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The Bark Cloth Research Network Project


The Bark Cloth Research Network Project

Supported by Istituto Marangoni London is selected for the Responsible Fashion Series at the Royal Academy in Antwerp
25 October 2021

In recent years, Dr Kirsten Scott (Programme Leader in MA Fashion Design and MA Luxury Accessory Design Management) and tutor Karen Spurgin from Istituto Marangoni London have been collaborating with a multidisciplinary group of researchers, artists, environmentalists, farmers, and fashion and design practitioners across the UK, US and Uganda to uncover and develop the potential of Ugandan bark cloth, including how it may be used in responsible, luxury fashion.  

Part of an ongoing research project with the Bark Cloth Research Network, their work was selected for an exhibition at the Royal Academy in Antwerp, accompanying the Responsible Fashion Series ‘Can Fashion Save the World’ colloquium.  

Through fieldwork in Uganda, natural dye experiments, extensive laboratory testing, the researchers explored the slow, regenerative processes around tending mutuba trees and harvesting and making bark cloth in Uganda, an indigenous, endangered textile and part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Stiff, uneven and weak in its original form, bark cloth was processed and blended with cotton to enhance drape, texture, handle, and strength. The project also involved a holistic design strategy that synergises the characteristics of bark cloth with the body’s biomechanical requirements, and leveraging its potential as a restorative, slow fashion textile through the creation of a series of luxury fashion garments.  

The project is designed to evolve in response to new knowledge and the next steps are already being planned, including wear tests to assess any benefits to mental and physical wellbeing from wearing bark cloth, the development and testing of biocomposites and biolaminates to improve water resistance and wear, and the creation of further garments that explore the potential contribution of bark cloth to responsible fashion.

The ultimate vision of the researchers is to support the continuation of bark cloth making across Uganda by raising awareness of its unique properties and therefore improve its market to preserve this important indigenous textile and knowledge system.

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