When I venture out to shops and fiber events the question of what local means often comes up. It can be an awkward moment if there is distance between my definition and how proprietors view their businesses. So, why is there such a gap when talking about local clothing as compared to local food?
The easiest answer is that the local food movement has been discussed nationally for decades; many are more familiar with the idea of purchasing local food. I am surrounded by farms with CSAs, farmer's markets, and stores to choose fresh local food from during growing seasons. My rural region supports its local foods. Small farm CSAs sell out each year. So, why then when I speak about local clothing does this view of what local means change?
Most people simply don't think about their clothing so that local clothing conjures up shopping at locally owned stores. Often shoppers choose their clothing to display their fashion sense or for work. They may be interested in how to launder it, but have accepted the fact it is made overseas and supply chains are beyond their reach. Others may be on fixed income and have come to rely upon fast fashion even though it doesn't hold up like clothing in the past.
It can be difficult to remember a time when an average t-shirt lasted more than one season. Finally, with the closings of US mills in the last 50 years, it can seem like an impossible and expensive task to bring back the manufacture of American made clothing locally. So much investment would be needed, it seems overwhelming!
"We only have two choices, do nothing or do something." Tony Kirwan
But, if local fiber farmers, and even meat/fiber farmers are not supported, this way of life may be lost and with it many small holistic farmers that work land and often offer more holistic practices that can help the planet. Without these fiber farmers local clothing cannot exist or grow. So, supporting their efforts is a first step to imagining a local clothing movement. This can be done and as time goes on, the idea that is conjured when speaking of local clothing can change. Below is a list of some ideas to join in the local fiber movement.
Purchase local yarns and getting creative. Ask for local yarns at yarn shops and make sure they know you want locally produced and milled yarns free from plastics. (no superwashed fibers please. Why? Because super washed fabrics are soaked in toxic chemicals and then coated with plastics. The result is a more fossil fuel like fiber than natural fiber. And, when washed, these fibers leach microfibers into groundwater or waterways.)
Attend a craft-making or skill building workshop at a local mill, guild, or fiber festival to expand your own skills or purchase a ticket for someone you know.
Purchase raw or unspun local fibers (roving). Create your own yarn by spinning the fiber into yarn. [Spinning guilds + local mills like Harrisville Designs offer workshops on spinning. Drop spindles are an affordable entry way into this art.] This is a more affordable way to acquire local yarn but does take skill building and time.
Purchase locally created crafts and garments at local businesses. (Just make sure that you ask if the yarn was grown and milled in New England and free from plastics.)
Attend fiber festivals and purchase ready-made products. Here again, ask about what you are purchasing and understand the supply chain of the garment or outerwear.
By asking for locally grown and processed fiber a transition can begin to take place. One where more people accept the idea of local fiber being grown and processed locally.
"I make clothing, and I don't care about trendy things.." Issey Miyaki
As more support builds for local fiber, more local clothing can be envisioned. And, don't forget that this area hosts an entrepreneur that is creating 100% local wool sweaters in Vermont with wool milled at the Green Mountain Spinnery. Check out Muriel of Vermont. The sweaters are an investment, but they will last a life time rather than a season.