Everything is interconnected; dress accordingly
‘Nature’ continues to be an inspiration for designers and brands – just look at the A/W collections for 2022. Yet despite aspirations to connect emotionally, functionally, aesthetically with the natural world, in most of this work, nature remains subjugated, a human playground, a source of materials.
The fashion system (inadvertently) reinforces worldviews and power relations that were established centuries ago that see humans as separate to, above and in control of nature. These worldviews place humans at the top of a hierarchy and nature at the bottom. Meaning that human superiority and control continues to be woven through fashion’s relationship with nature.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
In a new jointly authored book that I have made together with award winning writer Helen Mort, we explore how clothes can “redress the situation.” And the situation that all of us who make and wear clothes need urgently to redress is how we as humans conceive of ourselves in relation to the natural world. Fashion is a vital place to do this from, not only because of its highly publicised negative impacts on the health of planetary systems, but because it is through clothes that we experience and connect with the world.
Clothing is our interface with nature. Experiencing how these connections manifest themselves - whether walking in the hills, remembering our lived history in them, sharing moments that tie us to a particular feeling in place and time - can be a way to reforge that connection with the rest of nature. And with this comes a renewed sense of responsibility but also a sense of joy, wildness and liberation from tight-fitting, ill-suited ways of being. Things we have outgrown.
How we feel, and what we do in clothes reflects how we manifest ourselves in the world. Acting through, in and with clothes can be a powerful way of readdressing our broken relationships with the natural world, and renewing the way we place ourselves and interact within it.
Clothing creates and embodies relationships with nature. Materials come from nature, and allow us to exist within nature. The relationships reflected by much of contemporary fashion are profoundly damaging to the natural world, seeing it as a resource for human plundering. The climate crisis shows us that this way of thinking is a dead end.
Outfitting is written as a call and response between Kate and Helen, as a series of short texts organised in pairs. In it, clothes and our dressed bodies to shine a light on different ways of reconfiguring nature-clothing relationships and with it a more caring way of coming to know, celebrate and protect the natural world.
Outfitting is published by Hazel Press, an independent publisher with a focus on the environment, the realities of climate change, feminism and the arts. It is available to buy from Hazel Press, the London Review Bookshop, and from independent bookshops.
Prof. Kate Fletcher is a Professor at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, University of the Arts London and the Royal Danish Academy, Copenhagen. Her work has come to both define and challenge the field
of fashion and sustainability. This is her tenth book and her first with Helen. Kate’s latest work is about design and nature.
Helen Mort is a poet and novelist. Her collections Division Street and No Map Could Show Them are published by Chatto and her third, The Illustrated Woman is due in 2022. She’s a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and teaches at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her first memoir A Line Above The Sky was published by Ebury in 2022 and deals with motherhood, risk and mountaineering.