News / USA

Thinking Globally, Dressing Locally

California woman vows to dress exclusively in locally produced cotton and wool for one year

Katherine Jolda pedals to power two large spinning metal drums that brush out wool to be used for locally-made clothing and accessories.
Katherine Jolda pedals to power two large spinning metal drums that brush out wool to be used for locally-made clothing and accessories.

Multimedia

Audio
Lonny Shavelson

Food locavores try to eat only what's grown local to their homes. In Northern California, there are also clothing locavores. The materials for their skirts, pants and socks are from locally-grown cotton and locally-bred sheep. The colors come from local plant dyes.

Keeping it close to home

That's what Katherine Jolda is up to as she pumps her bicycle pedals on a hot day in hilly suburban Fairfax, California.

The bike doesn't move because its chain has been detached from the wheel and attached to two large spinning metal drums instead.

The drums are coated with fine teeth rotating against each other. Jolda feeds raw wool, newly sheared off a sheep, into what she calls her carding contraption.

"It's carding the wool, and carding is basically brushing the wool out," she explains as the drum's teeth yank the wool in, chew on it, and then spit it out the other side. "And all the fibers are smooth and it's untangled. And from there, I make felt from it."

Jolda is teaching an energized group of women to start with wool from local sheep, and finish with clothing for Rebecca Burgess, a 32-year-old environmental activist who has vowed that every item of clothing she wears in the next year will be made from local materials.

Environmental activist Rebecca Burgess has vowed to only wear clothing made from local materials for the next year.
Environmental activist Rebecca Burgess has vowed to only wear clothing made from local materials for the next year.

"I thought I was quite the environmentally conscious person," says Burgess, "but I had a closet packed with clothes -15 pairs of pants, 30 shirts."

Burgess learned that the production and shipping of much of those items put some 40 times its weight in carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and that enormous textile factories are huge fresh water polluters.

So she cut the size of her wardrobe and began to look for local sources of material for new clothes. And she found them. There's a cotton farmer 145 kilometers away and an alpaca farm 230 kilometers away. Burgess also filled her backyard garden with plants she could use as dyes for her cloth.

Fibershed Project

That's how the Fibershed Project was born.

Just like your watershed geographically defines your supply of water, a fibershed is the region that supplies your clothing fibers. Right now, for most of us, it's the entire world. For Burgess, it's anything within a radius of about 250 kilometers from her house. Dozens have joined in to help make her clothes.

Jolda's wool carding and felt-making workshop is happening in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Burgess lives along with about seven million other people. How many can have their clothing come from local sheep or cultivate indigo for color? Can this be scaled up to any practical environmental benefit?

"No, not domestically. It's not a scalable idea," says San Francisco State University Apparel Professor Connie Ulasewicz  and co-author of the book, "Sustainable Design."  She says the fibershed project is dependent on Burgess's extraordinary knowledge and dedication in a geographic area rich in natural plant fibers, animals and activists. "I think this is an ecological curiosity going on in Northern California."

Sustainable design

However, the professor believes criticizing the Fibershed Project because it can't be scaled up to millions of clothing buyers in a fabric-based environmental revolution misses the point. This project, she says, reflects a general movement in the garment industry toward sustainability.

"Sustainable design, green design, eco-design, how can we simplify, reduce carbon footprints?" says Ulasewicz. "There is a great movement to produce local, to manufacture local."  

Burgess admits a local wardrobe is for the rare few, like her, who have the time, skills and supportive friends to design, dye, weave and sew. But, she says, the Fibershed Project also illustrates the grand ecological errors of the textile industry.

Raw wool, newly sheared off a sheep, is fed into a carding device which will brush the wool out before it is used to make felt.
Raw wool, newly sheared off a sheep, is fed into a carding device which will brush the wool out before it is used to make felt.

Wasted wool

Take the wool being fed into the backyard bicycle carding mill.

Northern California's sheep are raised for meat, not wool. The ranchers had been throwing the wool into landfills, more than 30,000 kilos of it a year, until Burgess started gathering some for her clothes. The rest still ends up in landfills, which does not make sense to Burgess. 

"We're importing millions of pounds of wool from New Zealand," she says. "It's being milled in China, and yet we're throwing wool away here."

Since this all started with Burgess's realization that her commercially-made clothes create a huge carbon imprint, she's now calculating the environmental impact of her fibershed clothes.

She wants to determine what her carbon output is when she drives to sheep ranches to get wool or transports locally-grown cotton just for her use. How much water does it take to wash the wool and cotton or to irrigate her dye plants? How much energy is needed to boil water to make the dyes, run her sewing machine and light her workshop?

Burgess estimates that fibershed clothes are less environmentally costly but admits more study is needed. In the meantime, 'dressing locally' makes her feel better about doing her part for the environment.

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid