I came across an interesting blog yesterday that talks about wearing locally grown, milled, designed and sewn clothing -- clothing sourced within 150 miles of home. They call this 150 mile radius a "fibershed". Included in the fibershed is every fiber farm, dye plant, textile mill, fiber artist, designer, weaver, felter and seamstress within the radius. Could you wear locally produced clothing exclusively? Clothing that was grown, dyed, processed, designed and created within 150 miles of home?
"The Fibershed project is inspired by the need to swing the pendulum of our production- and our consumption to a more balanced state, that supports the health of all humans and the greater ecological system of which we are apart; through the re-integration of organic fibers, natural dyes, and a regional base that supports local communities and economies."
We, Canadians, used to, before the industrial revolution grow our own clothing organically and produce our wardrobes sustainably. In fact there are still people in the world that create their own clothing from fibers they grow themselves. My friends in Laos told me of the people that live near them that raise silk worms, weave silk cloth and dye with natural indigo. The women weave a new garment for every member of the family every year. Silk for everyday clothing? I could live like that.
But what of North America?
"In my community (California) alone thousands upon thousands of pounds of wool are composted or thrown into the landfills each year. We have a 13% unemployment rate, all the while if you go to a store to buy a wool undershirt– the raw material is from New Zealand, and the production from China."
I saw in an issue of Crafts Report (2008) a project called "The 100 mile Suit". But my impression was that the suit was uncomfortable, stiff, ill fitting and generally an art project with no lasting appeal. Get a load of the undies? They even look itchy. Not a happy thought for a fiber farm and fiber artist like me. I wondered, are we limited to hats and mitts and sweaters in our quest for a local, sustainable lifestyle? Does local have to be boring and frumpy? Or outrageously artsy and illconceived? Plod forward 3 shearings and 100s of fleeces later, and I came across the fibershed blog.
I have known for a long time that the textile industry is one of the most polluting industries on the planet. This was the motivation for my daughter, Sarah's woad research and her subsequent science fair medals.
By moving the production of textiles off shore we have not solved this problem but merely shirked the responsibility. So I opt for fair trade and natural dyes and bought some skirts from Maiwa on Granville Island last year -- artisan made with cert. organic cottons, and traditional block printing with natural dyes -- and almost $100 a piece. Lovely garments -- slow clothes that I will wear for many years. But this is not a wardrobe -- just the addition of 2 or 3 pieces.
I wondered as I purused the Fibershed blog if it was possible to truly create a local wardrobe, with local dyes, and local fibers.
The objective (of the fibershed project) is to create and model a bioregional wardrobe that speaks the language of the landscape, through its use and care of local fibers–manipulated by the hands of local artisans, dyed in the botanic abundance of our lands.
But the key -- could that wardrobe be fashionable and functional? Could that wardrobe be affordable? This blog answers the question of fashionable and functional with a resounding, "yes". But each piece is artisan made, one of a kind, and presumably taking many hours to create. This might be something I could do for myself, but could it be done on a large scale to cloth a community?
The premise of the fibershed blog is that it must be done. The earth can no longer sustain the pollution and waste that characterizes the covering of mankind. The developing world cannot sustain the pollution that characterizes the garment manufacturing industries. Add to that the mass unemployment and economic struggle of the middle class in Europe and North America -- one off designer clothing sourced from local materials might be a trendy option for the rich. Can the struggling middle class afford this option? What of the poorer folks struggling to put nutritious food on the table?
Possibly if we can teach the skills necessary -- skills that our grandmothers and great grandmothers learned in childhood. It might be possible. The fibershed project hosts regular "reskilling" days where participants learn from each other and experiment with new skills -- natural dyeing on the beach? Sounds like a guild dye day to me.
I think the first step is to change our relationship with time. "Time is money" is not a truism any more. But how do we embrace time with productive and purposeful activity that is not tied to economic advancement -- the GNP? And how can we redeem the time -- knit our socks while waiting for the kettle to boil, spin our yarn while watching the Canucks lose to Chicago again. Can time become our friend? Instead of wanting more time can we use the 24 hours alloted to us to embrace the possibilities. Fewer meetings perhaps -- less driving perhaps -- less arguing about things that don't really matter -- and more time to work with our hands, hug a goat, stroke a bunny, create art. If "art is the signature of man" as Chesteron states, then beautiful, artisan clothing is the signature of woman -- the thing that distinguishes us from beasts. (Does grabbing jeans and a t-shirt from the ready wear rack, mean I am less human then? Or less of a woman? Hmmm, thoughts for another blog)
I am challenged by reading the fibershed blog to renew my joy in local, sustainable fiber -- to stay the course -- to change the wardrobes of my community -- one sustainable garment at a time. Will you join me?
My "fibershed" would include the communties of Salmon Arm to the North, Princeton to the West, Creston and a bit beyond to the East, and Spokane, WA to the South. That's a huge community with alpacas, llamas, sheep, angora goats, angora rabbits, linen and tons of dye plants. There are mills, weavers, spinners, felters, seamstresses, designers, brain tanners, leatherworkers, sock and sweater knitters -- are there shoe makers? Could this be feasible? Could we have a fashion show? Can we pull something together for the Joybilee Farm Linen Festival on August 6? What do you think? Are you in?