Monday, 31 October 2016

slow fashion october: known origins

this final week's topic for slow fashion october is known origins. this one is, i think potentially, the most mired in privilege, at least in western society. having a really solid local fibreshed in the states or canada is, quite honestly, really hard work. it seems like from what i've read, the southern states does ok (they have such long growing seasons), but in canada, there are a lot of barriers that get in the way of knowing the true origins of your fibres. here are a few:
  • our growing seasons are really short, and the further north you go, the harder it gets.
  • the fibre community at the really base level of growing and cultivating fibre crops (animal or plant) and then processing them into yarn or thread (so the mills) is very scattered and hard to track down. if you don't have a solid local fibre festival, you might actually never find out about what's going on in your local region, because the vast majority of these operations aren't online or don't have a particularly strong online presence. try checking the phone book for sheep farms and tell me how far you get.
  • our country is fucking huge. second largest in the world, and we're very spread out. so even if you have a decent local fibreshed, chances are you have to drive really far to get everything you need. which means you need access to a car, and time to drive around, and clear knowledge of where everything is.
  • shipping is super expensive. it's actually often much cheaper to order fabrics from overseas than to order within canada. and of course, the production costs in canada are probably more expensive (labour laws, strength of the dollar compared to other countries, etc.). 
basically, if you want to source ethical and local in canada, you need a lot of cash and a lot of spare time. 

that being said, there are some really incredible initiatives underway, and i'd like to highlight a few of my favourites:
  • long way homestead: this one is easy. my dear friend anna and her family moved to a homestead just outside the city i live in, are working on getting the fibre farm side of the production underway, and hopefully by next year i will have super local yarn that i'll be naturally dyeing using the local plants i forage and maybe also using the dyes i source from maiwa, a vancouver-based company that ethically sources all of their incredible textile supplies. 
  • taproot fibre lab: also close to my heart, this nova scotia-based farm grows flax and has built their own mill equipment to process that flax into fibre and yarn. it's incredible, and i had the pleasure of meeting one of the owners at this past year's manitoba fibre festival. i am so excited to see where they go with this, and in the meantime, i have some fantastic canadian linen yarn that i'm going to be designing with in the upcoming months.
  • manitoba fibre festival: another easy one. this festival is my favourite point of the year, fosters incredible relationships between fibre folks of all sorts, and is becoming a destination point in the national fibre scene. i'm especially excited about a large project i'll be coordinating with them and my lys, wolseley wool, in the months leading up to the 2017 festival. more on that to come!
  • manitobah mukluks: these folks are so amazing! something that gets regularly overlooked in the mainstream fashion world, as far as i can tell, is the amazing fashion scene coming from our indigenous artisans. why would you not want a pair of mukluks that will actually keep your feet warm in minus 40 degree weather? they figured this shit out centuries before the european settlers showed up and started messing with things. trust that knowledge, and support the incredible entrepreneurs who are keeping their traditions alive and growing and innovating. 
  • kelly ruth: i am 100% biased here, but my dearest kelly embodies all that is slow fashion. she's a clothing designer, natural dyer, and all-around brilliant lady. she's also one of my closest friends and my mentor and colleague. kelly is working on sourcing fabrics for her naturally dyed clothing line that are local to us, but in the meantime she has found some overseas providers who are good to their workers, ethical in all accounts, and super eco-conscious. as far as reasonable clothing manufacturing goes, kelly is making all the right moves, and her clothing lasts for years, suiting that "daily uniform" that allows a person to wear an item of clothing for as long as possible, because it never really goes out of style (something which fast fashion hinges itself on desperately).
also, as a knitwear designer, i would be remiss to not mention my favourite yarn providers. my own yarns have been reduced to two bases from handmaiden fine yarns in halifax (both are silk bases, and they work with a 7th-generation silk farming family in switzerland to source these), and once anna has the fibre farm up and running, i'll add pure wools back into the line. other folks whose yarn i love are:
  • julie asselin's nurtured: this is my favourite yarn of all time, hands down. i've used it in so many designs at this point (several are upcoming), and someday when i have time to knit for myself again, i'll knit some really simple sweaters for myself from it. julie gets the us-based fibres spun by green mountain spinnery in the states, and then she and her partner jean-francoise dye it in their quebec studio. julie is such a sweet friend, and i love that my favourite yarn happens to come from her.
  • hinterland textiles: this relatively new bc-based company uses all canadian fibres for their incredible yarns - canadian rambouillet (a kind of merino) and their own alpaca. they blew up in a big way at this year's knit social in vancouver, and i'm very excited to have a sweater's worth of their range yarn to design something with in the coming year.
  • yoth: literally all of their yarns are just so great. veronika is one of my favourite folks in the dyeing world, and their non-superwash yarns in particular (mother and father) take up the dyes so perfectly (i'm also totally obsessed with their big sister and little brother bases, so don't discount them!). i've published two designs with them so far, and we have a full collection scheduled for release in 2017. book number two, here we come!
  • sweet fiber's canadian: i'm waiting on my first batch of bc-based dyer sweet fiber's canadian yarn, which is, you guessed it, all canadian fibre! pure wools are my jam these days, and my dear friend sylvia got me onto sweet fiber. i plan on designing something super cozy once it arrives, hopefully in time for cold winter months here in the prairies!
there are other great folks out there too, both indie dyers and yarn suppliers. the states is really moving things forward in this regard: brooklyn tweed, o-wool, quince & co., a verb for keeping warm...it's exciting to see so many players on the slow fashion scene, and to see so many suppliers paying attention to the social, ethical, and environmental impact of their production processes. i hope that as we move forward, this becomes the norm rather than the exception. and i'm super excited to be a part of the growing local fibreshed movement here in southern manitoba. we'll see how far we get by next year's slow fashion october!

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