When you enter your local fabric store, it is rare to nonexistent that you’ll see a textile with an ingredients list, and it is more rare to see a fabric processed within your home community. We rarely consider a textile’s agricultural origin or the mechanical and chemical processes that industrial textiles undergo. In garment labeling today, the rules do not require noting the fabric’s source and what you see on the label only relates to where a zipper, button, or finishing process occurred.
What if you could wear a regionally grown and woven textile with no health harming synthetic finishes or toxic dyes, that was tied directly to reversing the effects of climate change, while providing better livelihoods for your community? For the past 5 years, Fibershed has been dedicated to creating prototypes that tread the path for this very reality. We’ve focused on bridge building between individuals and the biological context of the raw materials that clothe them. We acknowledge the lack of options that brands, artisans and makers have sourcing traceable textiles. Through the Community Supported Cloth program, our aim is to build a transparent, regional and regenerative textile economic model that supports the ranchers and artisans in our community.
The foundation of the Community Supported Cloth program is defined by the fine wool quality Rambouillet flock from the Bare Ranch—a beautiful and remote land-base, run by a multi-generation ranching family. After starting conversations in 2013, the ranch began taking steps towards developing a Carbon Farm Plan. Earlier this year, the Bare Ranch implemented its first Carbon Farming practice, the highest calculated potential for carbon sequestration practices in a suite of 35 approved and supported by the NRCS (National Resource Conservation Service), a cropland based compost application. In the upcoming years, Bare Ranch plans to continue to add compost to their range and cropland, as well as implement more soil restoring practices, such as a shelter belt with a dye and pollinator plant understory. This shelter belt would provide a shady refuge for the sheep as well as protect the ranches soils from strong winds (mitigating erosion). Implementation of the Carbon Farm Plan can be expected to result in additional sequestration in Bare Ranch soils and vegetation of 4,068 metric tons of CO2e annually. For comparison, a typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.7 metric tons of Co2e per year (EPA 2016), so this amount of CO2 sequestered would offset the emissions of about 865 passenger vehicles annually.
Implementation of the plan will take time, financial resources, and commitment. For just the compost application alone, this analysis assumed that up to 1,600 acres of Bare Ranch pasture would receive compost over a period of several years. Assuming approximately 4,000 cubic yards of finished compost is available for pasture application on the farm annually, the ranch could treat about 112 acres per year at the rate of ¼” of compost (about 35 cubic yards) per acre, requiring about 14 years to treat all available pasture acreage on the ranch. While government programs and institutions are beginning to see the importance of soil health and the carbon farming approach, our land managers are not going to be able to get there fast enough on their own. For this reason, The Community Supported Cloth model includes an additional 3% to the cost of the cloth to directly fund Carbon Farm implementation. The model also includes a mechanism for individuals and institutions to make direct donations to soil carbon building practices.
We have sought to work with the most regional supply chain partners, ideally within our Northern California Fibershed. To that end, we are collaborating with Leslie Terzian of Tangle Blue, who has experience in both hand and industrial weaving production, and continues to be a great partner for Fibershed and was instrumental in the final textile construction and design.
Understanding the need to develop a cloth program with accessibility to a larger group of artisans and makers and with the ability to scale, we enlisted the talents of an up-and-coming independent textile manufacturer out of Rancho Cordova, California. Ryan Huston, of Huston Textile Company is building his business with a vision to develop high quality, small-batch textiles using vintage Amercian machines.
To fulfill the vision of scalability and meet the requirements for Huston Textile’s industrial equipment, there needed to be a yarn that was machine weavable. The high speeds and heavy tension of industrial weaving equipment require strong, finely-tuned yarn spinning production. Unfortunately, this capability is not yet available on the west coast. Thanks to Jagger Bros in Springvale, Maine, we were able to develop this yarn.
Before wool fiber is spun into yarn, it must go through a washing process called scouring to remove the dirt, plant matter, suint (sweaty salts), and lanolin (natural oil from the sheep). For this work, we were fortunate to work with a combed top manufacturer whose machines date back to the mid 1950’s. Charguers Wool in Jamestown, North Carolina is one of the few wool scouring operations left in the United States. After scouring, the wool fiber goes through an additional fine combing process that aligns all the longer fibers and removes most of the shorter fibers, referred to as noils. This additional process translates into a smoother textile surface and the ability to create a finer weight cloth.
How can we design a regenerative textile economy that is directly linked to the health of our soils and has the potential to mitigate climate change? Just as a mindful chef would hunt for locally grown ingredients and might seek out the most committed soil building land-managers to grow their produce. In like fashion, we are producing a beautiful regionally grown 100% wool textile, and will be offering yards of this fabric to artisans, home-sewers, designers, and makers through our Community Supported Cloth model. This model is analogous to that used by the first organic food farmers, whereby customers would provide upfront capital to help cover the costs of the growing season, and in return would receive boxes of fresh, local, and organic produce. In a similar vein we will be offering pre-sale opportunities for customers to reserve yardage, and in turn their investment will help cover the costs of the manufacturing processes.
By pooling demand from a community of like-minded artisans we can support moving our local material through higher minimum mills–leveraging economies of scale by working together. For this initial production, we will only have around 500 yards but, with your help, can scale the program in upcoming years. For those of you who do not have the access or ability to cut & sew your own products, we are excited to offer donation options that will go directly to regenerative farming practices to the Bare Ranch.
The first production run of Community Supported Cloth is now fully reserved. Thank you to everyone who reserved yardage and made this supply chain possible!
If you would like to be placed on a waitlist to be notified of potential overstock or future cloth supply, please email Krystle at email@example.com. Rates for this run of cloth ranged from $45 – $55/yd depending on quantity ordered. Part of the goal of this project is to establish an economic model for regional, regenerative cloth. By providing your information for our waitlist, you are also contributing valuable feedback for our demand analysis.
Donations to the Carbon Farm Fund are still accepted and deeply appreciated; your contributions distribute funds to Fibershed producers for the purpose of implementing carbon farming practices.
BECOME A TREE DONOR: An $8.00 donation to the Carbon Farm Fund will purchase a linear foot of the tree-planted area.
BECOME A COMPOST DONOR: A $50.00 donation to the Carbon Farm Fund will purchase a cubic yard of compost for the ranch.
CONTRIBUTE TO THE CARBON FARM FUND:
Any amount counts and will be used for on-the-ground regenerative fiber system development:
(Photos by Paige Green)