By Avni Goel
This week, we talked with sustainable textile designer and current Master’s student at The Fabricademy in Barcelona, Anna Cain. Incorporating biology and nature with her love for garment creation, Anna’s work takes a literal approach to sustainable fashion. Using mainly materials and techniques found within nature (including organisms) to create and inspire her designs, Anna challenges the wasteful standards of the modern fashion industry. Her practice aims to ask how we can work with nature rather than have nature work for us.
When we look at the current discussion surrounding sustainable fashion, it is often a human-centered conversation. Anna’s definition of sustainable fashion is one that extends the power back to nature. “My definition, I think, is fitting our fashion and dressing system into a rhythm that is more in sync with the Earth’s natural rhythm of production. So to produce, wear, and discard/biodegrade in a way that is compatible to the earth’s cycle timeline-wise and ingredient-wise. That is sustainable fashion.”
One organism Anna works closely with are silk worms. She raises them, cares for them, and collects their silk for her garments. When talking to her about this process, she informs me that it is more of a partnership with the silkworms rather than simply harvesting their silk for her use. Anna found ways to influence the silkworms to produce their silk onto molds, or shapes of her pieces, leaving the creative direction of the garment up to the worms themselves. “Normally the pupa is killed inside the cocoon and then the silk strand is unraveled and turned into thread. There are ways to produce silk without boiling the worm and I was really fascinated if there was a way to collaborate with the worm and keep it alive, somehow have it translate its own design tendencies in the silk.”
Below are a few excerpts from our conversation further highlighting her practice and what’s new in her work.
I’m really curious to talk to you about your silkworms! You raise these silkworms and then collect their silk yourself to use for your garments. How did you even think to start working with the worms to begin with? What is the process of raising and caring for them?
So I became interested in silk worms because I’ve been interested in going back to the root of where our textiles come from. They are an organism you can have in small quarters, like an apartment, and raise on your own. So in my academic situation this was something possible to explore. Living with them was definitely a learning experience. It’s like having a pet where you obviously can’t speak to them so you’re introduced to this other element of communication. How do I know what’s best for you? How do I listen to you? And how do I recognize you’re comfortable in your living situation? Part of my process is figuring out how to best facilitate a comfortable environment for the organism.
You just released a new collection! What’s new about these garments (materials, techniques etc.) than your earlier works?
I just completed my project for my Master’s program and was working with the silk worms again but using the cocoons in a different way. This time, I allowed the moth to create a cocoon and escape, so now the cocoon is broken and a little bit damaged. I wanted to use them in textiles to still bring value and beauty to them.
What do you hope people take away from your designs and your work?
I love to work in an open source way. That’s why I love to make tutorial type videos on TikTok to get people inspired in what they can create for themselves with their own waste materials. Hopefully prompt people to look into local textile and object production around them and the beauty and intricacy of local materials.
What do you want to see happen within the fashion industry in the future? What changes?
As an absolute dream, I would hope we could reinstall the farm-to-fashion local systems that fashion used to be. I think there’s a lot of ways to still have insane beauty and creativity. People assume that sustainable fashion always has a boring look because it’s going to be beige colors versus fast fashion/high fashion can be glittery and colorful. In reality all of that can be found in nature. All of those things aren’t exclusive to humans. We just need to figure out how to incorporate it into our systems in a better way.
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Anna leaves us with the question of how we can all work towards an ecogenesis, a word she uses to represent the design practice that fits into the Earth’s rhythm. “How can we learn from them (organisms), collaborate with them, and possibly grow the items we need instead of treating natural things like a resource that can be extracted and processed. Instead, how can we grow something into its very form and function?” From utilizing food scraps as natural dye to raising her own silk worms, her pieces are made in collaboration with the ultimate designer, Mother Earth.
Follow Anna’s design process and work as she continues to explore the relationship between fashion and nature: