Published on Sep 20, 2011 by Kirsten Dirksen
Except for notions (buttons, zippers, etc), everything in Rebecca Burgess’ wardrobe has been grown and designed within 150 miles of her home. But until putting her closet on a diet one year ago, nearly all her clothing was produced far from home, and that made her a very typical American. Over the past half century the U.S. textile industry has been decimated. “In 1965, 95% of the clothing in a typical American’s closet was made in America,” Burgess writes on her blog, “today less than 5% of our clothes are made here.” Upset by the outsourcing of the American wardrobe, as well as the disconnect this by the waste produced by the textile industry worldwide (it’s the #1 polluter of fresh water on the planet and America’s 5th largest polluting industry), Burgess decided she needed to focus public attention on local fabric, in the same way the food movement had done with local food. Inspired by the success of challenges like the 100 Mile Diet, Burgess decided to put her closet on a diet. For six weeks she wore one outfit (created from local rancher Sally Fox’s color-grown cotton that Fox had milled back in 1983 before the area lost all of its mills), but then local designers, in collaboration with local farmers, began creating more hand spun/knitted/dyed pieces until her wardrobe had become so complete she even had a naturally-wicking alpaca raincoat. Rebecca calls her experiment the Fibershed Project, because like a foodshed or watershed, her fibershed- the 150 mile radius of her home- is big enough to provide for all the fibers and dyes necessary to create a diverse wardrobe. She admits she’s lucky to be in Northern California where there are plenty of ranchers raising even alpacas, angoras and mohair goats and where there’s an ideal climate for growing a variety of color-grown cottons. In this video, we visit Burgess at her dye farm in Lagunitas, California and her home nearby where she shows us her 150-mile wardrobe, including a bicycle-felted vest and a sweater made from the wool of the oldest rancher in the fibershed (a 96-year-old sheep rancher) and the youngest designer (an 18-year-old knitter).