Fibershed: A Case Study In Sourcing Textiles Locally

Most of us dress ourselves each morning with garments that were grown, processed, designed and sewn by an anonymous supply chain. A combination of animal, plant, machinery, imagination, and technical skill came together to clothe you, but it is rare to have connection to any of these real life elements.

It is the goal of one central Californian community's members to put a face on their wardrobes, and to uncover, develop, and build a new way of engaging with the textiles of their lives. A bioregional supply chain known as a Fibershed is being grown out of a region with a 150 mile diameter — the epicenter just north of San Francisco. 

The project aims to bring a thriving local alternative to conventional textile manufacturing systems and to support communities in reviving, sustaining, and networking their raw material base with skilled design and artisanal textile talent.

The Rationale for Domestic, Sustainably-Made Textiles

This DIY revival is steeped in an awareness of the global economic, social, and environmental realities brought forth by conventional textile supply chains and is a response to the following situation:

  • After agriculture, the textile industry is the #1 polluter of fresh water resources on the planet.
  • The industry's carbon footprint has been deemed the ‘elephant in the room’ by many in the trade –- ranking as the 5th largest polluter in the United States, where only a fraction of the industry even remains.
  • The chemical cocktail used to soften, process, and dye our clothing is attributed to a range of human diseases – including chronic illness and cancer.
  • Even the most ‘eco-friendly’ synthetic dyes contain endocrine disrupters, and the most commonly used dyes still contain heavy metals such as cobalt, chrome, copper, and nickel.
  • Labor is sought for cost, first and foremost – not quality -- leading to massive exploitation and many unstable jobs.

In 1965, 95% of the clothing in a typical American’s closet was made in America. Today less than 5% of our clothes are made here. Unfortunately, this huge movement of the industry was not prompted by a desire for higher standards of production, economic equity for laborers, or tight environmental regulation. It was done to circumvent the policies, unions, and costs associated with doing business on shore.

We have off-shored the effects of our consumption, which has led to a great disconnect of the actual environmental and social costs of our clothing.

The Fibershed Experiment

The Fibershed project began in 2010 with a one-year challenge to create an experimental wardrobe from fibers, dye plants, and local labor all sourced from within 150 miles of the project headquarters. As the wardrobe was constructed over the one-year period, so,too, was the network of artisans and farmers responsible for its creation. 

The garments were primarily hand-constructed. The rural region proved to be rich in raw materials: word-class alpaca, the finest merino wools, color-grown cottons, and the softest angora. The design talent from the urban sector was abundant in skills, experience, and passion. Many of the essential elements necessary to engage a bioregional supply were in place: the animals, plants and people.

However, the necessary machinery to produce conventional clothing was nowhere to be found. Most manufacturing had disappeared in the wake of NAFTA and the FTAA free trade agreements. Without the necessary equipment, the group relied on time-honored skills that artisans throughout time have relied upon to make cloth: spinning wheels, knitting needles, and floor looms. 

The quality of the craftsmanship that emerged from the designers and makers proved to be an unending wellspring to which we have yet to find a limit. Textiles continue to emerge from the local fibers (even beyond the experimental wardrobe), and the process of seed-to-skin creation continually affirms the incredible beauty and depth of locally farmed clothing.

The project specifically matched a local artisan with a local farmer to collaborate to make a garment. During this process, we identified our skill base and mapped many of the farms in the region. As we documented ourselves, we identified our collective reliance upon one important nexus within the community: the last remaining wool mill, the place where fiber becomes yarn.

The machinery had survived the great offshoring of jobs and equipment during the emerging global economy of the 1980’s and 1990’s due to the tenacity and heart of its owner, Jane Deamer. She had managed to remain in business with the support of small fiber producers, making yarns for the hand-knit and hand-woven community. It was Jane’s processing equipment that provided the bulk of the yarns that were utilized for the one-year wardrobe and continues to supply our region with homegrown raw materials.

The one-year wardrobe gave us the opportunity to test the wearability of the wool yarns and explore which flocks of sheep were best suited for specific garments.

We discovered uses for raw materials that initially we had no understanding of. For instance, we solved all-weather wearability problems with renewable natural fibers -- in instances where most modern Americans would pull the polypropylene raincoat from the closet, we were able to create an all-weather wardrobe without the use of any petroleum-based fibers, and forewent the use of any synthetic, coal-tar-based dyes. 

We continually surprised ourselves with our ability to devise local solutions when faced with challenges. In response to the toxicity of coal-tar-based synthetic dyes and a desire to grow our own colors, an indigo and coreopsis farm was started. These two species provided us with blue and orange. Other colors were sourced from native, wild, and naturalized plant species that were found throughout the gardens and ranches within the region.

The Future

The Fibershed project has now evolved into a 501c3 non-profit organization to support the continued development and growth of the bioregional textile network. The primary focus is to stabilize a local economy to support the continued farming and artisanal work of the Fibershed community. The project has begun an online marketplace that offers customers everything from raw fibers to finished goods. The marketplace is a venue for individual farmers to offer their fiber, yarns, and batting directly to the community. It also gives artisans the ability to source raw materials with ease.   Finished products illuminate the collaborations within the local community.

As the regional economy grows we will have greater opportunity to develop our renewable energy powered supply chain. We envision being able to offer head-to-toe clothing options, making use of all the raw fibers—from the highest quality angora, to those wools that are currently considered by-products, and bringing in well-engineered solar-powered milling equipment to support us in making the most refined and highest quality goods available. We foresee heirloom, homegrown textiles that are made to last a lifetime, that derive from a thriving system of farms, ranches, and human-scale regionally based manufacturing systems that benefit people and planet for generations to come.

We at Fibershed hope our model can serve as a guide for other communities interested in increasing their resiliency and self-sufficiency. We also hope it offers inspiration that sustainable, local solutions for almost any product or service can be successfully developed by those willing to dream big and put in the sweat work to make it a reality. The future is truly in our hands and will be what we make of it.  



Fibershed Website -

Fibershed Marketplace - 

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

 I applaud the effort and absolutely love the concept but one look at the prices on Fibershed’s online market explains why our clothes are manufactured overseas using synthetic products. Locally homegrown, natural clothing may have a market, but one that only the wealthy can afford. While such clothing will probably never compete in price with the crap manufactured overseas, ultimately these efforts must produce a product that is affordable to the average consumer if domestically, self-sustaning clothing products are ever to become a selection on our store shelves. Otherwise, the products, wonderful though they may be, will forever be only clothing for the well-heeled and a curiosity for the rest of us.

I love the idea, and I am well within your 150 mile range, so I checked out the marketplace fully ready to buy some things. Holy… $223 for a scarf and $1,112 for a jacket? Sustainable to manufacture maybe, but not too sustainable for the average person’s pocketbook. 
I’d be curious to know if this is just what the process costs or do you see the prices coming down?  I love the idea, but when the people that are supporting the movement can’t afford to buy the products, you have a catch-22. Best of luck.

ewes come and get the fiber. you can shear 'em for free. , the wool is worth less than the effort. now in the SHTF time i imagine we’ll learn mighty quick.  robie

Consider that the median personal income for an American worker over age 25 with a full-time job grosses  (before tax) $19.23 per hour (at 2,080 hours per year, just shy of $40,000).
Or consider even a person making minimum wage grosses (before tax) $7.25 per hour (at 2,080 hours per year, about $15,000).

Think of how much labor and time it takes to…

Prepare ground, plant and water seedings for indigo or coreopsis plants, weed and hoe, harvest and process… Care for sheep, watering, doctoring, feeding, sheltering, shepherding, shearing… Carding, and turning into yarn and dying the yarn and drying it… Finally knitting the scarf or jacket by hand. In the United States.

I can easily see why a hand-made scarf might cost over $200, or a jacket made of choice alpaca fiber might cost close to $100.

The clothes you and i wear today take advantage of machinery and labor arbitrage. The minimum wage for a skilled agricultural worker or a power loom factory worker in India might be around $80 to $200 per month. Check the label on the clothes you wear. Even if it were made in the USA, the fabric came from somewhere else.

In the end, this is about deciding what you want to do with your money, and where you want that money going.

Hey, some people go to India for hip replacements done by Western-trained doctors, too. It costs about a third to half the going rate in the U.S. - and it includes air fare and hotel for both patient and a travel companion, even a personal nurse assigned to be with you 24/7 while in recovery.


[quote=anexaminedlife] I applaud the effort and absolutely love the concept but one look at the prices on Fibershed’s online market explains why our clothes are manufactured overseas using synthetic products. Locally homegrown, natural clothing may have a market, but one that only the wealthy can afford. While such clothing will probably never compete in price with the crap manufactured overseas, ultimately these efforts must produce a product that is affordable to the average consumer if domestically, self-sustaning clothing products are ever to become a selection on our store shelves. Otherwise, the products, wonderful though they may be, will forever be only clothing for the well-heeled and a curiosity for the rest of us.
…of such an effort as "Fibershed" is not trying to provide sustainably-produced garments at a price competitive to the stuff made in China, Thailand, Mexico, Pakistan et alia, but rather to put into place a localized sustainable garment-producing infrastructure – and to provide Proof of Concept that such can be done.
Certainly, in the near term at these prices the only customers will be the well-to-do.  But suppose all those long, just-in-time supply chains become disrupted.  When this fever-dream "economy" has the wheels fall off (i.e. when the printing ceases to have an effect and the whole edifice comes crashing down), labor and goods will be re-priced in a way that reflects their actual value.  (Yes, Virginia, there is a Price Discovery Claus!) 
Having in place a workable (and replicable) model for the production of clothing locally and sustainably will be invaluable.  All those kids who’ve just graduated with (now worthless) degrees in communications can instead go to "Fibershed University", learn the skills, and then (with some seed money) start up their own Fibersheds in an underserved locale.  We’re always going to need clothes.  Those who can provide them will do well.  
Over on the "Interview Dr. Chris" thread, somebody asked about skills/careers that they might pursue that could be relevant/reliable 10-20 years from now.  Sit up and take notice.
One man’s opinion…
Viva – Sager

To continue Sager’s argument, consider how we’ll be able to clothe ourselves in a world where the cheap imports aren’t available:
We’ll much smaller wardrobes and we’ll wear our clothes until they’re truly worn out (too worn to be functional rather than today’s standard of too worn to be fashionable).  We’ll also patch and repair the clothing several times along the way to wearing it out.
We’ll sew and knit the clothing ourselves, patch and repair it ourselves and even spin the yarn and weave the fabric ourselves.
We’ll even grow the fiber and dye plants ourselves and raise the animals that produce the wool.
If we pay someone to do any of the steps for us, their labor won’t be so expensive because the won’t have the expectations of buying so many consumer goods with their earnings.
I spent a couple of years reading the Little House on the Prairie series with my kids at bedtime. It’s amazing (to those of us living today) how little clothing they owned and how much effort they put into creating and maintaining it.  They generally owned one fine outfit that was worn only on special occasions to be sure it lasted a long, long time.

 My grandmother told me that her father had sheep in the Tennessee hills until the taste of the public changed from mutton to beef----that may have coincided with refrigeration and other technologies.  They were not just grown for their wool.  At any rate, people did not create clothing for sale, but for family members. A clothing gift was truly appreciated.
I have a friend here who nobly fought to keep the cotton mills open.  They stayed open until they were near bankrupcy because they could not compete.  

I love to sew.  i enjoy the feel of the fabric in my hands.  I like making something different that is not in the stores.  Since there is little in the fabric stores, I have learned to shop on the internet, where fabrics have been brought back to the U.S. and designers have simply bought too much.  So I suppose I  am sorting through the crumbs.

Would I sew for profit in today’s economy?  Of course not.  If I actually charged a living wage, my products would be priced too high for almost anyone–even using imported fabrics.  That is the place for true designers who have made it their careers.  The factories have found ways to buy in large quantities, cut construction time, reduce labor costs, and sell efficiently. 

I have been teaching myself  a new survival skill–how to cut from measurements instead of professional patterns.  It is a stretch to teach yourself, and I am a bit timid, but I am learning.  

I am not so impressed by the garments on the Fibershed website–are they spinning their own threads and sewing by hand?  Perhaps they are not using interfacings?  I would think that most anyone could knit or crochet a scarf if they could get the yarn.

Let me give you an idea of how expensive and time-consuming handmade clothes once were.
Wills of the middle class in the 1600s before the Industrial Revolution would often state that pillows and bedding, clothing - SPECIFIC clothing like a jacket or a suit - would be granted to an heir.



The bolded bits in the quotes above bring to mind this quote from "Fight Club":

Not that I share that exact vision of the future, but Poet & Steve brought it to my mind.  Just sayin.  

Then there’s this:

Brings to mind my farm grandmother talking about putting on our "Sunday best".  Which for my farm grandpa included a Homburg…  Serious grampa steelo!    But when my brother & I were quite young – before my father’s ascent up the corporate career ladder – one nice little kid suit (plus Tam o’Shanters) was all we had.

Just groovin’ on the subject matter on a cold, snowy New England night.

Viva – Sager

Regarding the purpose and your statement: "The garments were primarily hand-constructed"  Why on earth are you throwing out or ignoring all of the technology that has been developed and accumulated over these years?  Perhaps you are  pandering to the 1% with hand-made boutique items that they can show off to their rich friends?  This makes no sense to me.  At the very least you can employ or develop some solar powered  electric  machinery.   I do not agree with reversion to the stone age as a response to the upcoming reset.  Appropriate technology can take us forward.  Real creativity would take into account existing and possible technology maximally to use as tools for low cost low labor textile making.  I dont see anything new here and I dont worship the old lifestyle of low tech life that my great grandparents had and prayed for relief from. 

 for what it is worth spinning & carding, etc all sound fascinating BUT
but we already live ‘off grid’ and there simply are more demands for work than there is time

our solution to quality clothing that lasts has been to seek high quality consignment or on ebay

example:  we purchased a grab bag ‘lot’ of 25 wool shirts on ebay for $15.85 plus $8 shipping - ie, $1 per shirt  (there were 6 woolrich, 3 pendleton and 1 woman’s camel hair car coat as part of the lot)

at those prices we can long term ‘store’ (food-saved and in metal ammo cans) several for each teenager and adult, wear many of a daily basis and afford more as barter or future use

we just purchased 3 sets of 20 pair swedish surplus socks from a well known online surplus store for $20.95 - just got them and found them to be in impeccable condition and 80% wool

if SHTF and we had severe enough dislocation for that long a period of time it seems to me that it will be easier and better allocation of time to pull a pair of socks from storage (or a wool shirt or jacket) rather than gathering the fiber off my cattle (Highlands), washing, carding, spinning and then weaving … growing food and staying warm and safe will seem to be higher priorities

with all due respect that’s my nickel


[quote=Poet]Let me give you an idea of how expensive and time-consuming handmade clothes once were.
Wills of the middle class in the 1600s before the Industrial Revolution would often state that pillows and bedding, clothing - SPECIFIC clothing like a jacket or a suit - would be granted to an heir.
I do not remember the source, but I am remembering that a woman’s working-class outfit in that time period (1500s-1600s) in western Europe, which would typically include a linen smock (shift), bonnet, and apron; a wool kirtle (underdress), a wool overdress, detachable wool sleeves for the overdress, lacing for the bodice and pins for the sleeves, and perhaps a small/tight wool sort of vest thing that was worn for warmth, would cost a year’s salary. 
A year’s salary.
That’s very roughly approximate to what someone might spend on a new vehicle nowadays.
Poor to average families had only one set of clothing for each family member.  People slept in their smocks; there were no pajamas.
This is testament to how time-consuming it was to manufacture the materials (grow, spin, dye, weave) and assemble them (cut, sew).  They were made to last lifetimes, and they often did. 
A gift of a ribbon or a lacing was precious because they were so expensive.  Bodices were not laced in the "X" pattern we have come to commonly imagine, but rather in a spiral "Z" pattern because it used a shorter piece of precious lacing.  Doubling the lacing in an "X" design would have been overly extravagant.
People were not buried in their clothing, they were buried in a shroud.  Clothing was too precious to bury.
Children’s clothing was made expandable so that it could be worn for several years or throughout childhood by simply untucking creatively-tucked layers of seams.  And then tucking them back up again to be used by another child.
As an aside, I have a friend who is my age (30-40ish) who grew up poor in Russia (1970s/80s).  If I remember correctly, she said her school dress was made this way and was meant to last her entire school career.  She says this with utter distaste and describes how ill-fitting it was.
I am trying hard to impart to my children the importance of carefully stewarding our clothing so that it can be worn for years by our family and worn by others when it is outgrown.  I think it’s so important to get out of the "disposable clothing" mindset of our US culture.
Anyway, I don’t find it shocking that a handmade wool coat might cost over $1000.  It certainly doesn’t fit with our cultural way of thinking of clothing, but if it was purchased with the intent of being cared for and worn for 25-50 years, the cost per year is pretty reasonable.

    We hear you, and understand your perspective… and your comment reminds me, and the others in the community how inequitable our economic and social systems are…  Our work is instantly compared to the prices secured by an industry reliant upon slave labor, subsidized oil, and free trade policies that secure profit margins, but not profit sharing among labor.  
We are not attempting to compete with this – we are a system of artisans and farmers seeking to make use of local natural materials that are abundant in our community, and currently being completely overlooked.  The marketplace is a reflection of our process to create necessities for ourselves with the raw materials in our homeland.  
As our project evolved, others wanted to purchase things we were making.  To put a price tag on these processes is, as you say, is unaffordable for many.  However, as someone whose always lived below the poverty line, I have absolutely no problem purchasing a one hundred dollar scarf, or a two hundred dollar scarf.  Once I became involved in the shearing of the wool, the washing, carding, spinning. knitting, dyeing process-- I realized the scarf is worth way beyond the listed price.  I will purchase one scarf in the year, and this scarf will eventually be passed down to my child.  In this way, the price becomes negligible.
Why do everything by hand?  We do love handwork, and it will always be a part of our community-- however would we use technology?-- of course!-- and it is what we are actively raising money for, through our marketplace sales.  We have business plans for two new solar powered mills, which will speed up the yarn making process, and eventually lower prices.
Why we aren’t using technology now?
We were stripped of our milling equipment–
 As of 1993 we lost our local cotton mill, and two years later we lost another, the equipment was shipped to Southeast Asia, where "no-interest" loans from the World Bank were issued to countries to purchase our equipment.  Our small farmers lost their ability to grow sustainable small batches of fiber-- because they could not aggregate their crop to send it overseas for milling.  The loss of small scale regional milling equipment eradicated good manufacturing jobs, and destroyed small-scale farming to its core in our community.
We are rebuilding from scratch-- and is a beautiful process, that has given us the opportunity (like you see in ‘developing nations’), to become our own think tank, to innovate our own human scale equipment, and ask our community to support the work of its farmers and artisans like they would through any other ‘fair trade’ purchase.  (Yes, America now needs its own fair trade movement, thanks to the IMF and World Bank).
We ask that you see us as a project-- on a continuum, and not simply assume the current snapshot to be the way we are, or intend to be in the future.  We are an ever-evolving social network.
For those that want to engage:
We offer raw materials that are much more ‘affordable’  and we offer classes for people to make their own clothes.  We sell bicycle powered wool combing equipment, and teach very inexpensive classes in ‘sheep to shawl’ processes, natural dyeing, indigo processing, etc.
More than half of us are teachers-- and we spend most of our time educating the public, often for free, to help people get access to the skills they need to clothe themselves.
If people who can afford a finished piece, make the choice to support high quality locally farmed clothing-- it keeps the artisans and farmers going, and allows them to teach, reach-out, and do their community activism with those who have less financial wealth.   
Wherever you find yourself on the economic spectrum, there is a way to connect and be a part of re-clothing yourself in this new way.
Everyone is invited to take part, and all of your contributions are extraordinarily vital to the development of a healthier and more beautiful culture… however you perceive yourself… rich or poor.

I wonder how the economics of this experiment might change if the main raw material was hemp, instead of mostly wool?  Aloha, Steve.

The current cost of the Fibershed project include start-up costs for a whole host of new ventures.  Of course they are more expensive.I live in Seattle, and the Farmers Market system here is exploding.  Not because we’re a bunch of elitist snobs, but because buying food form the folks who harvest it turns out to be cheaper and better than buying it in the grocery store.  The selection is limited by the season, but what’s available is fresh and delicious and inexpensive.   
It may well be the initial purchase of a fibershed style garment will always be a bit more expensive than an off the rack equivalent from Target or Walmart.  But, amortized across the number of cheap garments that would be purchased and worn out during the life of a fibershed article of clothing, I expect the price will come in line.  Further, if the true cost of producing throwaway clothing is factored in by adding back the cost our children will bear repairing the environmental damage caused by our choices and by providing a living wage for the workers, fibershed garments become bargains.

first post, Jennigma. 

 I’d like to thank you for all the historical information about the real cost of clothing before industrialisation.I’m 52 and I was taught to sew and knit at a young age. I only repair my clothes now because it’s so cheap to buy now but  I still knit because it’s pleasurable.  I used to sew my tailored jackets, pants , skirts etc  because I could do it and I saved me a lot money. A good Stillman Wool jacket made in Germany in 1995 could cost  about $700.00. Now you get it at Winners made in China  for about $90.00 and sometimes less.
 There’s new fashion  trends every season to feed our throw away society. The reality is that consumers have no idea the amount of work that’s  involved. That $1000.00 quality wool coat isn’t expensive if the fashion industry promotes quality and durablity but that’s not the case.
Fibershed keep up the good work.

If we ever do start traising rabbits we wanted to get the long-haired, angora variety. I understand you can spin yarn from their fur: a friend of mine leared about it at Renaisaance Fairs. I crochet, and my husband wants to learn to knit. Another friend spins her own yarn from fibers, and that looks like it might appeal to me. It’s a long-term goal but we are seriously considering it
Does anyone here (or at Fibershed) have experience working with angora rabbit fur as wool? Thanks.

Maybe the American Indian can provide insight into affordable attire.