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A textile garden for Fashion Revolution

In May this year, in support of Fashion Revolution, garden designer Lottie Delamain will create the first-ever garden at the world-famous Chelsea Flower Show solely featuring plants that can be used to make or dye our clothes. A Textile Garden for Fashion Revolution will be part of the new ‘All About Plants’ category alongside several other gardens, supported by Project Giving Back.

Throughout history, plants have played a fundamental role in fashion – as dyes, fibres, floral motifs and in botanical folklore, connecting us to a place, a story or a culture. While trekking in Northern Vietnam, Lottie saw how families grew the plants to make their clothes alongside their vegetables and was fascinated by the close relationship between what they wore and what was growing in their gardens. However in our globalised world, this connection is rapidly being lost. A Textile Garden for Fashion Revolution provides a unique opportunity to showcase creative possibilities and innovative thinking around how we can use the resources that are literally on our doorsteps to create more sustainable solutions. It will help to re-establish the connection between plants and textiles, reveal the beauty to be found in plant-based dyes and fibres, and sow a seed of curiosity about what we wear.

The garden design is intended to imitate a textile, with planting in distinctive blocks of colour to create the impression of a woven fabric. Plants will be supplied by UK nurseries and growers and will be chosen for their use as fibres or textile dyes in commercial or craft use and the garden will feature a textile installation made entirely from plants by students of Headington School Oxford. Shallow reflective pools represent dye baths, with fabric or fibres soaking in natural dyes, and a series of paved seams will lead through the planting.

The fashion industry is dominated by synthetic fibres and chemical dyes. Polyester manufacturing is an energy-intensive process, requiring large amounts of water and producing high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, while wastewater emitted from its processing contain volatile substances that can pose a threat to human health. Despite this, Fashion Revolution’s Fashion Transparency Index 2021 found that only a quarter of major brands publish time-bound, measurable targets on reducing the use of textiles deriving from virgin fossil fuels. More than 15,000 chemicals can be used during the textile manufacturing process, from the raw materials through to dyeing and finishing, yet only 30% of brands disclose their commitment to eliminating the use of hazardous chemicals from our clothes

Co-founder Carry Somers saw the impact our clothing has on the environment first hand two years ago, when she sailed 2000 miles into the South Pacific Gyre on an all-woman scientific research voyage to investigate microplastic pollution. Although textiles are the largest source of both primary and secondary microplastics, accounting for 34.8% of global microplastic pollution, with around 700,000 microfibres being released in every wash cycle, just 21% of brands explain what they are doing to minimise the shedding of microfibres.

The philosophy behind the garden is about seeing the potential in the resources we have on our doorstep and exploring how we can utilise them in more creative ways. Many of the plants are native wildflowers, easily propagated and grown in the UK and undemanding in terms of water.

We would like visitors to our garden, as well as those who view the television coverage, to:

  • Feel inspired by the many plants that can be used to make natural dyes and fibres, some familiar and some unusual.
  • Be encouraged to try dyeing with plants at home, or even create a mini-dye garden.
  • Think about the plants (or not) that they might be wearing and ask #whatsinmyclothes?

After Chelsea Flower Show, the garden will be relocated to Headington School in Oxford where Kate Turnbull, Head of Fashion and Textiles Design, has developed a new syllabus which includes the study of plants used for textiles dyes and fibres, along with their propagation and use. The garden will be reimagined in two parts – as a working dye garden for the Textile Design students, and as a Colour Wheel garden, designed to inspire students across the school about the myriad roles plants play in our lives.

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