Slow Fashion Citizen: Natalie Chanin

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final installment of Katrina’s Slow Fashion Citizen column here on Fringe, and I want to express my warmest thanks to her for doing such an amazing job with it all year. Make sure you’re following her on Instagram @katrinarodabaugh to keep up with all the good she’s got going! <praise hands>

Slow Fashion Citizen: Natalie Chanin

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH // For this final installment of Slow Fashion Citizen here on Fringe, I wanted to bring you someone very special, and I’m honored for it to be one of my all-time slow fashion heroes, Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin. Someone who encapsulates the slow fashion movement — from ethics to craftsmanship, to labor practices, to materials, to innovative design, to entrepreneurship, to her overall business approach. To many of you, Natalie Chanin needs no introduction. She’s been forging the way in sustainable fashion for over a decade with her hand-stitched, Alabama-made, design-winning and absolutely stunning garments.

When I first started following Natalie’s work I was so intrigued by the stitched construction — the entire garment made by hand instead of just reserving handwork for embellishment. But as I watched her business expand to include classes, community spaces, yardage of organic cotton, machine stitched garments and so much more, I realized the profoundness of her work is not just her aesthetic, but her willingness to let ethics lead. Watching a designer push beyond the boundaries of conventional design and into the roles of community-builder, collaborator, producer and thought-leader is truly inspiring. Not to mention, it feels like the future. Not just a fashion brand for now, but one that considers people, processes and the planet for generations to come.

For those of you who’ve followed along since our first announcement of Slow Fashion Citizen in January, thank you again and again. I’ve had the tremendous pleasure of interviewing fourteen sustainable fashion leaders and I’m so grateful for your readership, thoughts, questions and community. For my final feature, the warmest welcome to the ever-inspiring and illuminating Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin. Thank you, Natalie for making the time for this exclusive interview on Fringe.

. . .

Can you tell the story of how Alabama Chanin first began — when you shifted gears as a costume designer traveling the world and moved back to your hometown in Alabama?

I never intended to create a company of my own. I cut apart a t-shirt, sewed it back together, and wore it to a party — and the next morning I woke up with a feeling of complete satisfaction. I had forgotten how good it felt to make something with my own two hands. And I wanted to create more, but I found that the techniques that I was using couldn’t be recreated in New York. The quilting stitches I had used I had learned from my grandmother and great-grandmother in Alabama, so that’s where I went to connect to an entire community of sewers and seamstresses. From there I made 200 one-of-a-kind t-shirts, and those t-shirts evolved into the business that has become Alabama Chanin.

I’ve been inspired watching the company’s journey from redesigning secondhand t-shirts to supplying yardage of organic cotton. Was it challenging to take the plunge into supporting organic cotton production and a US-based supply chain, or was it just a natural progression?

Yes and no. The entire evolution of Alabama Chanin has been a very natural progression with quality, sustainability and local production at the core. Many of those secondhand t-shirts that I found in New York were made right here in my community. Creating a supply chain that is 100% seed-to-shelf Made in the USA is challenging every day (but even more rewarding). We constantly deal with fabric shortages, events out of our control, and balancing supply and demand …

Your work has truly been revolutionary in paying artisans fair wages and keeping labor local. You contract with local artists and buy the work back from them when it’s complete. It’s true innovation. Did this model feel risky when you started the company? It still feels very bold more than a decade later.

Thank you. Every big business decision you make comes with it doubts. We come up against that each day. The artisan business model laid the foundation of the work in our community and has impacted so many, providing a way for our artisans to be their own small-business owners. The process is set up such that we don’t have as much risk — the artisans purchase the raw materials from us, and their finished garment must meet our quality standards (and deadline) in order for us to purchase the finished piece at a prearranged bid price. It the beginning, everything felt risky, but it has worked remarkably well and inspired many to follow this model in their own community. Our business could not survive without our dedicated and extremely skilled artisans.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Natalie Chanin

I love the story about why you open-sourced your first pattern designs — in reaction to a journalist suggesting your work was too expensive, if I’m not mistaken. By publishing your patterns you also tiered your offerings so folks could either buy the finished garment at a higher price, or buy your books and make the garment at home. Either requires an investment — time or money — but the wearer chooses. Was this insistence on value intentional?

The value of our products goes deeper than simply a price. We take great care in sourcing our materials to get the best quality, and all our labor is local. So much time, skill and love goes into the making of a sewn garment. Once someone tries the work themselves, they begin to understand the value of the garments. Value means so much more than just a price.

Years ago I read one of your blog posts about slow design. It really impacted my thinking about fashion, and it has stayed with me. It felt so courageous and yet somehow so practical too. Does it still feel courageous to advocate for slow fashion from within the fashion industry?

While the number of companies incorporating sustainability and ethical practices into their mission is increasing, there is A LOT that needs to happen for it to be the industry standard. We’re happy to have created conversations that have changed some minds and practices; at the same time, we’re sad that some of those conversations were started because of the cost of lives. We are proud to celebrate the beauty that comes with making slowly and mindfully.

On your website you write, “Our experiences showed us that face-to-face and hand-to-hand contact helped our customers better understand the what, why, and how of our making processes and the importance of an organic supply chain.” We’re programmed to consider “industry secrets” as something to protect, lest we bankrupt our own business by giving too much information away. Yet, you continue to publish patterns and sewing techniques, and teach classes that offer intimate insight into your design process. It seems sharing your expertise has actually strengthened your business, not threatened it, and become a priority that supports the larger community. Would you agree?

Absolutely. The School of Making is our educational initiative that preserves this way of making. The initial decision to open source our techniques and materials (and ultimately to create The School of Making) grew from our commitment to sustainability. Doing so allows us to make living arts accessible to all consumers. The global community of makers is engaged and dedicated and inspires us to keep making and doing good work.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Natalie Chanin

Your work straddles urban and rural design influences — the sophisticated silhouettes meet soulful and often nature-based embellishments in embroidery and surface design. Do you see your work as intentionally bridging the divide between urban and rural cultures — drawing from the Alabama landscape while maintaining conversation with an urban design sensibility?

Our community is in a rural setting. I grew up here, but I’ve also lived in New York, Europe, South America for a short time, and had the great fortune to have traveled the world. There is a distinct relationship between rural and urban aesthetic. Through contemporary design, we seek to lend modernity to age-old techniques. We also see this form of handwork as a way to bridge socio-economic divides. Get a group of people around a sewing table and they will find commonalities — even if it is simply a love of making.

In Alabama Chanin’s Hierarchy of Systems that supports the mission of your company you write, “7. Community (to be a benefit for the larger community in our region and around the globe).” Between 2013-2014 you opened The Factory Café and flagship store, launched the School of Making, started your machine-sewn clothing line, and opened Bldg. 14 Design + Manufacturing Series. That’s incredible. Was all of this in the name of better supporting the community in one sense or another?

Yes. We wanted to create a space for our community to shop, eat, hold meetings and gatherings. A place to interact with one another — under circumstances that they might not normally. With an emphasis on sustainable culture, education and quality goods, we create a community of sharing and idea exchange and a love of things that last. Each of these parts of our business is deeply connected to local community — guests from near (and far) can visit the store and café and see the garments and goods firsthand, and enjoy a locally sourced lunch. They can then take a tour of our facility and see our design and production studios in operation. The Factory is in service to our community, not only providing a space and programs to gather, learn and enrich lives, but all facets of our company look to provide jobs and economic development in our community.

I admire how your company aims to “complete sustainability at every stage of the manufacturing process – from materials and processes, to cultural sustainability in the form of preserving hand-sewing skills.” Was the preservation of sewing skills part of your vision of slow fashion from the beginning?

It was the moment I realized that the hand-embroidered shirts I’d been making were really little more than a quilting stitch. In that moment, I realized that this was something I learned in my childhood and, in the same moment, I understood that I wanted to go back to the community of my childhood in North Alabama. It was clear to me that I wanted to talk to my grandmother and the other ladies like her who had quilted their whole lives; I wanted to make a film about why people made quilts, and I wanted to make a small collection of hand-quilted t-shirts.

. . .

The rest, as they say, is history! Thanks so much, Natalie and Katrina. Everyone, make sure you’re following @alabamachanin and @theschoolofmaking on Instagram. And I also want to mention Natalie’s latest book, The Geometry of Hand-Sewing, which I’m eager to get my hands on! —kt

Katrina Rodabaugh is an author, artist and slow-fashion advocate. Visit her website or follow her on Instagram at @katrinarodabaugh


PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion Citizen:  Jerome Sevilla (Gridjunky)

All photos provided by Alabama Chanin; photo of Natalie by Rinne Allen

THANK YOU and Elsewhere

THANK YOU and Elsewhere

I’m just back from a week in Florida with innumerable loved ones gathered together for a big family event, where I had even less time and connectivity (and knitting opportunity) than I expected — hence my spotty attendance here. Among the many things I’m thankful for at the moment, one of them is finally being able to leave the house with my waxed camo Field Bag after months and months in hiding! But what I’m seriously most thankful for today (after my lovely family) is all of you and all of the support you’ve given to me, and to this blog and to Fringe Supply Co. When I think about how my life has changed since the day I learned to knit and started to blog about it … the mind reels. And I couldn’t do it without you — so thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your ongoing support.

Since most of you are in the US and celebrating Thanksgiving today/this weekend, I’m including Elsewhere links here today and will resume normal posting on Monday!

First: Remember my post about Stella Tennant and Nov ’96 Vogue? Well, I now have both the US and UK (sorry, meant to say) Paris editions from that month in my possession, and none of those photos are in either one. There is a feature in the US one in which Stella tromps and rows around the Adirondacks, at one point wearing an ivory Ralph Lauren turtleneck very much like the one in that post, but now I’m dying to know where/when those vaunted photos were from. Some other Vogue edition of that month and year, or something else entirely? We might never know — but if you have any leads, please share them!

3 designers creating clothes for life — not the runway (thx, Claudia) — Maureen Doherty, especially, is my new idol

How to wear a yoke sweater (on the beach!)

– If you’re in a group that knits for a good cause, YarnCanada might be able to help you with some yarn

– I love these Love More mittens and what Leigh had to say about them

These Japanese dioramas blow my mind

– I’m crazy about Jen’s winter sewing plan

– I want a hat that looks exactly like this

– Congrats to Felicia on the launch of Soul Craft Festival

– and Tif has me obsessing over that Markham Collar again

What are your favorite links lately? Feel free to share!

Happy feasting, all — and if you’re in Nashville, I hope we’ll see you at the pop-up on Saturday!



Slow Fashion Citizen: Jerome Sevilla

Slow Fashion Citizen: Jerome Sevilla

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH // Today I’m thrilled to share the work of Slow Fashion Citizen Jerome Sevilla of Gridjunky. I’ve been following Jerome on Instagram for several years, and while his craftsmanship, choice of colors and fibers, and his designer’s approach to textiles make him one of my favorite creatives to watch, it’s his use of recycled fibers that actually blows my mind. He makes beautiful hats, scarves, sweaters and bags but oftentimes by unraveling a quality secondhand sweater or tenderly dissecting a family heirloom to be made into new creations. The boldness and thoughtfulness in his approach to materials is something that comes with his passion and commitment to simply make the most beautiful things.

What if the highest quality fibers are out of our price range but we don’t want to settle for their affordable counterparts? How can we shift our thinking of “new materials” and be resourceful in accessing the very best fibers anyway? In Jerome’s case, by unraveling a beautiful Banana Republic sweater or cutting into his mother’s stash of beloved table linens. Combine this discernment for materials with the trained eye of a graphic designer and a minimalist bent on what makes beautiful garments and, well, it’s a powerful result. Jerome’s drive for the most gorgeous fibers combined with his willingness to take apart the materials around him manifests in a particular magic that’s all his own. It’s a refreshing and inspiring approach to truly making Slow Fashion work regardless of budget.

. . .

I love imagining how your work as a graphic designer informs your work with textiles. Can you talk about any overlaps or shared aesthetics between the two?

I think the creative process in general is an important overlap. Visual designers aren’t trained to come up with one idea per project. We come up with ten, or twenty, depending on the concept. Then we start killing the weaker ideas, and nurturing the stronger ones. This idea of “killing your babies” was first introduced to me in high school when I took photography. This was way back when, so we’re talking about chemical photography, with the darkroom, and stinky solutions, and staring at timers, and shaking canisters. And we eliminated bad shots the same way we weed out good ideas. Each roll of negatives was cut and printed en masse onto one print, and you circled the ones you wanted to enlarge into actual prints. Successful designs rely heavily on one’s ability to self-edit. My textile work is cultivated in the same way, where everything starts as a bunch of ugly sketches.

How did you learn to knit? To sew?

I’ve been hand sewing all my life. My mother and grandmother were a constant resource. I grew up making this and modifying that, and it wasn’t really about practicing heritage skillsets, it was just a necessary skill to have. I’ve always been different from everyone in terms of personal style. Being able to modify clothes was a major part of my identity and individuality.

Knitting was one of many things that piqued my interest on the internet. Back then Jared Flood had this blog that I liked a lot. I’m pretty sure it was called Brooklyn Tweed back then, but I could be wrong. There were a lot of people on Flickr back then, too. So I just decided to do it one day, simple as that. Took me about a month to really get the hang of it. That was … gosh, 2009. Wow.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Jerome Sevilla

Your work with recycled or redesigned yarn is stunning. What inspired you to deconstruct that very first sweater so that you could work with that yarn? Weren’t you intimidated to start unraveling?

Thank you. No, it wasn’t intimidating at all. I was really into it! Maybe it’s a creativity thing, but I like destruction. And if I can take something and kill it, and turn it into something else, that’s power. The object represents creative power. I’m inspired by that. That process of destruction and creation is addictive. When I started recycling yarn, it wasn’t nearly as profound. I killed that first sweater because I was poor and had no money for yarn. Technically, this is still the case.

You’ve mentioned cost is prohibitive in buying quality new yarns, yet you’ve chosen to deconstruct vintage garments to gain access to their valuable fibers. This makes me cheer! It’s something I think about so much in my work: Choosing quality secondhand fibers over cheap new ones. But in this equation we choose the value of time — our own time — to locate, acquire, wash, deconstruct, redesign and work with quality fibers over the money of buying new materials. Can you talk about this tension and thoughts about value, about making something new from something old and investing time — sometimes so much time — to access quality materials?

I see it as an act of defiance. Think about the value that this person placed on that sweater. That value becomes zero when they decide to donate it or throw it in the garbage. I defy that assessment of value. The fast-fashion industry trains us to want more, and we apparently do. That’s so stupid. The best silk thread I’ve ever worked with was recycled multi-strand from a Banana Republic sweater. I have tons of it. I’d estimate the value of this black silk at about $100 or so a skein. I’ve sewn with it, knitted it, and wefted it into cotton. That sweater wasn’t worthless.

There’s a minimalism in your work that has such power. Do you consciously try to work with minimalism — paring color, line or composition back as far as possible as you design — or does this just materialize organically as you work?

I just don’t like a lot of fuss. I believe the subject of a work should be concise and clear, and there is nothing easier from a production standpoint than minimalism. I wonder if that’s a terrible thing to say? Either way it’s true. I’m no artist; I’m a designer through and through. Things should be neat and beautiful at the same time. I suppose this goes back to the self-editing thing. Composition requires a conscious awareness of the layout, and how the work is seen. There has to be negative space. In magazines it’s white space. In knitting it’s stockinette (for me, anyway). Patchwork looks amazing when there are long swaths of consistent color.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Jerome Sevilla

Mending, you know it’s my passion. So when I see your work with denim, hand-stitching and mending it makes my heart race. Do you find working with denim and working with yarn to have any similarities?

Well, working with sharps is a nice change from the knitting needles, but it is more physically intensive. I have so many compositions in progress, it’s pathetic. With my knitting, I have a max of two projects, but in sewing I believe I have five or so. In that respect, the two are very different. Sewing is a very quick process most of the time, so I tend to favor whichever project I’d most likely wear. On the other hand, I’ve been knitting this alpaca shawl for two years because I basically hoard the process of knitting. I like picking it up every once in a while. I like that it’s there. Sewing isn’t like that. Either I finish it, or I kill the idea.

In one of your blog posts you wrote, “I guess what I’m trying to say is that the meaningfulness of these fragile things is paramount in my thoughts, and that working with them gives me a very private sense of accomplishment and emotion.” I love this. I’ve been thinking about the connection between healing, mindfulness, and cultivating connection or meaning through slow fashion. Can you talk about the meaningfulness or sense of accomplishment that results from handwork and redesigning fragile textiles?

The majority of my yarn and fabrics is recycled. The yarn was bought second hand as sweaters, typically from flea markets and thrift stores. However, the fabrics are all recycled directly from my home, mostly from my own wardrobe, but some also came from my family. The things I make out of these fabrics carry the memory of our lives, and the places we’ve lived in. They’re not worthless. They’re immensely valuable to me.

Lastly, can you point us to three artists, designers, or makers currently inspiring your work?

Dan Bell’s videos of dead malls, Techland’s FPS survival horror game Dying Light, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Jerome Sevilla

Katrina Rodabaugh is an author, artist and slow-fashion advocate. Visit her website or follow her on Instagram at @katrinarodabaugh


PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion Citizen: Rebecca Burgess and Fibershed

Photos © Jerome Sevilla, used with permission




20×30 outfits and after-thoughts

20x30 outfits and thoughts

My whole big 20×30 experiment for Slow Fashion October turned out to be more fun and informative than I might have imagined. And also a little bit addictive! (It was also the cause of my taking more selfies in one month than I have over several years. I managed it almost every weekday.) I began the month vowing that I wasn’t going to be a slave to the plan — as I said to the Crafty Planner, it was meant to be a game not a sentence — but once I got started, I found I didn’t want to waver from it. I really wanted to know if I could go a whole month wearing only 20 garments. The answer is … sort of!

For one thing, operating off of a limited number of clothes — especially if you wash them comparatively rarely, like I do — requires a certain level of organization if you’ve got things like a trip and a photo shoot on the calendar. So there were a couple of days where I had pretty much the whole set in the wash and had to wear something else. There were also a couple of weekend days at the start of the month where I basically didn’t get dressed. And while I originally thought I would treat the Rhinebeck trip as a time-out from all this (with the notion that it would be cold there), the mild weather made it possible to mostly stick to the plan after all. The exception being that I only wanted to take one sweater, and it needed to be one that would go with everything, every day, so I traded the camel cardigan in the original plan (which hadn’t been worn) for my little black cardigan.

I also didn’t actually wear 20 garments. The natural pants never got finished, nor the raglan seam fixed on my striped sweater, so neither of those made an appearance, which wiped out a lot of the possible outfits from the lineup. And the persistent warm weather meant the five sweater-sweatshirts in the mix were of essentially no use until late in the game. So in reality, I was working with more like 14 or 15 garments for the majority of the month.

That and the fact that the only real color in the group was in those sweater-shirtshirts meant the risk of boredom was even greater than I originally thought. (It was definitely an unintentional lot of black/white/army.) But it all worked out, and I either made or reinforced some useful observations along the way—

20x30 outfits and thoughts

1) Novelty is critical. My beloved State Smocks — with their unusual volume — are really fun to play with, and brought in an element of newness, which kept things from getting too dull. The two outfits in the middle got repeated on the Rhinebeck trip with just the addition of the black cardigan, and a shoe swap (snake instead of silver) for the second one. Also, I love this cardigan so much with the smocks that I’ve decided not to lengthen it, at least for the time being.

20x30 outfits and thoughts

2) A uniform doesn’t have to be uniform. An easy formula for me is to put on my white linen shell and one or the other of my toddler pants, then throw just about anything on top. These don’t look like five of the same outfit, even though they all have the same foundation.

20x30 outfits and thoughts

3) “Jeans and a t-shirt” can be reimagined. There are a lot of days in my world where all I want to do is put on jeans and a tee, hair in a ponytail, and get to work. But of course those are the days where I inevitably run into someone and feel bad about looking so blah. The fact that I didn’t include a t-shirt in the mix forced me to think differently on those days. The silk smock is as easy as a tee and so much nicer looking. Same goes for the sleeveless tee with my wide-leg denim toddlers instead of regular old jeans. The mix in the middle was my travel outfit en route to NY, perfect for the plane.

20x30 outfits and thoughts

4) Even a little bit of print can go a long way toward keeping things lively. I was soooo happy I had the camo pants and snake-print flats in mix, and had on one or the other just about every day. (Sometimes both.) Had this all been solids, I might not have gotten through it! The outfit upstream with the black vest and camo pants got repeated at Rhinebeck with the black cardigan and snake flats. You can also see here that I actually wore two different pairs of dark jeans in Oct — my handmades one day and the J.Crew made-in-LA pair on several others. So I guess technically that puts the worn tally back at 19 garments.

20x30 outfits and thoughts

5) And last but not least: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This photo is the same outfit I wore home from Rhinebeck (including the black cardigan in my hand), albeit with different shoes, but this was actually taken on November 1st. I thought I was excited to wear something different once the calendar flipped over, but when it came time to get out the door yesterday morning, the fact is it was much simpler to stick to the list. After all, there are still quite a few unworn outfits on there … and I’ve never felt this reasonably put-together on this many successive days in my entire life. I’d say that makes it a rousing success!

One other thing I want to note: When I picked out the 20 garments for this little parlor game, I didn’t think about their origins. I just picked 20 items that I thought I could wear for a whole month. This post in the #slowfashionoctober feed led me to go back and tally it up. Of the 20 items, 11 were me-made, 1 was a refashion of a RTW piece, 3 were storeboughts from before all of this, 2 are upcycled thrifted goods (the State smocks), and the remaining 3 were bought more recently from known-origins brands. I think that’s a pretty amazing balance and a fair representation of where my closet currently stands.

For a rundown on all of the garments, see my Fall inventory. Photos mostly at Fringe Supply Co. HQ during our little expansion — pardon the dust!


PREVIOUSLY in Wardrobe Planning: October outfits! (The 20×30 plan)











Slow Fashion Citizen: Rebecca Burgess & Fibershed

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH // Sometimes individual contributions to the slow fashion movement result in larger systems thinking, advocacy, and even establishing a nonprofit organization to better support this work. As was the case when Fibershed founder Rebecca Burgess embarked on a local wardrobe project aiming to source her clothing from a 150-mile radius that would become the seeds of launching the now internationally recognized Fibershed. I’m fortunate enough to have met the small staff behind this massive effort and I’m thrilled to share the story of the organization — and its creation by natural dyer, author, and leader Rebecca Burgess.

As the slow fashion movement gains momentum, expands to include multiple voices, priorities, practices and professions, it’s thrilling to see an organization like Fibershed support these efforts through various programs and projects. I’ve been eyeing the biannual fashion shows and annual symposium, and each newsletter — spotlighting a new initiative or highlighting a new member — is like a mini course in sustainable fiber farming. I’m grateful for the sharing of knowledge every time.

But mostly, Fibershed is a great reminder that a group of focused and committed citizens can absolutely spark and sustain change, and sometimes two of the most important things we can do as concerned citizens are to better educate our selves and to support the tremendous efforts of the organizers forging the way. I applaud the efforts of this incredible organization in so many ways. Welcome, Fibershed—

. . .

Fibershed is such a hub and an incredible advocate in the sustainable fashion movement. How do you describe the organization and its work?

A fibershed is a strategic geography, akin to a watershed that traces how tributaries flow into streams and lakes in a hydrological system, or how a foodshed describes the movement from farm to table. By defining our natural textile resource base we begin to understand the people, processes and places that contribute to our clothing and shelter, from soil to skin, in our home region.

As a non-profit organization, Fibershed works to advance bioregional fiber systems that build healthy soil, sustainable livelihoods, and account for the true cost of textiles. We do this through public education, research and prototyping on “soil to soil” goods and garments, and cultivating economic and social connections between urban and rural communities. The Northern California Fibershed is our home base, where we organize an active Producer membership of nearly 150 farmers, shearers, spinners, weavers, knitters, designers, manufacturers; we host an annual Wool & Fine Fiber Symposium to cross-pollinate educational resources and hands-on skills; we support a biannual fashion show including this past September’s Climate Beneficial Fashion Gala; and we loft supply chain collaborations that strengthen our regional fiber system, such as the Community Supported Cloth program.

Engaging with our fibershed fosters a systems-thinking approach; we like to think that in the Northern California Fibershed we are putting forth a new approach to decentralized textiles – bringing production back home and drawing on ancient technologies while being firmly rooted in the place, context and community of today. We are honored to support a grassroots network of over 50 Fibershed Affiliate communities around the world, who share these values and are self-organizing and adapting this approach to revitalize their regional fiber system.

Fibershed grew out of your founder, Rebecca Burgess, launching a project to dress locally — within 150 miles of where she was living. Did the project bring the awareness of the need to organize and create systems within slow fashion or was she interested in launching an organization before she started?

The 150-mile wardrobe began as a personal project – a challenge to truly embody a fossil-fuel-free closet with known origins and really rely on one’s community. The wardrobe was a functional experiment in that Rebecca wore it for 18 months or so, but really it was a catalyst for building community through the collaborations that resulted in clothing: taking California College of the Arts students to meet the farmers and sheep as a source material for a design, learning the history of naturally colored cotton breeding from Sally Fox, and sharing feedback from knitters with fiber producers and mills to make softer and more consistent yarns.

Community members who gathered together through and for the 150-mile wardrobe hatched the mission of the organization to continue to grow this work, and Fibershed became a 501(c)3 non-profit in 2013. Although it wasn’t a premeditated trajectory, the challenge of dressing locally served in a way as the initial needs assessment for organizing Fibershed, by tracing the supply chain from soil to skin and asking questions like “Who grows or raises fiber? Where can it be milled? How and where and by whom does it transform into clothing?”

Slow Fashion Citizen: Rebecca Burgess & Fibershed

I’m in such awe of the work that Fibershed creates from beautiful newsletters, annual events and member spotlights, to national organizing, and constantly forging new pathways for farmers, textile mills, and producers of sustainable cotton, hemp, and wool. Can you tell us about the vision for the future of Fibershed? What’s the dream for, say, 5-10 years?

First of all – thank you! We truly appreciate your kind words and support. The strength of our work speaks to the incredible talent, skill and vision of our community, from our Producer members to the affiliated Fibersheds around the world, and the many individual supporters who share with us the ways they are engaging with their regional fiber system.

Our dreams for the immediate future center around doing all that we can to support the stabilization of our climate and the nourishment of right livelihoods. There’s a very exciting and tangible way that we can reverse the effects of climate change: by supporting the drawdown of carbon from the atmosphere and into the soil through a variety of techniques called Carbon Farming. These practices — like cover cropping, rotational grazing, planting a windbreak, or applying compost to rangelands — can be implemented at any scale of agriculture, from a homestead to vast ranch, and with proper planning we can actually measure the carbon sequestration and soil health benefits.

Climate Beneficial materials are those raw fibers and even dyestuffs that are raised in a Carbon Farming system, and by adding a small price premium to those goods, we can pool funding for land managers to cover the costs of these practices. This means that brands and consumers alike have a direct role to play in supporting and scaling Climate Beneficial Wool and supply chains.

California is also supporting Carbon Farming at the state level with the Healthy Soils Initiative launching this year, which will support more farmers in adopting and measuring their positive climate impact.

Scaling this work will take greater attention from all angles: land managers identifying potential Carbon Farming practices, brands designing with and investing in Climate Beneficial materials, consumers affirming these decisions and asking for more Climate Beneficial goods, government agencies like Resource Conservation Districts as well as non-governmental partners providing technical support, and communities working to weave these pieces together in their home region.

Along with the rapid adoption of Climate Beneficial fiber systems, we envision a near future of resilient, decentralized textile systems, where fossil fuel reliance in the form of synthetic dyes and long-distance transportation is replaced with local infrastructure that values the natural hues of fibers complemented by colors from organic (fresh carbon) sources. This is a paradigm shift calling on investors to recognize and fund economic actors who play a vital role in supply chains – our mills, manufacturers, and small businesses – coupled with a cultural transformation as we place value on the textile materials that are already in circulation and consciously add to our wardrobes to build the future of our fibershed.

There’s such a range of specialties to consider in slow fashion, from farming, mills, weaving, dyeing, pattern design, construction, distribution and retail, to the life of clothing in and after our closets. Fibershed focuses on the beginning of this process from fiber farms to sustainable designers but how do you research the processes at each stage to better support the systems?

Our work evolves out of needs assessments, through listening and responding to the Fibershed community. It’s really about tapping into the fiber system and the wealth of knowledge that is contained on the landscape and in our network. For instance, an early Fibershed Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of the ecosystem footprint of clothing was created in partnership with Dr. Marcia DeLonge of UC Berkeley. Technical partnerships with researchers in formal institutions as well as those who are experienced in the field form the backbone of our research.

In the case of hemp research, we are fortunate to work alongside agricultural and mechanical partners in Kentucky, Colorado, North Carolina, Minnesota and Nebraska. Everyone is bringing skill and dedication to the table, and together we are prototyping and refining these blended textiles: gathering data from field tests, exchanging feedback on fiber softening, sharing yarn blends with local partners, and communicating the results.

So much of our work hinges on connectivity. Harkening back to the 150-mile wardrobe, where the supply chain stakeholders were literally connected to form clothing, our research now involves drawing together collaborators and open-sourcing our work to proliferate collaborations. With textile systems there can be so many gaps in any one body of knowledge – fashion designers receive incredible training without ever learning what it takes to produce cotton or how polyester is made, or fiber producers with a wealth of information about grazing their animals but little understanding what weavers look for in a yarn – we support regional, regenerative fiber systems simply by bringing people together to bridge these gaps.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Rebecca Burgess & Fibershed

If you could ask Slow Fashion advocates — the makers, artists, designers, consumers and other folks really looking to be active in this movement — to do just one specific thing to support regenerative fashion, what is that one thing that we might be overlooking?

There is so much talent and inspiration in this movement, and the diversity of activities and approaches is what makes it so strong. When it comes to regenerative fashion, or engaging with your fibershed, it’s hard to prescribe one pathway to recommend across geographies and economies.

The one thing we can (and should) all do to be active in this movement is to identify what you can contribute to your regional fiber system. As mentioned above, these forms of research, economic models and educational resources are created by connecting community members – to get involved in your local fiber community, we should consider what kind of skill or resource exchange we can offer.

Perhaps that takes the form of contributing by investing in local fiber through buying supplies for your next project from a nearby farm or mill, or maybe it means writing or photographing stories from your fiber system to raise awareness.

We can all start by identifying what we’re able to offer, and reaching out to understand what our community needs. Within the soil to soil circular system, there are so many access points to take part in growing a resilient and regenerative fiber system.

Lastly, what project of Fibershed’s are you the most excited about right now? I’m swooning over the reintroduction of hemp, climate beneficial wool, and also the fashion show you just hosted in California. I know it’s so hard to choose, but what currently has your heartstrings?

The annual Wool Symposium is just around the corner and absolutely has our hearts this year – it’s our “keystone” to connect to and with community, to frame the work that we’re supporting and moving forward. This year’s theme is Nature’s Resilience: illuminating the cycles and processes that clothe us, and we are exploring that through panels and presentations that touch on some of the most pressing negative impacts of the fashion industry, and shed light on examples of projects and paths that ameliorate or internalize these costs. It’s a rich day of educational exchange and a way of roadmapping a way forward for our community.

The Symposium is November 11th from 9:30 to 5 at the Dance Palace in Point Reyes Station — a gorgeous place to spend a Saturday. The programming will also be broadcast live from our website so that anyone can tune in for free; afterward, we make the video recordings available on our site too.

Another component we get excited about each year is the hands-on demonstrations and marketplace at the Symposium: for two hours in the middle of the day, the grounds of the Dance Palace showcase elements of the value chain from soil to skin, including sheep shearing, spinning, weaving, felting and more. This year we’ll have a mending circle, and specialty fiber activities like angora shearing, flax processing, and a heritage breed sheep display.

The demonstrations and marketplace are free and open to the public, and offer the best opportunity to get to know your fiber farmer, clothing designer, natural dyer, yarn producer — the people who provide for our essential need to clothe ourselves. The marketplace is open throughout the day to connect with and support the small businesses of our fibershed, who come from nearby and farther reaches. In the wake of the recent North Bay wildfires, it feels restorative and hopeful to host a communal gathering in support of one another and the landscape that sustains us.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Rebecca Burgess & Fibershed

Katrina Rodabaugh is an author, artist and slow-fashion advocate. Visit her website or follow her on Instagram at @katrinarodabaugh


PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion Citizen: Jen Hewett

Photos by Paige Green Photography, courtesy of Fibershed




The cost (and payoff) of handmade

The cost (and payoff) of handmade

Once again, in light of Slow Fashion October, I’ve been tracking costs on my handmade clothes this year because I wanted to see how it held up over last year’s tally. And again, it’s a weird thing to talk about publicly (at least if you’re a born-and-raised Midwesterner like me), but I think it’s really illuminating in terms of the impact of acquiring less and making what you can, even when some of the handmades are an investment—

$18.00 : White linen shell
6.00 : Grey wool pullover
20.00 : Striped muscle tee
54.25 : Blue button-up shirt
12.00 : Olive pants
73.00 : Blue jeans
17.50 : Denim pants
21.25 : Camo pants
$222.00 — average cost of $27.75 per garment

$175.00 : Black yoke sweater
213.50 : Camel Channel cardigan
110.00 : Linen Sloper
112.00 : Fisherman sweater
38.50 : Purple lopi pullover
$649.00 — average cost of $129.80 per sweater

So even with the top-shelf denim (for my jeans) and a couple of comparatively pricey sweaters in there, I’ve spent a combined average of $87.10 per month on my handmade clothes. If those were the only clothes I had added to my closet this year, and I had spent less than $100 per month, I’d be utterly floored and perfectly satisfied.

However, that’s not all I’ve spent or acquired. Since $87/month represents a savings for me, I’ve been able to invest in some coveted pieces from companies I feel good about supporting, such as my natural Willie jeans, my Elizabeth Suzann silk top, and my State smocks.

Far and away the most astonishing thing to me is I’ve added only about 2-2.5 garments per month to my closet. In my past life, 2 garments would have been a slow day at the mall, not a month’s total, yet in no way do I feel deprived or like I’m making do. Just the opposite: My wardrobe has never been better looking or higher functioning. So my heartfelt thanks to everyone who has inspired and encouraged me in this endeavor.


PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: Slow Fashion Citizen Jen Hewett





Elsewhere and then some

Elsewhere and then some

First things first:

1) I’m in Rhinebeck this weekend, where our lovely stockist Harrisville Designs will have a nice juicy Fringe Supply Co. display in their booth. (That’s building 39, booth 3!) I will also be hanging out in their booth on Saturday morning, from gates-open until falafel time, so come say hello if you’re there! After that, I’ll be roaming the fairgrounds, and I have a The Future is Female pin for anyone who is carrying any Fringe bag around the festival (while they last), so if you see me, show me!

2) Meanwhile, back at the ranch, DG will be holding down the fort at Fiber in the ‘Boro, our favorite show of the year. This is a fantastic little Middle Tennessee fiber festival, and if you’re in the area, don’t miss it! That’s all day Saturday.

3) I’m seriously dying to tell you what we’re cooking up for the next Fringe and Friends Knitalong, but it’ll have to wait until I’m back at my desk, so look for that on Tuesday!

4) The Slow Fashion October topic for the final 10 days — is WHERE. As in, share your sources, people! Clothing and shoe brands, services, fabric retailers, yarns, whatever it may be … where do you get the stuff you feel good about? Share it on #slowfashionoctober.

And with that, a fully Slotober edition of Elsewhere:

– The warm and wonderful Sandi Hazlewood interviewed me for her Crafty Planner podcast this week and asked me a bunch of good questions nobody has asked me before! (Let me know if I said anything stupid.)

– Samantha Lindgren has posted the full details of the big fabric swap she’s organizing — I’m so excited about this!

– Coincidentally, Sam referenced the very next link I wanted to share this week, which is Felicia’s post Enough is as good as a feast — have you read it?

– Seamwork on personalizing vintage clothing to give it new life

– “In April, 2017, Markham became the first municipality in North America to support textile diversion by banning textile waste from curbside collection service” (thx, Erin)

– “Of course I want to make every new pattern I see, and to buy all the beautiful yarn and fabric I can get my hands on, but then I’m just back to fast fashioning my slow fashion — and how many of those projects will I actually finish?”

– “We could argue all day about relative merits of recycled polyester versus organic cotton, or how much you’re benefiting the environment by paying more for organic cotton, but it’s hard to argue with a mother getting paid a fair wage in safe working conditions.” (thx, Leila)

Wherever you are, I hope you have a fantastic weekend! Thank you for reading—