I’ve been busy talking and learning with this Fibreshed project. But I’ve also been thinking a lot. Several of those thoughts and even fears have been swirling around in my head. I am putting them down in writing so they can develop into something more useful.
I don’t know
I am so aware of how little I know! I’ve come into this project with no idea about textiles, fashion or the business of clothes. I work full-time in a different industry and am squeezing this project around that.
I am learning so much, but the data gathering is haphazard. What I learn depends on who I Google, what I think of to ask them and what they tell me from their perspective. I’m mindful that others will read my imperfect writing and take it as whole truth.
I don’t have the expertise to weigh up different information streams accurately. I’m only aware of a small part of the story, but other aspects are influencing what I’m seeing. I’m looking for a sustainable path, but there’s so much detail I need better tools to find my way. I’ve been guided by intuition and emotion; I want and need more standards and science in my process. I’ve recently discovered the existence of the Global Organic Textile Standard, and will be referring to that as I move forward.
I am grateful for all the skill and knowledge that has been preserved and built on by the passionate people in this area. Without them I could not do what I do. They’ve been so gracious about the basic level from which I’m beginning. Yes it’s in their interest to help me from a business point of view. But there’s also an element of generosity for the sake of it, they’re ‘passing on the favour’. On the shoulders of giants I stand.
Learning about this process properly, I’ve had to let go of some comforting but lazy ideas. I’m much more aware of the energy and cost that goes into my clothes. Given there are many existing resources out there, creating new ones can be wasteful of resources and time. This has been a reminder and incentive to prioritise reduction first. Reduce my consumption, reuse existing clothes by mending or recycle by repurposing.
I’d not truely understood why vegans avoid products such as wool. So long as the animal isn’t mulesed and is treated well, surely its ok to use wool, right? But an animal’s fibre gets coarser as it gets older. Even in small farms we put that animal ‘out to pasture’ once its past peak production. Silk production, peace or conventional, results in many more worms than are needed for fibre production. Agriculture as we currently practice it has no room for ‘excess’ animals’. As a vegetarian, it’s an uncomfortable reminder of what I’m participating in. I’ve begun looking further into alternative fibres, but I’m not yet happy enough with what I’ve found. It’s an ongoing investigation.
At the current moment, buying local clothing fibres is pretty inaccessible. My work on this Fibreshed project focusses on making information and sources easier to find. But there’s a longer term, bigger definition of accessibility that also troubles me.
This stuff is expensive. Fibreshed in the US are creating an entirely local pair of jeans. Its such an exciting project, but I choked when I read the price tag: US$500. I am a white middle class woman engaging in an activity only accessible to other white middle class women (actually, I wouldn’t pay $500 for a pair of pants either). What benefit does this project deliver if it’s not available to the wider population? I understand that this is an experimental, building phase. So it’s normal for this stage to cost a lot, but hopefully this phase will lead to innovations that make it more affordable.
Visiting producers, I’ve also learnt just how tight their margins are. These products are pricey because of their inherent properties; no one is making a fortune from them. I can see a few reasons why these products are expensive, I have less idea on how to improve that situation. But this Fibershed can only be a real alternative once we find ways to make it more accessible.
I think the biggest issue right now is that no one has a good idea of what everyone else is doing. The elements are already there to some degree, but my project makes them more visible. This should help with growth in demand and awareness. I also see a place for middlemen for those who don’t have the time or interest to draw together all the touch points together like I’m doing.
There’s the chicken and egg issue of current small quantities resulting in limited, pricy products. But larger quantities need more buyers, who either don’t exist or haven’t found this product yet. I feel mechanisation and technology has a valuable part to play here. I need to find out what exists and the potential for improvements in time (and therefore money savings).
We can build longevity into our clothes with good quality materials and production. Items can be designed to be multipurpose such as the infinity dress or reversable tops. Clothes can have the facility to alter them built in, such as a large seam allowance in the seat of trousers so you can take them out if you put on weight.
Our consumer thinking needs to shift. I think these products are always going to have a higher price, but we don’t need as much as we currently consume. There’s a nice balance there that may be enough to make things affordable. Perhaps buying only a few things and using the saved time for mending does make a difference.
I can see parallels between this project and all the work that has already gone into the sustainable local food movement. I hope I can learn some lessons there. For example, simple guides that help consumers on a budget pick the most important organic foods are really useful. What would a Fibershed fashion list look like?