Community Supported Cloth

Community Supported Cloth

If you recall, during Slow Fashion October last year I made a commitment to try to only buy traceable fabrics from that point forward. One of the main reasons I felt safe in saying that was the existence of TN Textile Mill, so I’m sad on many levels that the mill is closing and one of our painfully few “slow” fabric options will no longer exist. (Although I’m selfishly incredibly happy that Allison is now working at Fringe part-time! And that I got to buy a few yards from her in December. Plus I still have this.) But the whole thing has me pondering again just how hard it is to find fabric with known and harmless origins.

Then last week I got an email from Jess Daniels prompting me to take a closer look at something I’d been hearing rumblings about: Fibershed’s Community Supported Cloth project in Northern California. In this case, the origins aren’t only harmless (no slave labor, no toxic dyes poisoning workers and rivers, no shipping of components and finished goods back and forth across the ocean), they’re actually beneficial. Sales of the fabric support the small, local startup mill that’s weaving it, Huston Textile, and the farm where the wool is sourced, Bare Ranch — helping to fund their efforts at climate-beneficial farming practices. That is, farming that enriches the land rather than polluting it.

Every time we talk about slow fashion, sustainable materials, etc., I see the puzzlement on our dead ancestors’ faces. These things we talk about used to be the only way to do things! But we live in a world where the very idea of such a “simple” supply chain is nearly impossible to accomplish. At every step of the process, it means doing things the hard way, and thus the expensive way, and I don’t mind saying the right way.

So what does Community Supported Cloth mean? It’s the same idea as a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). If you’ve ever subscribed to a CSA box, you know you’re fronting a local farm the money to grow their crops for the year, and you get a share of those crops. Same basic concept with this fabric. By buying a share up front, you’re enabling the farm and the mill to do this work. And in supporting it, hopefully helping to make it less difficult and thus less rare and costly.

I’m in. And I recognize that buying it from Tennessee is different from buying what would have been my local TN Textile Mill fabrics, and different from buying it were I still in CA. But as always, it’s a matter of reducing (rather than eliminating) the ills. For much more information on the project and the fabric, see the Community Supported Cloth site. And if you’re not a sewer or interested in the fabric, but want to support the ranch and the project, there are also other ways to chip in.


Photos © Paige Green, used with permission

38 thoughts on “Community Supported Cloth

  1. Hand woven cloth is not hard to source at all. There are literally hundreds of weaving guilds throughout America. Contact your local guild. I know this because I’m a weaver and I belong to my local guild. You’re going to pay a steep price for this cloth, but it’s of a quality you AREN’T going to find anywhere else, and it will be woven with care.

    • Slow cloth, hand woven, to me they are one and the same. The idea that slow cloth can even be woven on an industrial loom seems completely at odds with the name.

      • I don’t think they’re necessarily synonymous. We all have our own definitions of “slow” but I personally would classify a fabric woven in a facility I can visit with yarn I can trace and using methods I can witness as slow, transparent, whatever you want to call it. That said, TN Textile Mill was hand-weaving everything on manual and semi-manual looms. I’m not sure what kind of looms Huston has, but a small mill like that using sustainably sourced fibers is certainly a proper slow fashion resource by my definition.

    • That’s a really great suggestion. For those concerned about the complete supply chain, I suppose you could ask the guild for names of weavers who work with local fiber, or who would collaborate with the client on sourcing the right yarn for the desired cloth from a traceable source?

  2. Cone Mills in NC is selling denim that has been dyed with indigo from TN farmers. I just purchased a roll and signed up for a jeans making class, though I am not a very good seamstress, but thought what the hell, I want to start somewhere and liked the fact that the Mill is pretty much in my own backyard!

    • Yeah, I love that. I linked to a story awhile back about an indigo company working with tobacco farmers to get them to dye indigo, in an effort to grow the market for true indigo denim.

      I recently bought a pair of Imogene+Willie’s made in the US with Cone denim, and am excited to use it when I take a jeans workshop in September.

  3. Thanks for letting your readers know about the concept of Community Supported Cloth. I am in. I am excited to see what the product will be like. I love seeing and supporting farmers, manufacturers, and makers think of creative ways to reach customers.

  4. I keep running into this wall, which is my middle-class envy. I love that the makers of this fabric are going to be paid a fairer wage. I love the community based aspects of this project. I love the transparency, and I love the aesthetics. But at the end of the day I simply can’t afford this and am nowhere close to being able to afford it. Two yards is a full day’s wages for me.

    My participation in slow-fashion looks like bartering for materials, buying secondhand sweaters and repurposing the yarn, cutting up old bed sheets for fabric, thrifting for clothes made from natural materials (even though thrifting feels stigmatized rather than noble for me…does anyone else here feel shame for having 75% of their wardrobe faded and secondhand?)…I know that you have talked about the costs of slow fashion before, but I wish that the conversation went beyond a one-time blog post and actually integrated poor- and working-class folks into the mix. I wish that I saw folks that look and dress like me reflected in the “slow fashion movement” but I feel like my social class excludes me.

    Thank you for your time. I have a great deal of respect for the work you do.


    • Not sure what you mean about “a one-time blog post”? Slow Fashion is a subject I post about all the time. I think if you scroll through the slow fashion archive — — you’ll find lots of posts and comments addressing the points you’re making. My position always and forever is nobody can do everything, there’s essentially no such thing as purity, and we each should pick what feels right to us and is within our means. Every small step counts.

      My point with a story like this one is that if it were less rare and difficult to make fabric like this, it would be less expensive. The only way it can become anything like “normal” again is for those who can support it at this stage to do so.

      I’m a small-business owner and my husband is retired — I’m certainly a very long way from wealthy. And my personal approach has been to take a series of small steps over a number of years to get my closet to what I consider maybe the halfway point of where I’d like it to be.

    • I’m at a loss as to why you feel shame over having a faded and secondhand wardrobe. I am impressed that you’re clever enough to gather your wardrobe using barter, repurposing, and cutting up sheets for fabric (something I’ve done for years). I hope that your words “social class” were a vocabulary choice rather than an ingrained feeling because style is classless and, to be honest, what you describe as your way of acquiring clothing is, in my opinion, exactly the spirit and purpose of the slow-fashion movement. I can no more afford to buy US-milled fabrics or fibers than I can throw my car across the river but I can be mindful, making choices that fit my budget, and making the clothes I do have last long. I buy my yarn from the sale bins, my jeans from a big box store, and my fabric at Goodwill or on the clearance tables at the fabric store. I sew what I can, knit what I can, and make do for the rest.

      I hope you can be proud of yourself and the efforts you make toward slow-fashion ideals. I am proud of you, Meghan. We’re none of us perfect or living in a vacuum. Very few of us have purses that overflow. But shopping at the farmer’s market, thrifting, and owning our creativity go a long way toward making the world, the “making” world, a bit better one maker at a time.

    • I understand what you mean about the feelings of shame around thrifting and buying secondhand. It’s a deeply personal issue. I used to feel that way too. I grew up lower middle class and got almost all my clothes from secondhand shops or older cousins. I remember hearing kids at school making fun of other kids for getting their clothes at a local charity. And I was so grateful that we shopped at a thrift shop in a neighboring town, so no one I went to school with would see us. Feeling “less than” is powerful and we can carry that with us for a long time. I started getting over it when I got into “vintage” as that was a way to make thrifting “cool.” Eventually I stopped being as bothered by the stigma. It’s sad that our clothes and where we buy them factor into our perceived value. The slow fashion movement can feel very elitist sometimes, but hopefully costs will come down someday. Till then!

      • See, I think thrifting is one of the truest forms of slow fashion — extending the life of things already made, keeping them out of the landfill, avoiding the manufacturing of new garments on your behalf. And obviously also one of the most accessible options, cost-wise.

        • t’s sounds to me like Meghan is saying that she’d like to have the range of choices in supporting slow fashion that higher income allows for. For, if one can only support slow fashion via a particular route due to having less income, then the benefits that come with that route might not feel like benefits. This is where conversations around making intersect in tricky ways with privilege. And not being wealthy doesn’t always mean not having privilege, which often encompasses the ability to frame one’s own behaviors as informed choices instead of economic or social necessity.

          Her comment “I wish that I saw folks that look and dress like me reflected in the “slow fashion movement” but I feel like my social class excludes me” seems particularly relevant, especially in terms of your note to “[avoid] the manufacturing of new garments on your behalf”. Sewing and knitting are all about making new garments on one’s behalf (and the behalf of others, noted). This blog is hugely important in presenting that making in mindful, strategic, and nongratuitous terms, but most of the projects still involve new materials. Meghan, then, seems to be pointing out the centrality of resources to that situation when generalized across economic gaps, which include not just money but also time, community support, and who gets represented as makers, and what kind of making is recognized. Maybe some people feel like they never get to make something truly new in the first place; when then should they necessarily feel good about being redirecting waste from landfills?

          If one must go without new (whether thrifted, nonthrifted, handmade) clothes in order to get other new clothes sustainably sourced in whatever way but more expensive, it’s very easy for the choice to seem less like a choice and more like lack of choice. I’m confused as to why it’s not useful to try to empathize instead of to correct.

      • I understand it, too. I grew up with mostly secondhand and thrifted clothes and didn’t start feeling like that was more cool than embarrassing til high school (when the kids who didn’t have to get their clothes used started doing it). It was part of my family’s overall struggle for money to cover even basic needs and it was rough. So I hear you, Meaghan (and Kate). To be honest, I don’t generally dedicate my purchases to local or ethical fabric or yarn, and most of it is for aesthetic reasons–I just don’t want to be wearing primarily earth-toned/slubby/rustic material much of the time, however beautiful. Your comments make me think about whether my craving for the vibrancy, color, and luxuriant feel of the fabric I tend to buy has its roots in the time when my choices about clothing were limited and felt out of my control, and everything I owned felt a little out-of-date or shabby. I’m sure it’s more complex than that, of course, and this is a little off the topic you were addressing. Most of all I just wanted to say that I appreciate your perspective and your experience and that I think about similar things as I try to figure out what’s right for me in this attempt to find more sustainable ways forward.

    • I’m reading your post wearing a tunic from a thrift shop. I think this reusing/repurposing aspect needs more attention. My sister, my daughters and I all have exquisite wool sweaters rescued from thrift shops, one from a garbage dumpster and one that we take turns with that came out of a married student housing laundry free box in the 1970s. I find my 25¢ tee shirts from the Women’s Center resale store allow me to stretch for some regional yarn, locally designed organic clothing, or handwoven items. I also count it as Slow Fashion that I am an expert at cleaning and laundering my clothes and am expanding my mending skills visible and invisible.

    • I appreciate that you posted this, Meghan. I focus largely on second-hand shopping because it’s more affordable and because I think it is the “greenest” option.

      I definitely feel excluded from a lot of these conversations, the items being purchased are often very very expensive. I think it’s great to support and promote businesses that are doing the right thing and I try to vote with my money by supporting such companies when I can.

      I don’t expect this blog to specifically represent anything other than what Karen is excited about, and I appreciate everything that I learn about here. I just wish the broader “responsible consumer” conversation within the making community included a lot more about second hand clothes or materials and about not buying. I try to contribute to that conversation but I’m not internet popular and my reach is quite limited!

      For anyone interested in seeing more of that represented, a lot of the zero waste blogs and Instagram accounts treat second hand as the first choice.

      • As noted above, I agree that second-hand shopping (and in other ways extending the life of all clothing — whether it’s handmade or store-bought, first- or second-hand) is the “greenest” option, which is why I’ve made that a major component of Slow Fashion October each year.

        For anyone interested who hasn’t seen it, last year’s SFO content starts here:

        At the same time, this is primarily a blog about making clothes, so that is the main point of view.

    • Meghan, there are several people who’ve taken the time to tell me that my response to you was wrong — that I was “correcting” and “side-stepping” and not listening to what you had to say. I’ve reread your message and my response and am not sure how it comes across as the opposite of what I intended. But if you felt corrected or not listened to, I certainly apologize. My aim was only to reassure you that (at least in my view) slow fashion is many things and is for everyone — to say that I do see loads of people who look and dress like you in the #slowfashionoctober discussion — and that what you’re doing and feeling counts. If I failed to convey that, I am sorry.

    • Hi Meghan,

      Thank you for your kind words and praise for those involved in Community Supported Cloth. I just wanted to speak from Fibershed and say that we hear you. We understand that the cost per yard and 2 yd minimum order sets a price that is not financially feasible for everyone. (As a quick aside, if you wanted to participate in the project by ordering one yard or a portion of a yard, we know that some folks have grouped together to place an order and split the costs).

      Part of our goal with this project is to set up a prototype supply chain that can be replicated, and with the possibility of scaling production and reducing costs like sampling, so that future runs may be lower cost. Thank you for recognizing the transparency we are striving for, it is central to this project, which distributes the funds directly to the supply chain with a small portion to a carbon farm fund (there is no retail profit margin in this prototype cloth).

      There are such vast systems of inequality in our world today, and I believe slow fashion in its many forms can make an impact in righting the social, environmental, and political scales. Our mission at Fibershed is to advance regional fiber systems, which we view as one facet of the solution. Reducing waste, repurposing materials, DIY, and so many more acts bring forth solutions as well. By supporting community members (in this case, Bare Ranch and Huston Textile) in scaling a supply chain, we are working toward more accessible, more just material possibilities. Like all things in this realm, it is slow going.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, I do hope to see a plurality of perspectives and approaches to slow fashion represented. Thank you Karen for featuring Community Supported Cloth as one option; I look forward to continuing the conversation on the #slowfashionoctober feed and diving into some of the resources suggested by other commenters.

      Jess D.

  5. What an interesting and exciting idea to have community supported cloth. Like all things Slow Fashion, there’s a spectrum of how slow you can get – and how feasible/realistic it is for the vast majority of people to have truly “slow” clothes. I am a weaver/spinner/knitter, and while I’d love to have an entire wardrobe made by my own hands, it’s not entirely feasible – not least because my sewing skills are still developing!

    And if I took it to the extreme, only making clothes from fiber I could grow or gather, that would make a slow wardrobe even more inaccessible to me. More critically, it would remove me from the complex community that’s developed around textiles – a rich and important one, even if in recent years it has grown to be more and more ethically troublesome. It’s easy to interpret Slow Fashion as an insular movement, but I don’t think it is. It’s about mindfulness and doing what we can to make the world a cleaner, kinder place.

    I think it’s important to find ways to scale where it’s possible to do so in ways that don’t hurt people or the environment, and that’s what’s so exciting about Huston Textile and Community Supported Cloth. To me, that’s a central part of making Slow Fashion possible for more people and a higher overall percentage of garments.

  6. What a fantastic idea! I love the idea of knowing exactly where my fabric comes from. I wonder if something like this exists in the UK. I shall have to look into it!

    • Explore the Rowan yarns. They identify the sheep that the wool comes from, at least part of the time.

      • Lewis and Harris tweed. It has been produced for hundreds of years in the UK using british wool and hand woven in the UK.

  7. You mentioned Bare Ranch. Lani Estill markets wool from her rambouillet sheep under the label of Lani’s Lana. The yarn is spun in a mill in Wyoming. It comes in three colors, black, gray, and white. None of it is dyed. It is all naturally colored. She mixes the black and white to get the colors. Bonnie Chase of Warner Mountain Weavers in Cedarville, CA, has been dyeing her white yarn with natural dyes and selling it in her shop. It is lovely yarn and has a great twist. You mentioned it in one of your blogs last year. A Verb for Keeping Warm was selling it at the time.
    There are two large events each year in Oregon: Black Sheep Gathering and Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival. Yarn from local sheep can be purchased from both of these.

  8. I am excited to see where this goes and see some projects made with this fabric. I need to psyche myself up to using more expensive materials, especially fabric.

  9. Hi Karen,

    Do you have an idea when the Lykke Driftwood interchangeable needles might be back in stock? :-) :-)

    -Katie (@knitkt)

    Sent from my iPhone


  10. I love this idea of Consumer Supported Fiber. Brilliant. I can’t wait to see the fabric, and the finished clothing.

  11. To anyone feeling like second-hand is not a key aspect of the slow fashion movement, or that the slow community is elitist and made up of people not like you (or me), I would also encourage you to look through the #slowfashionoctober feed on Instagram. The community around slow fashion is made up of people at all economic levels, with every different point of view and approach to incorporating it into their lives in ways that work for them. It’s pretty awesome stuff.

    If you’re unfamiliar with *my* view of what slow fashion is and means, and are interested in that, here’s my most recent attempt at summing it up:

  12. I very much appreciate Meghan speaking up to say what things look like from where she stands, even if it’s clearly a bit uncomfortable for others to hear. When somebody says, “hey, I am on board with these ideas, but I don’t see people like me considered or celebrated in this movement very much, and that’s hard”, I think it’s important to hear that and take it in without arguing or correcting. It’s too easy to jump right to what amounts to denial, however well-intentioned — we’re totally inclusive! you just need to look harder! there’s no reason to feel the way you do! To the person who spoke up, and maybe to bystanders who feel similarly, that runs the risk of sounding like “we aren’t listening” or “there’s no room here for your perspective”. Inclusivity is hard, the influence of our varied circumstances on our perceptions is often invisible to us, and we can always do better — and it’s worth saying so explicitly.

    Social class and social inequality have been inextricably intertwined with fashion — slow or otherwise — basically forever, and these issues weave in and out of the history and present of hand crafts as well. I thought petitechouchou’s point about the profound difference between being able to frame something as a personal choice vs a necessity was really valuable. These are thorny topics without simple answers, but I think we start by listening to the people who feel relegated to the margins without telling them how to feel.

    • I agree with this. The ways of participating in the slow fashion movement as advocated on this blog do exclude truly working class (I use the British term here, I believe that is lower middle class in the USA) people. Karen may say that she is far from wealthy and that may be true. I am also far from wealthy. But I, like Karen, can afford to purchase yarn/fabric produced entirely in the UK even though this comes with a higher price tag. There is no way around the fact that this way of participating in slow fashion is exclusive and that should be accepted, not side-stepped.

      Yes, thrifting and buying second hand is the best and original way to participate in slow fashion. I have followed this blog for a year now and love it, but this blog does not represent those forms of slow fashion. All Meghan did was point that out. And it was obviously an uncomfortable truth. It needn’t have been uncomfortable because there is no obligation on Karen to write about anything that does not represent her, nevertheless the response did appear to be somewhat defensive and unnecessarily so. Karen may disagree – but that was the impression that I, and clearly others, got.

  13. Popped into my head this morning: I wonder if there are any reclaimed fabric companies you know of?

  14. This is so amazing! I just had an article published about how slow fashion has affected my sourcing of material for making and talked with Jess a little. (You can find the article in Less Magazine – which is a magazine entirely dedicated to slow fashion – issue 8 –; it’s called “Consider the Source”). There are so many ways to incorporate the values of slow fashion in one’s life.

  15. I buy a large portion of my clothes second hand yet, I really enjoy making my own clothes too. I don’t have a huge budget for buying, so I alternate between buying thrift store fabric and occasionally treating myself to more local, ethically made fabric. This Community Supported Cloth is expensive. However I asked for two yards as my Christmas present this past year because I believe in supporting a movement like this. This fabric is a prototype and is expensive, but the hope (as I understood at the Fibershed Wool Symposium) is that it’s an experiment to see how they could scale up a project like this in the future to make it more affordable and more attainable. Buying this fabric is more of an investment or donation towards the movement, rather than just buying fabric, in my opinion.

    Thank you Karen for getting the word out about this project. There are so many ways to participate in the slow fashion movement. From buying second hand to mending what you already have. Investing in a project like this is yet another way.

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