Taking you on a journey across the Yorkshire Dales and all the way to Vancouver Island, Kate Fletcher’s "Wild Dress" is an autobiographical meander through the tender moments where clothing has made her feel embedded in nature. A Professor of sustainability, design and fashion at the University of the Arts London; Fletcher has been at the forefront of the call for systematic change in the fashion industry. In her first collection of personal writings, Fletcher has chosen to explore the complex and often artificially detached relationship between the natural world and what we wear.
Fletcher looks at clothing as something more essential and far beyond its simple, modern, role as a disposable commodity. It’s not difficult to see that our cultural relationship with clothing has been distorted by years of fast-moving modern fashion trends but as she recounts the story of her dad’s favourite jumper, there is a glimmer of some nostalgic, intergenerational importance that breaks through. Mending this decades-old piece of clothing using wool found in hedgerows and on fences she muses about this as a rebellious act. “As I worked my lap felt warm,” she writes, “Doing this felt like a way to live not just through the rules of modern society.”
It’s not just about rebelling for the sake of reducing waste, however. Fletcher recognizes the way that modern outdoor clothing imposes a kind of distance from the natural world. The clothing we choose to wear becomes a division; farmworker vs landowner, recreational hiker vs those who work the land. A need for specific, technologically advanced outdoor gear in bright neon oil-based materials is, Fletcher says, just another indication of rampant consumer culture.
It’s a very different way to introduce this message. Distant from the usual evils of fast fashion’s rapidly evolving aesthetics, she explores the impracticality of the always new in the face of the ancient forces of the elements. Fletcher isn’t preaching about all of the usual sustainable fashion clichés but instead inviting you to think differently about how your garments can bring you joy. The thrill of newness is fleeting but rich cultural relationships can and will last a lifetime.
Shunning the newness of neoprene allows you to embrace a more permeable exterior. “Once we’re there, we learn from the land and listen to the voices of the birds and the rain,” she writes, “We give attention to the untamed parts of our world, including that part in ourselves. [...] And this requires, at the least, that we make the layers that we build up around ourselves— some of which are fashion in cloth—more permeable.” Our clothing doesn’t always have to form a barrier between the inside and the outside, sometimes, when your “coat’s wide sleeves grip onto the lip of a gust” or your “trousers, wide-legged act as a kite” it can help you form a connection with nature.
Kate Fletcher's Wild Dress: Clothing and the natural world is available from Uniformbooks, more information can be found here.