Borrowed Cloth: Barkcloth

How can our affiliation with nature consciously be addressed through fashion in a way that creates clothing that makes us feel healthier? Can a socially - as well as environmentally - sustainable approach to fashion design be developed that integrates the health benefits of forest products? My research explores ways to create garments from a tree-based textile that are not only carbon-negative but also have a positive effect upon human health and wellbeing. This research takes a holistic approach in order to investigate the full potential of Ugandan barkcloth, produced from the wild fig tree, for responsible luxury clothing.

 

My design strategy is informed by biophilia, biodesign and biomechanics, in order to optimise the beneficial properties and to acknowledge the material limitations of the cloth. I have created a series of propositional garments in barkcloth that ask questions about what fashion might mean in the future. Through experimentation and making, I am learning about what the cloth will and won’t do, how it may be treated and adapted to improve performance. I use a cradle to cradle approach: the barkcloth is naturally dyed, the body and linings of garments are fully compostable and trimmings such as zips may be removed and reused.

 

I am working as part of the Barkcloth Research Network - with textile designer-researcher Karen Spurgin (http://www.aotextiles.com), textile technologist Dr Praburaj Venkatraman, with microbiologist Dr Jonathan Butler, with Ugandan artist and environmentalist Fred Mutebi, with textile artist and researcher Lesli Robertson and with branding specialist Mevin Murden.

Barkcloth cape modelled by Tasos, photos by Nicola Faveron

This project uses a model that we call ‘borrowed cloth’, as we examine a textile that is part of the cultural heritage of others from multiple perspectives and will return it with interest in the form of new knowledge generated, which we hope will benefit its makers and their own and the whole earth community.

Our research activities include field work in Uganda, observation and documentation of indigenous knowledge systems associated with barkcloth production, interviews, laboratory tests, creative practice: aesthetic experimentation and analysis – surface treatments and fabric manipulations, natural dye experimentation, shape making informed by biodesign and biomechanical thinking, test garments, propositional garments and accessories.