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A quick look back at the first ever Festival of Natural Fibres: 
Thank you No Serial Number Magazine for filming the panel discussions and this tour of our event. For a registration of the talks, head over to their facebook page 
Natural and ethical fibres, how long is a piece of string? As a hand weaver, I try to use yarns that suit the nature of my weavings but I also try to weigh up which yarns suppliers I would like to support. What is important when I choose yarns? Certainly environmental impact during the production, but also durability and fair distribution of profits along the extensive process of cultivation/gathering, carding/teasing, spinning, dyeing transportation before it gets anywhere near the loom. Then there's questions around quality, price, availability, ultimately even compostability! To discuss these complicated matters and to offer information, practical experience and open discussion, The Festival of Natural Fibres was organized by the Khadi Initiative and fascilitated by Freeweaver Saori Studio. Heartfelt thanks to all who participated to make it happen. Already looking forward to NaturalFibreFest19. 
Fibres and Fabrics that Connect at Local and Global Levels 
Festival of Natural Fibres 
Participants from across continents gathered on Saturday, September 8th, 2018 to continue an ongoing conversation about how textile can become a force for good. Attendees at the event represented a cross section of the industry, farmers, suppliers and producers, emerging fashion brands, crafts representatives, consumers and campaigners. The tone of conversations during the day was on finding solutions and building networks. These took place in panel discussions, around demos and exhibitions, in craft workshops, at stalls which showcased ethical products, and over cups of tea and helpings of samosa chaat. 
The event on 8th was part of the Festival of Natural Fibres between September 5th and September 9th at Craft Central, a stunning venue for events and craft studios on the Isle of Dogs, London. The festival was organised by the Khadi Initiative and facilitated by Freeweaver SAORI Studio. 
Saturday was the high point when several hundred people visiting, with some travelling from as far as India, Switzerland and Germany, to learn, find solutions and network. Cotton, wool, flax and hemp dominated the discussions at formal panel discussions which took note of an increasing interest in natural fibres and focussed on how to build on this interest. 
Research emerged as one of the priorities that needed attention if production of ethical natural fibres and fabrics was to be scaled. As Henry Palmer of Bysshe Partnership explained, large scale production of hemp fibres and fabrics in UK stopped about a hundred years ago, and therefore a challenge for hemp which had demonstrated environmental benefits to compete with other fabrics using technology from a century ago. 
Wool found pride of place amongst the exhibits in the main hall, with Paula Wolton creating a very real feel for the process of wool production from farm to fabric. A live demo of bridling wool took place and an introduction and demo of Saori weaving with natural hand spun silk from Odisha, India and organic khadi yarn by Erna Janine added to the effect. 
Away from the main hall visitors were fascinated by displays of flax, hemp and nettle in business stalls. Workshops in which participants could create with natural materials such as in a workshop on mark making using botanical inks, handmade brushes and khadi paper by Ross Belton and a nettle workshop led by Tallula Bentley. Both workshops were a hit. Two more workshops, both on Saori weaving, were led by Erna Janine. 
Cotton continues to be the king of fibres and found a prominent place at the event. The chequered history of cotton as a crop, a fibre and a fabric was well depicted by a photo essay designed by Divya Venkatesh. The exhibition showcased the history, philosophy and benefits of khadi, India’s heritage fabric - the hand spun and hand woven fabric used effectively by Gandhi for resistance to colonial economic power and also of his visit to Lancashire to show solidarity with textile workers. 
Christa Suter, the CEO of bioRe Foundation set the tone for discussion challenges facing the production of organic cotton in today’s India, with the major risk in India coming from GM contamination in organic cotton seeds. About 95% of cotton seeds in India are genetically modified, popularly known as BT cotton. It is extremely difficult to achieve 0% contamination which some certification agencies insist on. As a result corruption in certification processes is not uncommon. 
This led to a discussion on the appropriateness of certification systems and other alternatives which can be as powerful, perhaps even more - reputation, trust, storytelling and a direct experience of the supply chain. Christa acknowledged that contamination was not, as yet, a major issue in Africa and cautioned this may not remain the case in the future, highlighting the importance of campaigns. 
Issues around scale, the demand for minimum orders by suppliers and of the importance of aesthetics in the fashion market - of the need to be continually creative in designing for ethical and responsible markets were also discussed. 
Asha Buch and Kapil Shah gave a live demonstration of spinning cotton on a portable spinning wheel (charkha) made popular by Gandhi. Inviting viewers to give the charkha a try and talking about the way of life khadi represented as they spun, Asha talked about the notion of simplicity that was an integral part of the khadi way of living. 
The demo followed a panel discussion on the ‘khadi way’ - on the values represented by Gandhi’s fabric - values of cooperation, of localised production, of personally creating and crafting with matter, and, of ethics and resistance. The event itself created with a collaboration of over thirty ethical businesses and where conversations and networking took precedence over marketing and preaching was a live example of the ‘khadi way’ in a contemporary context. 
There was an important discussion on how to move forward with the Khadi Initiative which helped create this open space. There was a general sense at the meeting that the focus should be providing physical and online spaces for experience sharing, dialogue and networking. There were specific suggestion for creating a directory, an event calendar and a resource listing. Shailini Amin of Moral Fibre Fabrics announced a khadi event to be held in India, as a follow up to the khadi event that the Khadi Initiative had organised at the Fashion & Textile Museum in London in November, 2017. 
The day ended with a telling note from Kapil Shah - we are sowing seeds for ethical fibres, let us nurture them with care, patience and vigilance. 
The Khadi Initiative 
The Khadi Initiative was founded by Khadi CIC, Moral Fibre Fabrics, Where Does It Come From?, Fresh Eyes: People to People Travel and Action Village India. They came together to organise an event, 'A Way Ahead: Ethical Khadi' at the Fashion and Textile Museum, London in November 2017 to promote khadi globally. It was a successful event, leading to a larger, more informal network of ethical businesses actively involved in addressing issues around ethical fashion and fabrics. 
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