The Festival of Natural Fibres 2019 was organised at Craft Central. This event brought together fashion and textiles designers and sustainability experts. People who source natural fibres for themselves and their businesses also joined the event. The venue in London’s Isle of Dogs is a welcoming and inspiring space. The event was full of panel discussions, craft workshops, exhibits and stalls for ethical businesses. Khadi London organised the event in collaboration with Craft Central, Freeweaver Saori Studio, ONE, and Boho Homes London.
The blog is written by a student consultancy team of University College London. As a part of their brief, they helped with the organisation of the festival. There is a focus on the two panel discussions. The first session focused on global supply chains for natural, sustainable fabrics. The second was ‘a conversation on how to improve the UK’s production, supply and demand for naturally derived fibres/fabrics’.
The team members were Prune Bouillot, Maëla Cren, India Davies, Assel Issayeva, Kay Ean Leong & Karen Ou.
A second accompanying blog reflects on the experience of team members who were present on the day.
Credit for all images: Rose Bradbury/Khadi London
Visitors wandered around a showcase of the very best ethical and sustainable products. These products were from a range of brands such as Project Pico and Birdsong. They also enjoyed delicious Japanese-style baked goods from micro-bakery Gu Choki Pan. In tandem with the showcase were demonstrations and workshops on artisanal skills.
Following craft workshops were carried out:
- Charkha Wheel spinning (lead by Asha Buch),
- Using nettles for textiles (lead by Allan Brown)
- Japanese Bengala Dye (lead by Erna Janine)
The highlights of the day were the two panel discussions facilitated by Jo Salter, from ethical fashion business Where Does It Come From?
The first focused on the experience of sourcing globally. It was lead by Henrietta Adams of HENRI Clothing, Phoebe Hunter-McIlveen of Project Pico, Kishore Shah of Khadi London, and Pooja Jain of House of Tamarind.
The discussion saw panellists talk about their own projects and organisations. One of the key elements of the discussion revolved around global sourcing, and its attendant difficulties. Henrietta, for instance, talked about dealing with customer’s perceptions of natural fabric. This may feel less polished and more artisanal than what they were accustomed to. Phoebe and Pooja brought up the differences in working cultures. (People in the West demand efficiency while the weavers had a slower, more meditative process for production). Kishore also highlighted the difficulty of meeting the requirements of larger scale customers. He put light on the cultural differences: customers might not pay if fabric production is delayed, even if the fabrics have already been produced, which is detrimental to artisans and their pay.
The panellists also spoke about the changes they’ve seen since the inception of their firms. Reassuringly, panellists have seen increased desire for organic, sustainable and ethical fabrics. They also mentioned greater consciousness of fabrics like khadi in the fashion world, even among bigger brands. There is a greater engagement with fighting the ecological crisis.
According to Phoebe, more people are becoming activists in their buying habits. They want to buy better and buy less. They also discussed their next steps for their brands.
Following goals were mentioned during the discussion:
- Looking at new fibres and filling gaps in the market, making their supply chain more circular.
- Growing to meet the demands of large scale customers while still maintaining the quality of handcrafted artisan work.
The second panel was a conversation on improving UK’s production, supply and demand for naturally derived fibres/fabrics. It was lead by designer John Alexander Skelton, Project Pico’s Phoebe Hunter-McIlveen, OneHutFull’s Paula Walton and ethical knitwear designer Suzanna James. South West England Fibreshed’s Saffron Darby also joined in.
The panellists discussed the problems and challenges of manufacturing sustainable and ethical textiles. This included maintaining economic viability in smaller mills or farms. Some fabrics in contention were linen and hemp. These fabrics are in demand but might be difficult to produce in the UK. Reason behind this might be lack of people with the right expertise and a lack of production capabilities. John also talked about the loss of skills in British manufacturing. This makes it harder for hemp production. It requires consistency and might be too expensive. A recurring theme was the need for further research, awareness and conversation. He suggested looking at green technology and how we could implement processing plants that makers/designers can afford to use and that are not harmful.
Paula emphasized the importance of collaboration to drive forward wool production. She especially highlighted the rising costs of shearing sheep and the strict environmental laws in the UK. It is suggested that more discussions are needed with farmers and mills, rather than people already active in the sustainability sphere. As education is a key way to drive a more sustainable textile industry.
Production issues in the UK
Panellists also highlighted the issues with production in the UK, when compared to countries like India. The UK is short of land, and the economy is radically different. Mills do not want to produce on a small scale because it becomes very expensive. They also highlighted the problem with labelling fabrics in the textile industry. It regularly commits “greenwashing”, where a fabric might be made to look more sustainable and ethical than it really is. Ultimately, more education, further research, and deeper communication is needed.
At the centre of the event was also a collaborative art project. The cumulative effort of both event organisers and attendees to pen down their wishes for a cleaner, greener future, both for the world and for the textile industry at large. The art project involved noting resolutions – anything from “I want sustainable ethical fashion to be more than a trend” to more specific ambitions like “Reduce packaging waste” – on swatches of Khadi fabric. These swatches were then pinned onto a larger swathe of cotton. It made a wonderful, community-driven piece of art. This would serve as a personal reminder and a memento for years to come.
Jam-packed with insightful workshops and panels, Festival of Fibres #2 celebrated sustainability and ethical textiles. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.