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

India PM Modi's party distances itself from religious conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote a Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert to Hinduism More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic 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.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid