Earlier this year, I joined the One Year One Outfit challenge: to create one outfit in 2015 that is entirely sourced from my fibershed. I wrote about it here as I initially began to envision what I wanted to do for the challenge, and it’s time for an update.
No, I’m not done with my outfit yet. I’ve been doing extensive research on materials and suppliers, and then making some decisions. I decided I would get cotton fabric grown and processed in the Southeastern U.S. (regional) for a shirt and either a skirt or pants; and South Carolina grown alpaca fiber (local) for what will be either a knitted tunic or cardigan.
The alpaca wool was the easy part: a visit to a friendly local alpaca farm, coming home with bags and bags of fiber, and then slowly washing it and carding it (using my friend Barbara’s drum carder to make the work go faster) in preparation for spinning it and knitting it.
Finding Southeast-grown organic cotton has been the more challenging part. That’s the irony — we’re in the middle of America’s traditional cotton country here in the Carolinas, after all, yet it turns out to be really, really hard to find locally grown, ginned, and milled fabric that a regular consumer keen on sewing could buy. I thought I’d share here the research I did, in case it ever turns out to be useful for someone else.
- The place to start, for me, was TS Designs — a North Carolina-based small company specializing in custom-printed t-shirts made out of sustainably produced cotton fabrics. Their “Cotton of the Carolinas” is made out of cotton grown in North Carolina, but it is conventionally grown. When I inquired, I learned that they have struggled with growing organic cotton in NC because of weed issues, but are working on being able to re-introduce it. For the time being, though, they only sell the t-shirts, as they are not set up to process small fabric-only orders.
- Gaia Conceptions is a lovely eco-chic clothing company also located in North Carolina that sells clothing made out of organic cotton. Among their fabric options is a NC Grown Organic Cotton that is “Farmed, Ginned, Milled, and then finally turned into your garment of choice all within a 60 mile radius in beautiful North Carolina.” However, I learned that their local supplier is no longer producing this fabric. Besides, they too do not sell their fabric, only the custom cut and sewn garments. (Some of them are really lovely, actually, and I would pay a visit to their boutique NOMAD in Greensboro, NC, if I find myself there. But for my purposes, this too was a dead-end.
- Next, my investigations led me to Alabama Chanin, a well-known and classy “slow fashion” company specializing in hand-sewn garments made from organic cotton and very committed to the sustainability of textiles. Located in Florence, Alabama, it’s definitely regional rather than local for me, but is still included within my fibershed. Their organic jersey cotton is domestically grown in Texas, processed in North Carolina, and dyed in Nashville, TN and Florence, AL.
There were some other avenues I explored, too. Alabama Chanin has collaborated with Billy Reid to produce garments such as socks, t-shirts and scarves using organic cotton grown in Trinity, Alabama. But due to the limited amount of organic cotton produced for this project, they don’t have enough yardage available for customers. This article describes the clothing brand American Giant working towards re-localizing the textile industry supply chains to create all American-made clothing. Their cotton is ginned and knitted in North Carolina and then dyed and finished at Carolina Cotton Works in Gaffney, South Carolina. When I contacted Carolina Cotton Works to see if I could purchase some cotton through them, I learned that the minimum order was 2,000! So, not exactly the appropriate scale for a “one outfit” project…
In the end, I settled on the organic jersey cotton from Alabama Chanin. Not quite as local as I would have liked, but it seemed like the best option for now. Besides, supporting organic growing practices was important to me. And when the shipment arrived in the mail — oh goodness, it was perfect. So soft, the perfect weight, natural colored (undyed). It made me — and my little assistant — very happy.
Next steps in this project: Decide on local dye plants to use to dye the cotton fabric, and dye it in at least two colors — one for the bottom, one for the top. Research sewing patterns and find something that I would really love, and that would work as an outfit. Spin that alpaca fiber into yarn. Knit that yarn into something warm.
We’re moving forward with this!