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Locally Made: Fashion & Fibers

Before there is fashion, there are fibers. But do you know where your fibers come from?

Locally Made: Fashion & Fibers

While mass production has afforded us unparalleled convenience, we have come to learn in the last several years that it comes at a great cost. As we experience rising health epidemics, waning resources, and accelerated climate change, it’s becoming clear to all of us that this is not a sustainable system. But what can we do as individuals to create a solution that benefits our current state and future generations?

Before there is fashion, there are fibers. But do you know where your fibers come from?

According to Kristin Morrison, a local textile artist and fashion designer, we used to grow cotton and indigo in the South since the era of industrialization we began to export fibers from overseas and US fabric mills began to close. There are only 2 organic cotton farms in California currently and they do not produce enough to support the industry. As a result, fiber, textile, and apparel production are exported to places like China and India, where the cost of production is low and there are few regulations on the ethics of labor and farming.

In today’s ephemeral, fast-fashion world, the demand for inexpensive and quickly discarded apparel is contributing to a vicious cycle of mass production and resource depletion. We are buying clothes more quickly than ever, and also discarding more, with each of us throwing away 42 pounds of clothes and shoes into the trash each year. Added together, that’s about 9 million tons of shoes, jackets, and other wearables that are sent into the landfill annually, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

It’s clear that fast fashion, just like fast food, is not a sustainable system. The question is how do we change this mindset?

Kristin offers a solution: “To change that is to begin a local process, i.e. making textiles here, and the other portion of that is consumers supporting local makers and designers who are a part o a local process. Making better decisions within the realm of opportunities is key — anything that challenges you in your personal life to consumer less per year and be more conscious about the designers that you’re purchasing from, looking for local, and locally made. It’s also about building a relationship between the consumer, retailer, and designer. It all needs to happen together to shift the paradigm that we currently live in.”

Kristin is also adamant about designers taking more responsibility for pushing awareness because designers have more opportunities to be directly connected with the production process. “The good news is there is a small but strong movement towards bringing woven mills back to the states. I’m starting to work with domestic woven mills like the California Cloth Foundry and denim producers like Cone Mills on the east coast mills. This year, I’ve started working with LA Fibershed, who are doing amazing work towards that. We’re essentially a nonprofit, resource organization, and art collective who tries to connect designers and artists to local fibers…what we’re calling a Fibershed. Similar to a watershed, it’s connecting with bioregional fibers like California cotton, wool, dye plants, production, resources, and water. We do our best to source all of the above within a 250-mile radius of downtown Los Angeles,” Kristin explains.

The challenge with such an intensively hands-on approach is the cost of production, which increases the price of products. Kristin sees this as an opportunity for a cultural shift: “I am the designer, the maker, and the textile artist, and I am pushing to make more of my own fabrics. Thus, the process is going to take infinitely longer than sending it off to someone else. But the value and quality of each piece go up infinitely as well. So there is a direct correlation. If the customer values all that we said, then the hope is the willingness to invest in one or a few pieces a year rather than a few pieces a month.” In essence, we are investing in functional, durable products that will last a long time and bringing back a craftsmanship culture that celebrates the artistry of handmade goods.

According to Buck Owens, a basket artist who weaves each piece by hand, “Anything handmade is better than machine made. I’m not aware of any machine that can make a basket like mine, or make any basket better than a human being can. I’ve made hundreds of baskets over the last 33 years and no two are the same. Even the dyes come our different as each piece of reed takes the dye differently.” The uniqueness of each product is what makes it truly personal and priceless.

This is an excerpt from our publication Evolve 10, published Fall 2014.