Buying local isn’t just about food choices. In supporting community businesses and reducing our ecological footprint, fiber is another important consideration, encompassing farmers that grow cotton and hemp or raise sheep for wool, fiber artisans and textile designers.
The U.S. presently imports about 95 percent of Americans’ clothing, reports the Ecology Global Network (Ecology.com),
with most manufactured in countries where sweatshops and human rights abuses are common. Polyester and nylon, the most commonly used synthetic fibers, are derived from petroleum and processed and dyed using synthetic, often toxic substances. According to a 2010 report by China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, the textile industry is that country’s third-worst polluter.
The nonprofit Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture’s (cuesa.org) Fibershed program raises public awareness of the issue in Central California. Robin Lynde, a shepherd, weaver and teacher at Meridian Jacobs Farm, in Vacaville, also sells yarn, fleece, felt, lambskin, hand-woven garments and blankets. “Fiber producers, users and designers may not know that there are sheep 10 miles away from them and they can get that fiber,” she says.
Fibershed also promotes a Grow Your Jeans program, comprising area sourcing, dyeing and sewing of a limited run of jeans. While textile sustainability in any given region is developing, the organization recommends that residents mend, instead of discard, old clothes, swap clothing or buy used, while resisting marketing pressure to augment wardrobes every season to keep up with trends. Someday, we might be able to visit a nearby field where our clothing is grown.
The Sustainable Cotton Project (SustainableCotton.org), based in Winters, California, conducts a Cleaner Cotton program that helps conventional growers transition to more sustainable practices using non-GMO varieties and integrated pest management practices to more gently solve ecological challenges. A big part of the challenge is to get the word out. “To get cleaner cotton to a spinner, someone has to request it,” says Executive Director Marcia Gibbs.