Letter from the Executive Director

(To download a PDF of the full 2017 Annual Report, click here or on the cover image below.)

Fibershed 2017 Annual Report2017 was a year that amplified our commitment to the omnipresent systems that unite us—the soil, plants, four-legged and two-legged animals that compose the life-blood of Fibershed communities. Amongst the multiple converging crises that were brought into plain and unequivocal view this year, we kept our organizational attention and thus the attention of the tens of thousands of individuals we reach, focused upon the generosity of local living systems that generate our natural fiber and dyes. Each day we felt the need and the value in reminding ourselves and all those who take part in our workshops, citizen science and events, that even with the cascade of environmental, political and social turmoil we’re experiencing, we continue to have ample access to our first form of shelter (the clothes on our backs), and remaining tethered to that simple yet critical fact establishes the first stage of awareness that we need to begin to deepen and refine our relationships with natural fiber and dye systems. Remembering that we are all wearers is the first step in the journey of transforming our relationship to the materials that protect us, and support us in remaining resilient.

This year was a benchmark for getting the word out about exactly how antiquated and wasteful our current textile and dye systems really are, and why a wholesale transformation of the industry is called for. Without needing to search in any great depth—there is now ample public information that outlines first hand the chaotic environmental and cultural impacts that are perpetuated by modern global textile production systems. From the death of rivers outlined by the documentary, River Blue (http://riverbluethemovie.eco); to the heinous levels of mutagenic microplastic clothing lint in our oceans and drinking water, as noted by The Rozalia Project (http://rozaliaproject.org) and UC Santa Barbara’s Bren School (https://brenmicroplastics.weebly.com/project-findings.html); to the reminder that less than 1% of clothing is certified fair trade by the Fashion Revolution organizers; to the blatant waste of the system outlined so clearly by MacArthur Foundation’s recent publication A New Textile Economy, Redesigning Fashion’s Future (https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications/a-new-textiles-economy-redesigning-fashions-future). In 2017 we saw these highly problematic issues brought to the public in new, accessible and novel ways. While there remains a massive outreach strategy needed to deepen an understanding of these problem statements within the culture at large, we at Fibershed continue to expand a publicly focused narrative that these travesties are symptoms of a system that lacks a system-wide holistic guiding framework. In response, our organization has worked diligently this year to provide both conceptual framing and hands-on experiences that deepen our collective ties to what we have come to define as the Soil-to-Soil framework.

When we deepen our inquiry of the connections between our clothing and the soil—and the subsequent value-addition that follows from the farm to our skin—we immediately find ourselves investing or divesting directly in the core issues of our era—gender, racial and economic equity, climate change, soil loss, mass extinction—all of these core issues are tied to our wearing choices.

The Soil-to-Soil framework addresses symptoms by tackling root causes, and this is done through taking circular thinking to the biogeochemical level—and seating our awareness on the transfer of carbon between carbon pools within a regional economic focus. This framework puts into immediate question any fiber or dye that damages our soils (earth’s second largest carbon pool). Natural fiber and dye species farming can be integrated into existing agricultural models—through integrated crop and livestock systems, the development of crop rotations, the implementation of 35 verified Carbon Farm practices—as a means of rebuilding the 136 billions of lost carbon that we’ve released into our atmosphere. We’ve shown time and time again that farming can be a ‘draw-down’ solution, and it must be, given the short window of action that catastrophic climate change has defined for us. The Soil-to-Soil framework does not include fiber or dye sourced from the lithosphere (earth’s deepest carbon pool)—based upon our understanding of the highly pervasive micro pollution impacts we are seeing within our oceans (earth’s largest carbon pool), and the reality that the extraction and refinement of fossil carbon for plastic is responsible for releasing carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. The framework is grounded in the development of efficient and renewable energy powered manufacturing systems that exist in proximity to where our fibers and dye plants are grown. We focus on the creation of meaningful livelihoods based in decentralized manufacturing hubs, for a world needing to bridge economic and cultural divides which are clearly contributing to political friction. End of life strategies for clothing are based on the returning of carbon to the soil from which it came (after many recycling and mending options have transpired); natural fiber textiles that come from regenerating soils can and must be returned to those soils—this action both completes and initiates the cycle all over again. Carbon from our clothing creates a balanced compost when blended with nitrogen and mineral-rich inputs from manure and food waste.

This year—thanks to the committed support from our community—we were able to carve the pathway for living expressions of the Soil-to-Soil framework. We generated tangible examples of the first Climate Beneficial textiles through facilitating unlikely and welcome collaborations between urban designers and the rural ranching and farming community. Twenty-seven designers worked with producers to develop a new generation of wearing recipes. We quantified the soil and atmospheric impacts of these efforts thanks to the manifestation of years of collaboration with scientifically focused academic partners. Within our region, the doors of three new mills were opened, and our producer program grew to represent over one million acres of arable and rangeland—all managed by individuals and families who are committed to implementing carbon farming. We worked with our producers and legal support throughout 2017 to develop the first natural dye and fiber Agricultural Coop in the state of California. The non-profit is a member and shareholder of the Coop, and will be supporting Coop membership outreach through active engagement with our Producer Program members. At our annual Symposium, we shared how Fibershed’s Soil-to-Soil framework provides decentralized solutions that address the core textile systems issues of our time. We invited a host of problem statement analysts to openly share the depth of the multiple crises that the industry is experiencing; these speakers were followed by grass roots solution providers who were able to share their innovative new natural fiber blending recipes, equitable business models and processing technologies with a sold-out crowd and an international live-streamed audience.

While we continue to strengthen and deepen the quality of our relationship to our community, we do so within conditions that offer significant hurdles. This year was not without struggle, our producer community lost pastures, winter feed, and structures in the fire storm that ravished our land base last autumn. We lost colleagues at the federal level because their jobs have come into question and their agencies are in process of being consolidated or eradicated. This year brought forth a new level of challenge—we all felt it, no one was alone in this. And yet, it is these challenges which have consecrated our commitment to deepening, expanding and manifesting our work, and showing how Fibershed communities are and will continue to weave and knit our ethical and climate change ameliorating wearing-future into being. Thank you for all you do to contribute to this movement; we so look forward to learning, growing and creating with all of you in 2018.

Thank you,
Rebecca Burgess
Executive Director