Sustainability is no new concept to the fashion industry – but it is one that brands are increasingly tuning into and advocating in a bid to combat the impact of fast-fashion.

Set to further drill home the message and incite change, a timely exhibition, Fashioned From Nature, has landed at The Victoria and Albert Museum, tracing our relationship and dependency on Mother Nature since the 1600s.

Supported by the European Confederation of Flax and Hemp with further support from G Star Raw, the exhibition comprises two floors of historic artefacts and ensembles – including a dress fashioned between London and India in 1868 from over 5000 Jewel Beetle wings – alongside modern, innovative fabrics, such as Emma Watson’s 2016 Met Gala Calvin Klein gown, constructed from recycled plastic bottles.

Image courtesy of G Star.

At a private viewing ahead of the official launch, we spoke to curator, Edwina Ehrman, to learn what fuelled her fire for this seminal exhibition, and what the process of creating it uncovered.

“I first became aware of sustainability when Katharine Hamnett was doing her ‘Clean Up or Die’ Collection. Growing up in a textiles-producing area that was filthy, I had personal experience of living in pollution caused by the industry – so, in that sense, I was aware of the environmentalism aspect in the 1960s and 1970s, but in fashion terms it’s down to Katharine Hamnett.

I didn’t start actively thinking about sustainability in terms of acquiring things for The V&A Museum, until I was doing the ‘Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear and Wedding Dresses’ exhibition – and then I thought that I needed to start looking much more into what things are made of, and how they’re made.

One aspect of the project – that, as a historian, I really enjoyed – was learning about public concern over pollution in the late 18th and 19th Century. It was interesting to learn that individuals would take on powerful mill owners; they’d be having to live in these dreadful circumstances near dye works usually, and I found it intriguing that you could document the fact that people had protested and complained all those years ago. Often it got nowhere at all – but they didn’t give up.

I was also lucky enough to spend a couple of days a week at the Natural History Museum, where fashion was so alien to my colleagues. It really made me change my ideas about things, because they’re concerned with the bigger picture of climate change and evolution. I knew that if I did this exhibition, the main focus had to be how can we develop a better, more responsible industry; there’s a growing consciousness and we’re at a point of change right now.

I’m very intrigued by the range of approaches today, and I think we do need multiple systems running alongside each other – however, I also find it quite frustrating at times that I couldn’t find out what I wanted to find out about the actual processes of fashion. If you look up ‘pollution’ in the indexes of most fashion books, it’s not there. I hope that an exhibition like this might cause future fashion writers and documenters to actually think about this.

If we could get ‘pollution’ in the index more often, that would be an achievement.”

Fashioned From Nature runs at The V&A Museum from Saturday 21st April 21st until January 27th 2019. Click here for full details.