Footprint of a Fiber
November 12, 2009
It was not long ago, just in my parent’s own childhood when chronicling the carbon footprint of an item of clothing might not have taken very long. A cotton farm in Texas, a sheep ranch in Wyoming–these raw materials would have been sent to any number of mills across the country and then been sold at working class stores such Wards and Sears–this small production cycle was not a design concept from a sustainability think-tank, it was simply the way things were done. With very little discussion or fanfare this supply chain underwent a radical transition. In 1965, 95% of America’s clothing was made in America, and today less than 5% of our clothing is made here. Along with the export of farming, milling, and sewing- so went jobs- environmental regulations, and in many cases quality. Some of the more enlightened transnational clothing companies are in the process of cleaning up their supply chain and are looking deeply into the above issues. However, this still leaves us with a question of carbon footprint, and might I say jobs?
Our carbon footprint is most simply reduced by making use of what is local. This is Kenny, an all around sustainability expert, who feeds the grid daily with his solar panels, watches the neighbors deposit their compost for his chickens, and collects oil from local restaurants for his veggie-oil Volkswagon. He raises food for himself, and shares his garden with others in the community. Our lives intersected, when I found out from a friend that he was raising sheep just around the corner from my town, in Mill Valley of all places– 10 minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge. Kenny’s farm has been in the family since 1867 the old house is still lived in by his mother. Kenny primarily harvests meat from his flock, however, being an open-minded man of many trades–he wants to make the most of the wool that he shears.
At the moment, the process of turning Kenny’s wool into a hat, sweater, or pair of gloves– is still around the corner. What we have established is a relationship. And that, is the cornerstone of the localization process. As we seek out resources within our towns and cities we meet people, we hear their stories, and become increasingly more in synch with our modern village. This community building is one of many benefits of doing good for our planet. I’m just now on the path to turn the above fleece into something a bit more palatable for my local textile creation project.
This is an example of a roving ball–just ripe for spinning. This lovely wool is from a rancher living 20 miles from my home (just over double the distance I travel to Kenny’s suburban farm). I will send Kenny’s wool off to a mill for processing, if all goes well, it will return to me as a very spin-able ball of roving like the one pictured above.
From this ball of roving, I will spin away on my little wheel, and create skeins of ready to dye yarn. Once the yarn is spun I will partake in the process that I often highlight in this blog- the creation of local natural color. If all goes according to plan, I will become one step closer to my local clothing vision. I’m estimating the CO2 footprint of my finished yarn, and knit clothing will net far beneath the weight of the yarn itself.
This is a huge reduction in carbon, if compared to even the best case scenario for industrially produced clothing. Patagonia- my favorite and most transparent clothing company has recently created the Carbon Chronicles. If you click on the link, you’ll see that their wool merino undershirt produces 47 pounds of carbon before it even gets to your door. That is just one shirt! And yet, I applaud Patagonia for their ongoing commitment to preserving the earth’s last wild places– they are a fabulous company with a wonderful mission. It’s going to take more than a village to clean up textile production– and in my personal and small way I’m committed to doing so, one ball of yarn at a time.