Meet Fibershed, Made Trade’s 1% for the Planet, Non-Profit Partner
TL;DR Made Trade's 1% for the Planet partner is Fibershed, a nonprofit using regenerative farming practices to support carbon negative, climate-positive clothing research and production. This article explores what regenerative agriculture/carbon farming is, the environmental benefits of livestock, and the various projects Fibershed is investing in—from wool to indigo dye—to create a more sustainable fashion industry.
1% for the Planet is a membership program founded by Patagonia where businesses commit to donating 1% of sales to environmentally-focused non-profits. The six core issue areas of 1% for the Planet are climate, land, water, food, wildlife and pollution. Made Trade is proud to be a member of 1% of the Planet, donating a portion of all sales to the non-profit organization in California, Fibershed. This means that with every purchase on Made Trade, you are also contributing to this incredible movement to create regional and regenerative fiber systems and to support carbon farming that helps combat climate change.
What is Fibershed?
Fibershed is a 501(c)3 non-profit founded by Rebecca Burgess dedicated to creating and supporting regenerative fiber systems. In 2010, Rebecca took on a personal challenge to create and wear a wardrobe of pieces that only used resources (dyes, fibers, and labor) sourced from within 150 miles. This project began with a group of farmers and artisans and quickly grew into a global movement.
Today, Fibershed works to implement soil-to-soil textile processes that create a “carbon beneficial” clothing supply chain. They do this through carbon farming, researching sustainable fibers and dyes, rebuilding regional manufacturing and creating new producer networks and educational resources.
Simply put, we have too much carbon in our atmosphere and too little in our soils—carbon farming restores the natural carbon balance by drawing down carbon from the atmosphere into the soil.
Carbon farming refers to farming methods that sequester carbon from the atmosphere into the soil. These climate-beneficial agricultural practices can actually have a net-negative carbon footprint by removing atmospheric carbon and enhancing the soil’s ability to capture that carbon. Increasing the carbon in soil has many benefits including supporting plant growth, improving water retention and increasing yields.
The Environmental Benefits of Livestock
While livestock is not typically thought of as environmentally friendly, when the right methods are in place, grazing livestock can have a positive climate impact. Grazing livestock can reduce the need for herbicides and synthetic fertilization on croplands and increase the soil’s organic carbon matter which increases water retention in the soil.
Sheep also help the nutrient cycle on the land by eating up the grass and then spreading the grass through their manure across the vineyard or pasture. (Sheep manure retains up to 90% of the original nutrients!)
Land grazed by animals is also more fire-resistant. If a farm has tall grass and low branches, fire can blaze through quickly by moving up “the ladder” from the ground to trees. When animals are grazing that land, though, they lift the underbrush of low hanging branches and “mow” the tall grass, which reduces the risk of fast-moving fires.
Wool, when coming from sheep grazing on rangeland in arid regions, can produce 70-100 pounds of fiber per acre. And in the U.S., wool is an underutilized and abundant resource.
Climate Beneficial Wool is wool that comes from sheep that graze on landscapes using carbon farming practices. Since the benefits of carbon farming methods can be measured (in terms of soil carbon storage), the benefits of wool sourced from sheep living on land using carbon farming is clear.
By quantifying the carbon benefits, garment producers using Climate Beneficial Wool are able to tell the consumer how much carbon was effectively removed from the atmosphere through the production of each garment.
Sustainable Fiber and Dye Research
Fibershed also partners with communities, educational institutions, and other non-profits to research sustainably-sourced fibers and dyes.
Fibershed is currently focused on researching an indigo variety called Polygonum tinctorium, or Japanese Indigo, that can grow in temperate climates. The organization is working on understanding effective methods of farming and extracting this plant in their home region of Northern California. Fibershed’s approach involves sourcing leaves from organically-certified farms, drying and composting the leaves to concentrate the rich blue pigment and then using that concentrate to create fermentation vats.
Hemp is an ecologically-friendly crop that requires no herbicides or pesticides and can produce an impressive 2,000-4,000 pounds of fiber per acre. Plus, when processed into textiles, it has strength, sheen and anti-microbial properties. Given all of these environmental and functional benefits, the plant is the main focus in Fibershed’s research.
Fibershed recently completed a two-year-long research project in Eastern Kentucky and South Central Colorado to evaluate and analyze different varieties of hemp and softening processes. In collaboration with farmers and international academics, they settled on a softening process that’s both ecologically sensitive and cost-effective.
After researching the hemp fibers, Fibershed sought out methods of blending, combing and spinning those fibers into market-ready textiles. Given the potential of Climate Beneficial Wool and the existing American woolen manufacturing equipment, Fibershed determined the most viable solution would be a 50/50 blend of wool and hemp. While wool is an abundant resource, it’s hard to create comfortable clothing using it as the sole fiber. By blending wool with hemp the fabric becomes softer for garment use.
Wool is often softened with chlorine treatments and over 75% of today’s wool is sprayed with fossil-fuel-based poly-acrylic resins. Fibershed wants to return to the traditional process of blending protein fibers, like wool and alpaca, with cellulose fibers, like hemp and cotton, to create soft yet insulating fabrics.
Producer Networks and Education
The Fibershed Producer Program connects producers from over 50 counties of Northern and Central California. This program connects stakeholders across the supply chain from farmers and ranchers to spinners and mill owners to designers and weavers. In this program, Fibershed Producers use fiber and botanic dye farmed or sourced from Northern California and employ labor within the region as well.
For people that want to get involved but live outside of California, Fibershed has a grassroots network, called the Fibershed Affiliate Program. The goal of this program is to build relationships and networks among fiber farmers, processors and artisans.
Affiliates take a community-driven approach, driving impact in a multitude of ways from organizing tours and field trips to hosting natural dyeing classes and educational film showings. There are more than 40 groups across the globe in the network who organize a variety of efforts to strengthen regional, regenerative fiber systems.
Fibershed also hosts educational events, from sold-out conferences to small group workshops. The organization hosts Fashion Galas, an annual Wool Symposium, as well as a wide variety of hands-on workshops for farmers, producers, and designers. Working with their partners, Fibershed has also published numerous research papers and videos available throughout their website.To learn more about Fibershed and how to get involved, visit fibershed.com.