Festival of Natural Fibres - 1

Asha Buch

Festival of Natural Fibres, now in its forth year was organised by the Khadi London and  co-hosted by Gandhi Foundation U.K was held during 21-29 August 2021.

The collaborative organisers were: Khadi London, Free weaver Saori Studio and ONE.

Khadi London is a social enterprise (Community Interest Company) set up to support ethical fashion designers and small and medium scale enterprises that produce ethical fashion and homewares.

Free weaver Saori Studio is a London’s registered Saori weaving studio. Workshops led by Erna Jenine from her studio at the Craft Central

ONE is led by Paula Wolton which began as touring exhibition ‘OneHutFull’ to campaign for sustainable wool production in hill farming context. Now evolved as a project which supports sustainable, ethical and responsible practices in textile and fashion.

The venue was Craft Central - a magnificent Grade 2 listed building which is part of 19th century ship and girder bridge building history, which now contains an architect designed freestanding birchwood construction housing studios, workshop spaces, meeting rooms and large exhibition space.

About the Festival :

This festival consisted of three main components, An Exhibition showcasing an array of work which explored the possibilities of reconnection between fashion to farming, the Who grew-your-clothes movement, unpicking fast fashion, & shifting consumer values.

The winners of the competition held at the Chelsea College of Arts and some students inaugurated the festival by waving a banner woven and embroidered by hand with a quote from M.K.Gandhi: “In a gentle way you can shake the world”

Panel discussions this year explored ways to support local level clean & green manufacturing in the UK and ways to create ethical & sustainable global supply chains.

Craft Workshops and demonstrations provided opportunities to learn crafts, such as spinning, weaving and sewing. Community quilting gave opportunity to the visitors to come together to create a community quilt and a mural with inspiring thoughts.

Visitors came from as far as Devon, Shropshire, Bristol and Denmark. The aim of the Festival was to bring together fashion and textile designers and sustainability experts as well as students who are learning to create and source natural fibres and fabrics for themselves and their businesses.

An exhibition showcasing British and Indian fibres reconnected farming to fashion. Distinctive nature of Indian fibres such as cotton, jute, forest silk and wool and British fibres such as wool, hemp, nettle and flax was explained to the viewers.

Community Quilting :

Creating a quilt using pieces of Khadi samples was also part of the events. The aim is to create a bond between the community by sharing their views and ideas on matters affecting the lives of women, art and craft and social justice

Panel discussions :

The interactive panel discussion began with the students and recent graduates who have worked with Khadi. The winners of a competition at the Chelsea College of Arts and other students shared and exchanged their experiences they had and challenges they faced while working with the Khadi material and remote interaction with the artisans from India. Their final product of newly designed fabric formed an important part of the exhibition.

Second session was focused on climate change action and what can the campaign learn from Gandhi and his constructive work programme. The panelists imparted their knowledge and experiences. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Global Warming suggests that we are on the brink of dangerous climate change, so, immediate action is required for the fashion sector too, to be aligned with the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and move towards net-zero emissions by 2050. UN Climate Change work program aims to connect all stakeholders in the textile and fashion industry, including raw material producers, textile producers, apparel manufacturers and brands, to make this industry fully environmentally friendly.

The panelists and participants of the interactive session all agreed that the environmental crisis is real. The fashion industry has to take a lead to fight on several fronts by deploying measures such as initiate community action, organise non violent actions and take active part in lobbying for legislations regarding ethical textile production. Above all, taking personal responsibility as socially responsible consumers, educating customers, changing lifestyle and mindset and bringing brand names, fast fashion industries and retailers on board was also seen as a way forward in tackling this multifaceted issue.

Sunday morning was devoted to the Indian fibres. Various strands of regenerative, organic, sustainable and ethical fabrics were woven together in exploring the relationship of producers from cotton to cloth, fashion designers, brands and market.

Technological advancement and automation has created mass unemployment creating a huge gap between haves and have nots. There was lively discussion on whether it is possible to retain human touch while embracing new technology. A technology specialist Soma assured that there is work in progress on designing a type of weaving loom which may allow the weaver to remain a craft person without becoming an industrial worker.

Since the inception of the fibre fest four years ago, British fibres have come a long way. The passion and hard work of producers of fabrics from wool, hemp, flax, leather and nettle requires infrastructure and support for artisans and traceability.

Enthusiasm was palpable among the organisers, panelists and visitors who recognised the need and scope to widen the audience and grow the movement for natural fibres.

An exhibition cum roundtable meeting was held on 22 October at the High Commission of India. The meeting was chaired by the Economic Attach Rohit Vadhwana. A brief on Khadi London’s educational programme was presented by Kishor Shah, followed by an overview of Chelsea Khadi project by Caryn Simonson and an academic input on relevance of Khadi to the younger generation presented by Asha Buch.

Open discussion on the future of the Khadi London, how to involve other cplleges, diesign a curriculum, work with other mainstream organisations and ideas for going forward were shared. An idea of organising a global Khadi and all other natural fibres in London was put forward.

The deputy High Commissioner Shri Charanjeet Singh awarded the certificates to the winners of the Chelsea Khadi Competition and made some concluding remarks with a promise of more positive inputs from the IHC in the Khadi London’s future endeavours. The guests visited the exhibition and they were given insight into how much each item of the exhibits was made and the concept behind it.

The Festival of Natural Fibres 2021 was a success. The seeds of more involvement from the colleges and other elated organisations were shown. We hope that this collaborative work will help towards resolving the economic and climatic crisis.

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Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features