Much of what we do and what we consume today is extractive, our economy largely based on using resources that will eventually run out. Oil runs our cars, our agricultural machinery, and even makes up much of our wardrobes. What if we instead focused on regenerative resources? That’s a lot of the work that Fibershed does. The California-based nonprofit focuses on building regional and regenerative fiber systems, working with farmers, artisans and consumers.
Whether farming for food or fiber (or both), producers are facing a heavy future. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, no other sector is more sensitive to climate change than agriculture. But agriculture might also have the tools to turn the tide. “Agriculture has the ability to change how much carbon is in the atmosphere,” says Fibershed founder Rebecca Burgess.
Burgess is referring to carbon farming. Carbon farming – which has gained popularity in the food movement – essentially takes carbon out of the atmosphere and stores it in the soil. An “agricultural of hope” as Permaculture magazine called it.
This is done through a variety of methods, like applying compost, implementing no-till practices and restoring wetlands, all intended to boost the soil’s ability to sequester carbon. Sustainable agriculture is an important part of this. A recent study from Northeastern University and the nonprofit research organization The Organic Center found that soils from organic farms had 26 percent more potential for long-term carbon storage than soils from conventional farms. As Burgess points out, that’s entirely the opposite of extractive, noting that in this type of a system, “you are providing and giving back more to the system than you are taking.”
But how does a farmer easily translate the benefits of carbon farmer to the consumer? Fibershed created the Climate Beneficial Wool initiative, working with producers who are employing carbon farming practices on their land and raising sheep, showcasing fiber that is produced in a responsible way.
“While we most often think of them for meat, sheep are “dual purpose in agriculture,” says Burgess. “Sheep are incredible… [they] are a part of a natural carbon cycle throughout their whole life.”
Fibershed has estimated that in California alone, there are 900,000 pounds of textile-grade wool produced every year. Burgess estimates that would come out to about 450,000 sweaters/base layers. Even the large amount of wool that isn’t textile grade could still be used for other items, like wool batting and insulation. But while there’s great potential for the fiber, “wool has been so undervalued,” says Burgess. With a very low demand, the fiber “is not the economic impetus for a lot of farmers,” says Burgess. Instead it’s most often seen as a byproduct. In other words: a highly underutilized resource.
Bringing value back to wool means growing demand, and that means getting brands on board who are looking to use more sustainably sourced materials. This year, Fibershed partnered with The North Face to produce the Cali Beanie, made with Climate Beneficial Wool. “Climate Beneficial Wool is interesting to us because it has been demonstrated to have a net negative carbon impact at the ranching stage in the lifecycle of our products,” says Eric Raymond of The North Face. “We believe that a hyper-local, climate conscious approach to sheep ranching can reshape our relationship with our land.”
Connecting brands & ranches, supply chains & landscapes… this is what we can do as a community within our #Fibershed. Today we’re celebrating the launch of the Cali Wool Beanie, created by @thenorthface using #ClimateBeneficialWool raised regionally at Bare Ranch (@lanislanawool). This hat can keep us warm while aiding in stabilizing our climate, because this supply chain invests directly in #carbonfarming practices that sequester over 4000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. By sharing and shopping this beanie, we can show our support for a new pathway for clothing that enhances our environment and community ~ head over to @thenorthface page to learn more & purchase. Repost ・・・ Warm your dome, not the globe with our Climate Beneficial wool beanie. Photo of @MargoJain by @Jan_Novak_Photography
Fibershed and The North Face already had a partnership dating back to 2014, when they launched the Backyard Project hoodie, an organic cotton garment that was made as close to The North Face’s Alameda, California headquarters as possible.
“In 2014, we challenged ourselves to manufacture a collection of naturally colored hoodies, right here in our own backyard. Since then, we’ve established roots in the American apparel industry and built new relationships with domestic farms, fabric mills and garment manufacturers,” says Raymond. “The Cali Wool Beanie is the next step in that process.”
This is a strategic partnership for Fibershed, and one that Burgess hopes will grow so that the organization can continue to “build demand for regionally grown materials,” ultimately building enough demand “that brands like The North Face want to invest in things like regional textile mills.”
In that sense, “regenerative” isn’t just a term that can be applied to agriculture, it can also be applied to the entire economy, regenerating regional jobs. Just like food hubs are helping to revive local food economies, regional textile mills could do the same for fiber, bringing us one step closer to a world of climate beneficial fashion, not just changing our wardrobes, but also, our connection to the land.