Fibershed: A Case Study In Sourcing Textiles Locally

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The prices of $200.-  and $1100 seem very high to most of us, accustomed as we are to the low prices of most goods now produced.  We realize, of course, the high human and environmental costs of their production that are externalized and accumulate out of our sight.  This endeavor seeks to account for all costs, which today are very large.  To break away from mass production by machine (emphasis here on mass, since machine help is certainly useful) might be possible for individuals and small groups, but our whole society is welded to its current form of production and any movement away from it will necessitate great upheaval and hardship, as is now occurring in the U.S. after years of off-shoring.
Your attempt here might be compared with a time before the industrial revolution took hold.  This time was characterized by a strong sense and feeling of connectedness and relatedness, of a community structured along the principles of Gemeinschaft (German word for Community). Ferdinand Toennies attempted to distinguish between a community as it developed through the industrial revolution and the agrarian-based communities beginning to be absorbed or displaced by this revolution.  The Gemeinschaft community functioned more like a family (not the modern family, however) characterized by strong commitments to and concerns for tthe well being of all its members.  This regulated what was acceptable and unacceptable behavior.  It also regulated what things were worth and what a person could honorably charge for his or her work/production.  It regulated through its customs and traditions both production and demand.  

Through the 20th century Germany, at least in villages, maintained the custom of "lederhosen" for work by men (knee-length leather pants, never washed, a simple garment) and "Tracht" for best wear by women (beautiful and distinctive outfits that also signified place of origin).  Then there was the best suit (also for burial) and for women, a simple work outfit.  Not much more in the cupboard (there were no closets).  

The question this important endeavor of bringing clothing manufacture back to our shores raises is, is it possible for us to return to a time that is more human in scale, when we can accept the need, in this instance, to jettison fashion and accumulation and return to contentment with well-made, quality articles that last maybe a lifetime, but are also comparatively expensive since we have so much cheap stuff around?  (And in all other instances of cheap goods, especially food.)   Are we willing to buy one item whose price means we cannot afford many other items we might want?

The industrial revolution also ushered in a great increase in population and the paradigm of growth, which requires ever more people.   How will the needs, and certainly the wants, of all these people be satisfied when we now have abundant evidence of what growth has accomplished so far?  This effort to create a new clothing paradigm seems to tend toward creation of that Gemeinschaft mentality, and the small-scale production, that is going to be needed if we are not to end up in a society that resembles more of a nightmare than a community fit for living beings.

Sorry for the long ramble here, but the effort described is so very welcome and the comments help us all understand where we as a society now stand.  

Maybe we should look at the people who are already making items by hand from local material.

Maybe this is NOT another example of how we can solve the problems of America by reversion to 1700’s thinking and "technology" in creating local materials.   According to an international buyers organization called "TRADEKEY" a company from the USA with the name of "Apple Cart Creations" has been in the market to buy its fiber overseas wholesale. .  The post from Apple Cart Creations for prospective fiber sellers states" I am looking for Cashmere and silk fiber to spin. I spin my own wool and then knit or weave into article that I sell. I am interested in wholesale prices. Thank you letting me know if have this available…"  I have looked for and found no countervailing evidence that "apple cart creations" sources its material locally despite all the touchie feelie back to nature, low technology romantic crap that many seem to believe.

I’m pleased by the thoughtful dialogue this post has generated, as well as the questions raised.
I’d like to step back and explain why we invited Rebecca to contribute this post.

It’s clear from her experience (supported by others in the comments here) that, through a generation of outsourcing, we have lost almost all of the skilled labor, machinery and supplier & distribution networks needed for making textiles sustainably on our own shores (let alone in our local areas).

As we look to the post Peak Oil future, rebuilding the local textile trade will be an important ingredient for deveoping local resiliency.

As Rebecca’s team is demonstrating, it’s possible. But it takes a lot of work to put a local system in place. 

As with any new venutre, initial costs are high. But with continued investment over time, process efficiencies, economies of scale, and technology innovations (e.g. looms powered by renewable energy) will bring prices down. Not down far enough to compete with sweatshop prices, but hopefully far enough to provide an affordable alternative with higher quality and lower social and environmental costs.

The big picture here is that now is the time to be making these kinds of investment if we want to gracefully transition into an energy-constrained future. It will be much harder to do, and more painful for us, if we wait until Peak Oil arrives in full force.

Personally, I’d like to congratulate Rebecca and the Fibershed team for pioneering this effort and giving us a model to adopt and build upon. I wish them the best of success and hope their example inspires some readers here to consider starting a local textile movement (or other similar lost manufacturing trade) in their communities.

The future small community can and should become self  sufficient in FOOD and ENERGY butI do not agree that after the reset, each small community should or even really wants to:
make its own computer chips/microprocessors, or the best alternative with their bare hands, 1700’s style paper and old fashioned ink well pens
make its own weapons, or the best alternative with their  bare hands 1700’s style muskets
make its own glass or the best alternative with their bare hands 1700’s style glass
make  its own lighting-light bubs, or the best alternative with their bare hands 1700s style  candles
make its own drugs or the best alternative with their own hands 1700s style, powdered  plant products
the Chinese tried to do this in the 1960s with the "great leap forward" and each community was making its own low quality virtually useless pig iron with its own community smelter
In the case of clothing, when oil is so expensive, transportation is so expensive, etc I would expect that an extremely skilled and talented industry will adapt by using high technology low labor practices to make clothing wherever that is done most efficiently.  But "starting over again" and "evolving"  back up from the 1700s seems crazy as a model for the future.  Some people  are making their own paper and ink, and their own weapons, and their own candles, and their own herbal medicines.  But I dont think that such a boutique effort is the model for the future.

Yes, they buy bales of local material. And have it processed locally. Since they are not trying to be local only they also use a lot of different fabrics.

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If you are conscious textile business practices prevalent in the United States, you can take your business marketing plan in line with the world trend. For example - imagine you are like textile importers exporter, producing 100 % cotton shirts in the United States.