Fibershed founder Rebecca Burgess puts the brakes on fast fashion.
The fashion industry—and, by extension, textiles—is the second most polluting on earth. (The first? Oil and gas.) Aside from water waste and carbon emissions that come from making clothes, the average American throws away about 81 pounds of clothing every year, which adds up to 26 billion pounds of textiles and clothes in landfills each year. The saddest thing is, 95 percent of that is recyclable, according to the EPA.
Meanwhile, for every 2 million tons of textiles that are kept out of landfills, we can reduce carbon emissions equal to taking one million cars off the road. It is time to stop and think about what those fabrics and fibers are made from, how they are made and where they go when we’re done with them. This affects all of us, because every day we each get up and put on clothes. Every night we slip between sheets, under blankets, with our heads on a pillow. We shower and wrap ourselves in towels, at home and at the spa. But it’s not only the textiles themselves that we need to think about. What about the synthetic dyes and toxic chemical compounds we use to color them? The plastics used in synthetic fabrics, which end up in our waterways? And what about the nine-year-old in a sweatshop in South Asia who is making them?
Rebecca Burgess, founder of the nonprofit Fibershed, has not only been thinking about solutions for a long time, she’s creating them. In 2010, Burgess presented herself with a challenge: to dress only in local and natural fibers for a year. Burgess reached out to local alpaca, sheep and organic cotton farmers near her home in California. Working with that community, and applying her own skills as a dyer and weaver, she created a capsule collection that led to the founding of Fibershed. The goal, according to Burgess, is “to build regional fiber and dye systems that are regenerating soil,” inspired by the vision behind the slow food movement. What can each of us do to start? Wear natural fibers, choose quality garments over quantity, keep clothing in use for as long as you can.
Fibershed works with designers and brands like The North Face and Eileen Fisher to help them focus on sourcing locally and sustainably, too. With a network of 200 farmers, ranchers and artisans, and 50 affiliates and growing, around the globe, Burgess says, “I’m wishing for a graceful backing away from the environmental cliff humanity is on. People need to learn to change the way they consume, in food choices, and in clothing choices, and put the breaks on fast fashion. We need to wake up and slow down.”