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The nature of fashion & the problematic laundry pile

Festival of Nature celebrates its 15th birthday this year, having grown up from a small harbourside event to a week-long festival stretching along the River Avon between Bristol and Bath. The festival strives to be on the cutting edge of environmental communication, and each year its director, Savita Willmott, spends months researching and speaking to organisations across the UK to find out what issues are making headlines and starting to make real breakthroughs in getting audiences and customers to think about the natural world in new ways. In 2018, there seems to be one major theme in particular that’s popping up everywhere: sustainable fashion. As a result, Festival of Nature has planned a entire day of events at Arnolfini, bringing together a number of different partners, speakers and organisations appearing at the festival for the first time.

Throughout the day, ‘The Laundry Pile’ will run as a free, drop-in installation in Gallery Two. Taking a sideways look at the fashion industry, it focuses on one of its hidden practices: laundry. For most people, wearing clean-looking and fresh-smelling clothes is a routine part of everyday life, but there is also something darker hidden in our laundry baskets. Laundry is often overlooked as an extremely resource intensive and polluting practice: between 1970 and 2014 the amount of energy used to do the laundry has doubled – a trend which looks set to increase.

Jade Whitson-Smith is a lecturer in textile practice in the Department of Fashion and Textiles at the University of Huddersfield and is co-curating the exhibition. “The Laundry Pile presents quite a unique perspective on the topic of sustainable fashion,” she said. “No one seems to want to talk about their dirty laundry, but this represents a huge obstacle for the environmental ambitions of the fashion industry. We hope the installation is thought provoking, and starts some conversations about how we might start to tackle this complex issue.”

In order to help Bristol residents connect with their own overflowing baskets, longtime Festival of Nature partner Bristol Water has joined in the curation of the Arnolfini installation, helping bring to life the amount of water used in regular laundry use so that we, consequently, can think more sustainably.

“The washing machine is one of the biggest users of water in the home,” said Rob Ellis from Bristol Water. “It’s about 52 litres of water, on average, every time you switch on the machine. We know it needs to be done, however knowing how much water we use might make us stop and think; cutting down the number of washes or aiming for a full wash, to save water, save money, save energy.”

In the evening, they will be joined by The Good Wardrobe, an award-winning website that has recently expanded from London to Bristol through a popular crowd-fund. It’s a blog and online resource that aims to make it as easy as possible for people to dress ethically and stylishly. The platform connects consumers with conscious designers, makers and menders, providing tips, guides, services, and forums. The Good Wardrobe’s director Zoe Robinson has pulled together a panel of some of the most innovative people working in sustainable fashion to discuss an urgent topic: how designers, brands, producers and everyone else involved in the supply chain can work with, not against, nature. Tickets for ‘The Nature of Fashion’ event are on sale now from http://bit.ly/FONfashion.

“I’m thrilled that we’ll be joined by such a pioneering group of speakers for The Nature of Fashion,” said Zoe. “From academic, anthropologist and product director, to footwear designer and material futurist, each expert brings their unique perspective on how they aim to work in harmony with nature in the garment industry. They will be sharing their experiences and giving us a glimpse of the way in which designers, producers, retailers and even us all as citizens can support a more sustainable fashion industry. I hope audience members will come away inspired by the possibilities.”

The panel is chaired by Dilys Williams, director of Centre for Sustainable Fashion, and features Debbie Luffman from Finisterre; Hannah Cowie from Tamay & Me; Sophie Mather from biov8tion, and Sven Segal from Po-Zu.

Sven easily sees the link between sustainable fashion and nature. “We try to maximise the use of low-impact natural raw materials,” he told us. “We use coconut husk for our foot-mattress, and pineapple leaves for the upper shoe part as an alternative to leather; both are by-products of the coconut and pineapple industries. We use natural latex (from the gum tree) in our soles, and cork for various parts of the shoe. Both latex and cork are entirely renewable resources so no tree needs cutting down in order to harvest these incredible bountiful materials.”

The installation and panel event takes place on Thursday 7 June. The installation is free at Arnolfini from 9am to 9pm, with performances throughout the day.