Slow fashion is taking hold – Toronto Star
And she got noticed. Becky Porlier met Jennifer Osborn at the Rare Breeds Canada table at the Guelph Organic Conference in 2013. Porlier is a farmer and artist; Osborn is a shepherd. The two had been following Burgess’ project and decided to form a local affiliate. The Upper Canada Fibreshed is now defined as within 250 miles (400 kilometres) of Toronto.
“There are echoes of the back-to-the land movement from the ’60s and ’70s,” says Burgess, of the new breed of local fibre enthusiasts. “But things are more sophisticated. Today we have science on our side. Each fibreshed has its own climate challenges. But at the end of the day, it is all about returning soil to health and keeping it healthy.”
Burgess is involved with carbon farming initiatives, as well as research with UC Berkeley at Davis on composting protocols. “Most of my time now is spent on a computer,” she says, wistful for those days wandering the deserts with tribal elders. “Advocacy is the key. And setting up strategic links. It is hard to say no to enthusiasm.”
Burgess, who was labelled an “eco-warrior” by the Atlantic, says that fast fashion isn’t always bad. While programs such as H&M’s Conscious Collection may be a drop in the bucket, they can have more impact than just enviro window dressing. The brand, she says, is the largest buyer of organic cotton in the U.S., an industry that struggles with overwhelming pesticide use.
“It is the little things that start to snowball. We worked with NorthFace (outdoor fashion gear) to create something called the Backyard Hoodie. It was only a run of 5,000 units. But the fibre was grown and processed right on the grounds of their factory.”
Because to Rebecca Burgess, every healthy hoodie counts.
From farm to high fashion
At every rung on the fashion ladder — from Parisian boutiques to the runways of Toronto, from Ontario sheep farms and dye gardens to the return of flax mills in Nova Scotia — a new wave of activism is trying to make locally sourced, ecologically responsible clothing sexy and covetable.
Local bioregional design
Toronto-based designer http://www.peggysuecollection.com/ Peggy Sue Deaven-SmiltnieksEND won the Most Promising New Label competition at the TFI Competition on May 3 with her “raised locally, milled locally, made locally” fall-winter 2016 collection.
Trained at the Rhode Island School of Design, Deaven-Smiltnieks worked with Roksanda Ilincic in London, and Saks Fifth Avenue in New York. On her move to Toronto, she tapped into the eco-fibre community at Upper Canada Fibreshed. She takes her sourcing seriously: she attends lamb birthings and has learned to shear, as well as taken up embroidery, hand-spinning, weaving, natural plant dyeing and screen printing.
The collection itself is sophisticated and urban. It is also designed to be timeless. As Deaven-Smiltnieks says, “clothes should be made to stand the test of time, to last. That is the ultimate in sustainability.” Visit peggysuecollection.com.
Global luxury fashion leadership
Robin Givhan, writing in the Washington Post about sustainability efforts at the top of the fashion food chain, noted that the Paris-based LVMH (which owns Celine, Dior, Fendi and Louis Vuitton) had imposed a carbon tax on its brands to invest back in sustainable practices. And Kering, which owns YSL and Gucci, and is also based in Paris, published its environmental profit and loss statement last year: the conglomerate’s total cost to the environment was $838 million (U.S.), or $12.53 for each four-figure leather handbag. Without the environmental measures the company does take, LVMH would leave a $1.2 billion-footprint.
Givhan’s take-away is that luxury fashion needs to lead the paradigm shift, in the way that chefs pushed farm-to-table, and car companies have made electric cool. Because right now, she says, “Listening to someone brag about a new eco-friendly sweater is about as thrilling as a conversation about air filters.”
Local dye farming
Costume designer Jennifer Triemstra-Johnston runs the summer FACTS (Fashion Arts and Creative Textiles Studio) program at the Centre for Rural Creativity in Blyth, Ont. This summer marks the first for the centre’s communal dye garden. “Using flowers from the garden, foraged resources and food waste from local restaurants, dye samples will be created and catalogued,” says Triemstra-Johnston. “The range of colours produced will reflect the colours that can be made from the town and surrounding country side and would be considered Blyth’s natural dye palette.”
Says Triemstra: “FACTS is interested in offering support to artisans in the form of class, studio time, networking and promotion to any fashion, textile, costume or fibre artist who is exploring creativity within their field. FACTS is promoting the buy-local movement and sustainable practice on three levels: personal, economic and environmental.”
All Sorts Acre Farm sheep farm in Mono, Ont., is co-owned by shepherd Jennifer Osborn. Osborn is also a co-founder of Upper Canada Fibreshed (with artist Becky Porlier). From two Shetland sheep grew an ambitious, organic and biodynamic farm concept. The sheep here are raised for both meat and fibre, and they are employed in conservation grazing initiatives. Osborn makes a line of felted slippers and dryer balls from their fibre. You can buy the wool online or at the farm, or you can buy raw fleece, if the DIY spirit moves you.
The flax alternative
TapRoot Farms in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley is a vegetable farm transitioning to organic (now at 70 per cent, with a 2020 target date for full certification). Rhea Hamlin is the marketing manager for TapRoot Fibre Lab, an initiative on the premises that is seeking to re-establish small-scale, local flax production in Nova Scotia, where the tradition of making linen goes back 350 years. The local linen industry was lost over the past century, as production scaled up and shipped out to the Far East fast-fashion system. “As farmers,” says Hamlin, “we are growing plants for making garments because we value sustainable economies.”
First, they had to develop longline flax fibre processing machinery as the mills no longer existed. They also had to scale-down to appropriate sizing for community-based rural projects rather than larger mills that involve a heavier shipping footprint. The hope is that one day the new, smaller-scale machinery they are adapting will enable other communities to follow their example.