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29 Aug

Inside The Campaign To Bring Natural Dyes To Fashion

Ever wonder where the incredible colours and textured fabrics of your clothing come from? It could be from 3000km away, or as close the next town over.  As we know, being sustainable often means choosing local, and drawing on the incredible natural ingredients that can be found around you. That is the ultimate message of Victoria based organisation Fibreshed, who have curated the Festival of Natural Dyes, which is running in Melbourne until September 10th.

Locally sourced fibres, using resources from local farms can seen as a more sustainable and ethical mode of production – reducing transport energy and increasing supply chain transparency. Fibreshed hold this approach at the core of their organisation. Initially a research project that started in Melbourne, Fibreshed is now a growing textile hub in Victoria that is only three years young. Their focus is to engage the local community and connect consumers directly with the supply chain of their clothing.

This year’s Festival of Natural Dyes in Melbourne coincides with Melbourne Fashion Week and will showcase a number of brands, methods and individuals who are part of this international natural fibre movement. We talked to Fibreshed’s Nicki Collis about the ideas behind the festival and the exciting initiatives taking place.

The natural fibre movement is more than just about locally made clothing –  it suggests a different relationship to fashion and clothing all together. Knowing who made your clothing, the resources that were involved in the process and an appreciation for the potential for natural modes. That’s how Fibreshed’s Nicki Collis began her involvement with the movement.I started my connection to Fibershed by creating a 100% local outfit sourced from within 500km of my home,” Nicki says.

Right down to the hand-fired buttons and hand-woven twill, I sourced everything for the outfit from the soil up. It was a natural transition then to co-founding Fibreshed Melbourne with Rachel Bucknall.

Fibreshed Melbourne is one arm of a global network of groups working to promote local, natural textiles within the context of their own environments. “Fibreshed Melbourne is part of the Fibershed Affiliate Program, an international grassroots network that promotes the development of regional fibre systems communities,” Nicki says. “Fibershed’s work develops supply chains to create clothing that will become the new standard in a world looking to rapidly mitigate the effects of climate change.”

But it’s not just about being sustainable. Fibreshed’s work connects primary producers with designers and clothing brands, creating demand for local textiles and supporting local business. “Fibreshed Melbourne supports our local economy to access locally produced, sustainable textiles,” Nicki says. “We want our clothes to benefit the land and people in and around Melbourne. The possibilities for innovation in sustainability become much more tangible to Australian designers when they can talk to every stage of production, we think about co-design of clothing at every level to create a new standard.”

With Fibreshed Melbourne’s help, a number of brands have taken this approach on board and are now making a portion, if not all their garments, from locally sourced fibres and materials.

We work to connect people across the supply chain,” Nicki says. “We have worked with mills to help them access knitwear designers, we have worked with farms to help them add value to their product through local processing, we have connected designers to suppliers, customers and training opportunities, and we have worked with retailers to connect them to new local suppliers.”  Brands like Remuse, A-BCH and McIntyre Merino Woolwear have been involved in Fibreshed Melbourne’s programs.

One highlight of the Festival of Natural Dyes, is the Natural Dye conference. Nicki says anyone interested in sustainable textiles will get a lot out of the experience. “The Natural Dye Conference is a two-day event where we will explore the opportunities that botanical dyes present for local fibre industries,” she says. “Participants can expect to have lots of cross-sectoral conversations, and to be an active participant in all sessions.”

The conference will feature a number of great workshops, natural plant-based dyeing methods and various explorations that have been taking place in Australia. A special feature of the event will be the exhibition of textile artist Sally Blake – something Nicki is particularly looking forward to.

Sally Blake’s Eucalyptus Dye Database is the culmination of research into the colour produced from over 200 species of Eucalyptus at the Australian Botanic Gardens,” she says.  “Her art is her playful way of inviting people to explore the science of her studies; each piece represents a series of colours produced from a particular species or location.

Sally will bring her exhibition to Melbourne for the first time and will talk about her research. The exhibition will also stay on in Kuwaii’s city store as part of Melbourne Fashion Week.

So, with all of their inspiring shifts and innovations to more sustainable modes of making and sourcing, Fibreshed are paving the way for brands to really look at the potential of local suppliers, and connecting consumers to the supply chain more meaningfully.  Initiatives such as this and organisations like Good On You aim to close the gap and provide consumers with the reality behind their clothes, and the implications for fast fashion brands. Keep an eye on the innovative ways organisations like Fibreshed are enabling this exciting shift to more sustainable fashion.

Check it out:

The Natural Dyes Conference is being hosted by RMIT University on August 31 and September 1, 2018. Click here for tickets and details

Author bio: Madeleine is an experienced content writer who specialises in all things personal sustainability, environmental awareness, and minimal consumption. She loves using her writing and research to clearly communicate these key solutions to environmental issues, and endeavours to help people do more in their everyday lives to minimise their footprint on the planet. To do this, Madeleine also manages the online platform Our Simple Gestures, and in her spare time loves being outdoors and enjoying life! Find her at LinkedIn, Instagram and at the website.

Editor's note

Feature image by Unsplash. Other images from Fibreshed and Remuse.

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