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alfia-02 Dialogue Corner

Wear your green heart on your sleeve: Our interview with the Uzbek designer and textile artist Alfia Valieva

"Natural fabrics can help people to change their attitude to health, environment and consumption patterns



Alfia Valieva wears her green heart on her sleeve – literally. She leads a team of designers and textile artists from Samarkand in Uzbekistan that use naturally-produced silk and other fabrics without costing the planet.


The majority of Alfia’s clothes are made from silkworm cocoon, without the need for pesticides.


When fed with mulberry leaves, silk worms produce a cocoon of the material around themselves at a remarkable pace. A 3-4cm cocoon can produce 800-1200 metres of fiber thread which can be wound together to make fabric for clothes without the use of pesticides.


Alfia’s team, known as AYSEL, use the silk to follow well-known as well as almost-forgotten ancient national textile and decorating techniques. In this interview, we discover how the clothes produced hold special cultural and environmental value – and draw inspiration to try and make some ourselves!


UN Environment Europe: What clothes are you wearing right now? Are you able to keep up the New Year's resolution you made with us of wearing natural, sustainable clothes all year round?


Alfia Valieva: As per usual, I am wearing natural clothes. It is easy for me to keep this up, because it is a habit of mine to only wear natural clothes.


When and why did you start working on fashion and clothes and have you always done so in a sustainable manner?


It is difficult to say when exactly - sometime in the mid-1990s. Using sustainable fabrics came naturally to me, because in our region practically all fabrics are natural and sustainable.


Why should people consider wearing natural fabrics? Are they more expensive?


Natural fabrics are good for our health - they allow the body to breathe. Silk is 97% composed of proteins, 3% made up of fat and wax, and contains 18 amino acids which have a positive effect on our metabolism. Silk fiber is very smooth and does not irritate even very sensitive skin; it is hypoallergic.


Of course, natural fabrics - especially silk - are more expensive than artificial fabrics. However, demand for them keeps growing because the number of people who care about their health and the environment is always on the rise.


What environmental problems can natural fabrics help solve?


Using natural fabrics is safe and environmentally friendly. The use of natural fabric colours is also important. Natural fabrics can help people to change their attitude to health, environment and consumption patterns.


Can people also make their own clothes from natural fabrics? How?


Everyone can try and go to a specialised shop and buy a natural fabric of their choice and create clothes of his/her own. It would be best to start with cheaper fabrics or to practice patchwork combining various types.


What can governments do to encourage this?


Governments can facilitate this by supporting folk-crafts, including weaving, silk breeding; by saving, rehabilitation and developing national cultural heritage and environmental education and awareness raising; large-scale activities on reviving national traditions, values, developing respective attitudes to national culture, nature and environment among young people, promoting education in the field of historical traditions of fabric-making.


Each production step followed by AYSEL passes from one professional’s ‘golden’ hands to those of another. The clothes therefore take longer to make but involve greater techniques and culture value while respecting the environment.


Historical background and inspiration to try at home


The techniques used by AYSEL include batik ‘Bandan’ to give fabrics special natural colours, batic ‘Painting’ and hot batic ‘Krakle’.


Embroidery is performed on the natural silk using a traditional technique stemming from gold-sewing practiced in the ancient city of Bukhara, as well as the ‘Popur’ and ‘Iroki’ traditional Uzbek methods.


The team furthermore use floral painting, artistic fabric colouring and other techniques, including using ornamental signs in poetical forms. These are painted onto fabric with the help of a cliche – which puts pressure on it - or done manually by an artist.


The silk is then decorated using hand-made stamps produced from fruit trees and natural coloring derived from local mulberries, pomegranates, nuts, onions and other plants.











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