in online courses and webinars, involving industry leaders, government, organizations and companies;

4. Requests stakeholders to protect and restore our natural capital by:

(a) implementing ecological systems and recycling technologies throughout the value chain by substituting conventional cotton, reducing landfills, and eliminating textile waste in the fashion sector by 2030;

(b) encouraging fashion companies and manufacturers to immediately commit to water stewardship programs and to disclose personal targets for the same, to protect life below water from microplastic contamination, aiming to eliminate all virgin plastic by 2030;

(c) insisting that brands and governments support manufacturers and producers in eliminating the use of hazardous chemicals and materials, complying with the Greenpeace Detox Campaign to reduce pesticide use by 50% by 2022, achieving total elimination by 2030;

5. Calls on the entire fashion industry and the involved member states to lead the global preservation of and access to freshwater for all by 2025 through intensified research and investment in innovative technologies by:

(a) reducing water pollution and the release of harmful chemicals by 50% in 2025 and by 100% in 2030;

(b) introducing closed-loop water recycling legislation on a government level;

(c) implementing shared value community water management in collaboration with governments, NGOs, industries, and local communities, as well as stressing the urgency and awareness of these issues through education provided by member states and the fashion industry;

6. Obliges stakeholders to meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement, ensuring that, by 2030, 100% of the total energy used in the fashion supply chain will be renewable energy by:

(a) inviting all member states to ensure renewable energy practices by encouraging public and private partnerships throughout the fashion supply chain, reaching a binding commitment agreed upon by 2018;

(b) requesting that all organizations’ energy consumption statistics be published for public access;

(c) requiring the entire fashion supply chain to set in place the necessary infrastructure and encourage innovation to reduce energy consumption and increase energy efficiency; In commitment to our future,

7. Appeals to all stakeholders to invest in recycling technology and infrastructure with the aim to transition to circular mindsets and systems in fashion production by:

(a) encouraging all member states to adopt already existing technologies to collect and process commercial and industrial textile waste By 2022;

(b) investing in a platform to share information, facilities, and resources to provide guidelines and tools to enable a holistic circular system for all stakeholders in the fashion industry by educating them about circular strategies and solutions by 2020.

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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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Drafting a resolution; Youth Fashion Summit 2017, Day 1

Working together with students from around the world to draft the first UN resolution on sustainable fashion practices.

At Youth Fashion Summit 2016, we explored the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 and developed a manifesto of demands for the industry regarding a range of ethical concerns; from climate action and pollution to gender inequality and over consumption (read our full report here). After the success of last year, the Global Fashion Agenda and Copenhagen School of Design and Technology (KEA) decided to invite the same students back to transform our initial demands into a fully fledged resolution to present at Copenhagen Fashion Summit 2017.

Day 1

Conscious Luxury

Dax Lovegrove, Global Vice President of Corporate and Social Responsibility at Swaroski opened the event with a key note speech on conscious luxury. He spoke about Swaroski’s vision as a driver of positive change to do more than ‘less harm’. We learnt how to identify and discern between the different layers of impact and how to address each area on an individual basis. From ‘Footprint’- the ecological impact of the fashion industry, to ‘Mind print’- the consumer attitude towards sustainable consumption and finally ‘Political Print’ – how government policy can be used to support unity and positive change within the sector.

Ecological Agenda

We then broke off into smaller groups to review our demands from the previous year. We began developing a concrete action plan and set some initial targets to put to our stakeholders.  We used the Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report created by The Global Fashion Agenda and The Boston Consulting Group to find facts that gave weight to our demands. The report draws on Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Index and in-depth surveys of various fashion companies to create a comprehensive guide to the industry’s current environmental and social performance. As part of Flourishing; the ecological agenda team, I worked with Sustainable Development Goals 13,14 & 15 regarding climate action, life below water and life on land.

In the afternoon we worked on a negotiation strategy to use when discussing our demands with industry stakeholders the following day.

Voices from the industry

Scan 4eSusie Lau, fashion blogger and YFS ambassador encouraged us to think about how we can put the knowledge gained from Youth Fashion Summit into practice in our own careers. She emphasised the importance of story telling and making the subject of sustainable fashion more compelling. By referring to ‘alternative’ fashion instead of ‘sustainable’ fashion, Susie suggested we could reach a wider audience by stealth. It is vital mainstream fashion media take greater interest in the subject.

 

Simon Collins, former dean of the School of Fashion at Parsons closed the first day of events with a motivational speech on the role of the designer. Simon explained importance of designers in ‘creating beautiful solutions’ to everyday situations with vision first and strategy second. Simon advised us to focus on creating value rather than profit and to not be afraid of making mistakes.

Something to take away…

The first sentence in our draft resolution;

‘In order for our world to flourish we must protect and restore our natural capital’

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Fashion Revolution Week

Thinking about who made my clothes for Fashion Revolution Week.

For most consumers buying clothes is about choice…

 What style suits me best? Which colour do I prefer? What is it made of? Which size is most flattering? How much will it cost?

 We ask ourselves any number of stylistic questions before arriving at a decision. But the question that is so often forgotten is who made it? Most of the time we don’t stop to ask what life is like for the 75 million people in the global apparel market or how much they are paid.

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This matters because as consumers we hold the power. Every purchase we make says something about what we value. Fashion Revolution week is about raising awareness and empowering individuals to change the way fashion works. By asking brands ‘Who made my clothes?’ we are part of a global movement demanding greater transparency in the fashion supply chain. This is an essential step for improving the lives of people across the fashion landscape, from cotton farmers to garment workers.

 What you can do…

  •  Pressure your favourite brands

Hold them to account for the social and environmental impact of their business. Share the label of a piece of clothing on social media and ask the brand #whomademyclothes?

  • Write to a Politician

Let them know the welfare of the planet and the people making your clothes matters to you.

  • Buy better

Choose fair-trade or second-hand where you can – even if this means buying something more expensive less often.

  • Repair, reinvent, revive

Instead of buying new, try updating something you already own.

Find out more here.