Laura Sansone is a textile designer, activist, and consultant based in the Hudson Valley in New York. She is the creator of Textile Lab, an organization that promotes environmentally responsible textile methods, and regional systems of production.
Textile Lab brings together New York designers with local textile mills and fiber farms to help to grow an economically diverse, statewide textile supply chain. Their aim is to rebuild regional textile manufacturing, which adds value to our communities and the environment.
The Regional Cloth Project is a Textile Lab design initiative. Their woven and knit samples are intended to bring apparel, product and interior designers into their regional network of farms and fiber processing mills.
We caught up with Laura to talk about the work she’s doing and just how to make regional supply chains work.
You mentioned recently that it’s a designer’s duty to participate in local fibers and regional production-Can you talk more about that?
In order to see real transformational change in the textile industry, everyone who participates in the supply chain needs to make adjustments and address the economic re-vitalization of regional textile production. As designers, it’s important to support other local businesses so money is re-distributed from centralized, global production systems to regional networks and small to mid sized businesses. As money goes back into regional networks, we are able to implement environmentally progressive production methods that work to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Some examples include; carbon-capture farming strategies, as well as soil to soil and zero waste production. These types of alternative production methods can be achieved on a regional, small scale. It’s an imperative to have designers participate in regional production, even if this happens incrementally, through limited edition products or capsule collections. Everyone needs to do their part in helping to create social and environmental value with the clothing and textiles we buy and use.
How are you connecting farmers to designers and do you see that as a missing link right now in the supply chain?
Textile Lab is developing two initiatives to link farmers and designers together: the NYS Yarn Sourcebook and our Regional Cloth Project. The NYS Yarn Sourcebook is a resource that catalogs the yarns that New York State farmers are currently producing. New York State has a diversity of animal fibers that are available to support regionally manufactured clothing and textiles. Through the development of the NYS Fiber Sourcebook, we are able to connect fashion brands to fiber farmers and mills in a single resource. Our other initiative, the Regional Cloth Project, involves the development of industrial yarns that are compatible to use with industrial equipment. This enables the production of regionally sourced spun, knit and woven cloth. This initiative provides a scalable production model and helps to develop a resilient Farm-To-Fashion economy in New York State.
Although both of these projects are very helpful to bolster the regional supply chain, we still have weak areas, such as lack of scouring facilities to clean the fiber, as well as very few weaving facilities in the Northeast.
How do we create a regional manufacturing model that seems affordable for the mainstream?
It is still difficult for small, regional systems to compete with the current production model that we see in the textile and clothing industries. The current model is about achieving the lowest production cost so that the highest profit can be achieved for people at the top. There are terrible social and environmental effects with this production model, from polluting our land and waters to human rights abuses in factories; the list goes on.
In order to shift production systems, we need to educate consumers about the effects that their purchasing behaviors have on the environment and on communities around the world. Most people are not aware of the consequences of their consumer practices. Consumer education and spreading awareness about our textile and clothing production is important to shift the manufacturing models back from centralized, global systems to smaller, de-centralized regional production models. As we see more local infrastructure developing around regional models, the cost of production will become more competitive and prices will come down. We have already seen this happen with the local food revolution. Today, locally farmed food is much more affordable than it was, say, 10 years ago. The regional textile movement is following in the same trajectory as the regional food movement.
Is it time to embrace a slower fashion model and to design for longevity?
It is absolutely time to design for longevity and address the concepts for a circular fashion economy: where all materials and products circulate among its users for as long as possible, and where production is implemented in a safe and just manner for people and the environment. Slow fashion and circular economies are about developing and using infrastructures, modes of collaboration and alternative business models. The aim of a circular economy and circular fashion is to maximize product longevity and durability through different lifecycle strategies that support repair, redesign and recycling.
The time is now to embrace these concepts as we address how to adapt our production systems so they create value for people and the environment.