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

Video Obama to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Ebola Fight

At Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President says US will take leadership role for a global response to deadly Ebola virus that is ravaging West Africa More

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa 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.
NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Spacei
X
September 17, 2014 4:20 AM
The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid