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Learnings from the Land was published in The Lissome Magazine, Issue N°3, 2022.

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Interview with Deborah Barker (Fibershed) by Dörte de Jesus, photography by Jack R. Johnstone.

“With the seeds of this knowledge, the designers of tomorrow have the potential to create the paradigm shift we need for a creative, meaningful fashion culture on a thriving planet.”

– Deborah Barker

Each of our yearly editions opens with our sponsored pages. We intend to turn traditional ads upside down and bring them to a new level of purpose and care. The sponsored pages are kindly supported by our kindred-spirited partners, who help enable the independent publishing work of The Lissome non-profit organization together with an environmental/social cause close to our hearts. This year we want to highlight the educational work of the Southeast England Fibreshed and help fund and realize a series of workshops that they will host with our support throughout 2022 at the Plaw Hatch community farm.

We first got in touch with Deborah Barker, the Southeast England Fibreshed’s director, when interviewing her for our last issue and found out about her idea of offering innovative, farm-based courses for fashion students. Having become acutely aware of the despair felt by many students about the environmental damage and social injustice that the fashion system perpetuates, Deborah aims to help this future generation of designers to re-establish a meaningful and grounded relationship with nature. By supporting her cause, we want to help spread her vision. We hope that her example will inspire fashion schools across the globe to include Earth-centred learning from the land as an essential part of their curriculums.

In the following pages, photographer Jack Johnstone went along with a group of fashion students and captured a joyful day of experiential learning at Plaw Hatch Farm in October 2021. We would like to wholeheartedly thank our sponsors, Dr. Hauschka, VIU, Santaverde, Wildling and GRN, and our printing partner, Druckhaus Sportflieger, for their vital support of our work and vision.

Dörte de Jesus: Could you paint me a picture of law Hatch Farm and the work and projects happening there?

Deborah Barker: The first thing most people notice on arriving at Plaw Hatch Farm is the number of young women farmers engaged in a range of tasks, from driving tractors and combine harvesters to herding sheep and feeding pigs. Women currently head up five of the six enterprises on the200-acre biodynamic community-owned farm. Nestled in a wooded landscape on the edge of the Ashdown Forest, it is a richly biodiverse environment grazed by a small flock of Lleyn and Romney sheep, a dairy herd providing raw milk and dairy products, pigs, and laying hens. There is also a 12-acre garden that grows a range of seasonal fruit and vegetables and a small selection of dye plants.

A biodynamic farm works towards a closed-loop system that does not need to buy in feed or fertilizers from external suppliers and tries to ensure that it is not stretched beyond its natural capacity. In the same way, a fibreshed aspires to move away from an extractive model of production to work within the resources of the region.

Dörte: What do you show the students during a workshop day, and how are your teachings linked to the fibreshed principles?

Deborah: We aim to share our awe and wonder at the natural world as well as an understanding of the principles of regenerative farming and the fibreshed movement. Through stillness and motion, exploration and discussion, information and experience, we journey through the farm to connect with the land, to understand the character of the yarn and the colour as a unique expression of a particular landscape.

Fibreshed clothing is based on the principle of “soil to soil”. The textiles come from the earth and return to the earth at the end of their useful lives – so we start by taking students to the compost heap. It is impossible to imagine without smiling the infinite numbers of microorganisms in just one teaspoon of soil, working in harmony to create fertility. We work with exercises to encourage direct engagement with the plants and the living landscape: madder root rubbed on paper, the scent of marigolds, the feel of unwashed fleece in the hand, a wild flower through a jeweller's lens – to ground the imagination and thinking in the farmland from which the materials and the fibres are grown. We begin to observe closely, to slow down and appreciate what the plants and animals are giving us, to experience ourselves within a web of reciprocal relationships rather than standing separate, apart.

We walk the farm to understand how farming regeneratively impacts every aspect of farm life: the soil, water, air, and all the plants, beings and people for whom the farm is home. We explore how soil health can be measured; what transparency means; what social and environmental justice might look like; how to create supply networks rather than work with supply chains; the challenges of scaling up and keeping it small.

Our final visit is usually to meet the sheep. The day ends with dyeing wool from the flock with dye plants that we have harvested from the land that the sheep grazed to grow their fleece. It isa process that has a deep imaginative resonance for many of the people who journey with us. We need to nourish the soul and imagination as well as inform and educate to create a momentum for change, to work out of a new paradigm.

Dörte: Why do you think it is so important to offer these courses to today’s fashion design students?

Deborah: Many of the fashion and textile students going through university are deeply troubled by the climate crisis and the social and environmental injustices perpetuated by the fashion industry. They cannot reconcile their love of fashion and design with the destructive nature of the fashion industry. At university, sustainability is all too often only a module rather than a value embedded through the entire curriculum. The fibreshed movement offers a different way to think about fashion and textiles, reconnecting farming with fashion and addressing all the issues above.

We have found that introducing complexity without over-whelming people is best done in context – through exploring, walking, talking and making. This hands-on approach encourages students to think deeply about the practical implications of a paradigm shift, working with the agricultural year, aligning the fashion seasons with natural seasons, understanding the complexity of ecosystems, respecting the time it takes to nurture and grow the raw materials. With the seeds of this knowledge, the designers of tomorrow have the potential to create the paradigm shift we need for a creative, meaningful fashion culture on a thriving planet.

Dörte: What do the students takeaway from a day with you at the farm?

Deborah: We hope that the students will come away with an insight into the process of creating soil-to-soil textiles. And enough knowledge of regenerative farming to understand that it isa process that builds soil health that is dependent on context, not a set of hard and fast rules. With that comes an appreciation and respect for the work of farmers working in this challenging time of climate crisis.

The students will be able to question the impact of their material choices, and distinguish between agro-industrial farming and nature-friendly farming systems that value their workers, build soil and protect the health of our biosphere. Their embodied experience of the land and understanding of the time, energy and resources that go into creating fibre and colour create a respect for all materials and a chance to view them through a new lens.

Even experienced fashion designers have said that since attending a workshop they have never looked at materials in the same way again. And perhaps most importantly, they take away inspiration and hope. They see that it is possible to create clothing and textiles that have a positive impact on the land, the biosphere, rural communities and farmers.