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5 Sustainable Fashion Takeaways from Africa Textile Talks 2022

by | Jul 5, 2022

Creating change in the fashion industry begins with the sharing of new sustainable fashion ideas and the propagation of new possibilities. The inaugural Africa Textile Talks, which took place from 23-24 June 2022, aimed to kickstart this process.

The event was a first-of-its-kind, three-day Southern Africa hybrid event launched by Twyg and Imiloa Collective along with the Karoo Winter Wool Festival and Cape Wools SA and with support from British Council.

It involved an expansive offering to discuss and learn about our clothing and fashion industries, and to help grow the movement of ethical, circular, and sustainable growers, makers, designers, creatives, and innovators.

Fashion is much more than just the clothes we wear. It is a lens to better understand history, culture, social and environmental issues, and the way the world works. If you missed it, all of the recorded sessions can be found on the Twyg YouTube channel, and here are our top five takeaways from the talks:

1. Ethical fashion and design can be a catalyst for social and economic change in Africa

African countries have rich textile cultures that have historically existed in harmony with natural and social systems. The ethical fashion movement and industry is growing, across Africa, and this includes a growing awareness of local practices that are inherently sustainable.

This has been accompanied by the rise in African ethical fashion brands that are championing a fashion industry that focuses on sustainability and ethics by challenging the overproduction crisis of the fast fashion industry and empowering local communities and artisans. The world has a lot to learn from African designers, crafters, and artisans when it comes to understanding what sustainable design and production means, in practice.

To learn more, watch this conversation:

2. Stylists, as image-makers, are key to encouraging creativity over consumption

The fashion industry is known for its compelling imagery and marketing campaigns that permeate every aspect of our lives through magazines, social media, billboards, music videos, in-store banners – the list goes on.

With the rise of fast fashion, stylists have become another cog in fashion’s marketing machine. Their role has been to find ways to incite a constant desire for newness and an aspiration to the latest trends.

But, if we return to the essence of stylists as image-makers, we come to realise that they can play an important role in creating compelling images that tell a different story of fashion – one that encourages creativity over consumption.

Stylists, as image makers, are the storytellers of the fashion industry and they shape the way we view, engage with, and create aspirations about clothing. Beyond just the clothes, sustainable fashion stylists often play an important role in how clothes are represented, and on what kinds of bodies, in photo shoots, marketing campaigns, and fashion media. We need new fashion stories, and conscious stylists are leading the way.

To learn more, watch this:

3. Natural dyes address pollution in the fashion industry while helping us redefine our relationship with our clothes

Toxic synthetic dyes are all too common in fashion and the treatment of wastewater is unregulated in many of the countries where textiles are produced, resulting in toxic rivers and high levels of sickness among the workers and their communities.

Natural and botanical dyes – which are free from these harmful chemicals and are often derived from plant-based compounds – have the potential to remedy this. The practice of natural and botanical dyeing has been around for centuries.

Sustainable dyes can be seen as examples of living colour – they change with time as we wear our clothing. While synthetic hues have taught us to reject this uncertainty, we need to learn to embrace the fluid nature of our clothing and find new ways to love our garments, to remedy the idea that our clothing should always look brand new. With their natural fluidity, natural and botanical dyes encourage us to embody this.

Aligning these sustainable dyeing practices with local plant ecologies could be an opportunity to create greater biodiversity. Working in collaborations with local cultivators and farmers who can grow dye plants, using sustainable practices, will be key to establishing these local dye systems.

To learn more, watch this:

4. We must not overlook low-technology solutions

Instead of relying on endless technological innovation to solve the world’s most pressing problems, we need to reckon with the systems that underpin these systemic issues.

Low-technology solutions prioritise simplicity and durability, local manufacture, as well as traditional or ancient techniques. This often involves looking to practices from the past for inspiration.

Regenerative farming is a key example of a low-technology approach. It has been the practice of many cultures for thousands of years and is slowly becoming the standard of farming in many industries. Mending and many sustainable dyeing practices are also ancient, low-tech sustainable practices.

Low-technology solutions and fibre practices often require a certain slowness that is necessary for understanding and addressing our complex crises with care. They also encourage a sense of conviviality, social connection, and community that is needed to create meaningful change. And, as Bayo Akomolafe says, “the times are urgent, let us slow down.”

To learn more, watch these:

5. We need to go beyond ‘fashion for fashion’s sake’ and see textiles as archives, cultural artifacts, and storytelling mediums

The truth is that we have far too many clothes in the world. This is the result of a fast fashion system that creates clothing purely for the sake of profit, without any consideration for the impacts that this excessive production has on people and the planet.

We desperately need a shift in thinking that returns us to the value of clothing as more than just passing trends. Understanding clothing as a carrier for stories, cultures, and histories allows us to value what we wear in a completely different way.

This is why mending becomes an act of community care, hand-me-downs become familial traditions, and upcycling becomes a way of stitching together stories.

Fashion for fashion’s sake will always be wasteful and exploitative. Let’s imagine something more than this.

To learn more, watch these:

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