I create Slow Textiles for a sustainable life style. For me, thinking about how things are made, where they come from and who is making them have always been important questions. Making textiles is my art and is a way for me to balance the chaos with slowing down, being in the present and creating peace in my life. Here are some of my thoughts on the slow food and textile movement.
The health of our bodies and our planet are one and the same. I think there is a direct connection between food and textile fiber. Just as food comes from fields, so does most of our fiber for textiles. What we put into the earth can nurture health or cause disease. As with slow food, there is a slow textile movement taking hold around the world today. Just as the food we share at our table is essential to our health and wellbeing so are the textiles we use to adorn our table. Our dinner table plays a fundamental role in our lives, not only to our bodies' health but also to our spiritual and family health. The table brings people together and connects us.
For thousands of years, creating beauty has been a part of being human as reflected in the table coverings and napkins we use, and the clothes we wear. Yet, I believe beauty without integrity can bring a sense of emptiness to our lives. Like food, most textiles come from plants such as cotton, flax, hemp, sea cell, bamboo, nettles and soy. Other textiles come from animals such as silk and wool. I believe we are learning that the small choices that we make as individuals do effect our local and global health. What is put onto our fields ends up in our bodies, regardless of whether we ingest toxins through our mouths or place them on our skin. And many times these substances originated somewhere else on the planet.
So much waste is being placed in our homes, schools, streets, creeks, oceans and dumps. We see waste everywhere, in the disposable products we use, by the trees being chopped down, or through the plastic that is used once, only to be then thrown away. We can use sustainable textiles to become a more resourceful society.
Recently a spun piece of flax (linen) was found in Georgia that was 30,000 years old. Flax was growing wild at the time and was not only a source of edible grain, but also of textile fiber. It was probably braided together, macramé style, to be used for headgear, baskets, ropes and strings. Plain old string was a powerful technology, which helped people weather the last ice age. These ancient fibers were knotted and dyed with plants to create colors of black, grey, turquoise and pink. Beauty and artistic expression was important to these early people.
The fashion and textile industry consumes large amounts of energy, creates significant waste and uses harmful pesticides and toxins in manufacturing. Buying organic cotton is an example of making a healthy choice, since it is the version of its conventional counterpart that is grown without pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, chemical fertilizers or any other chemicals. Buying organic cotton can have a huge global impact, especially when one considers that cotton (organic or otherwise) provides about half of all the world's fiber needs. On the other hand, conventional cotton is one of the most chemically-dependent crops, sucking up 10 percent of all agricultural chemicals and 25 percent of insecticides on 3 percent of our arable land; that's more than any other crop per unit. That adds up to 1/3 of a pound of chemicals to produce enough cotton for a t-shirt, and 3/4 of a pound for a pair of jeans. And that's just not bad for the planet; 20,000 deaths occur each year from pesticide poisoning in developing countries, many of these from cotton farming, according to the World Health Organization.
I am realizing now that I have been a part of the slow textile movement for a number of years. In 2004 I created Ambatalia Fabrics a store in downtown Mill Valley, CA which was the first fabric store to focus solely on sustainability. At the time I was unaware that there was a slow textile movement growing and that I was a part of it. Bringing awareness to the importance of textiles made without pesticides and chemicals is as important to me as shining a light on the artisans who create them.
There are human beings all over the world for whom this expertise is also their livelihood. The current concept that focuses on “how to get things cheaper” without concern to the human or environmental cost, is a huge long term expense that affects all of us and future generations to come... We see evidence of this in every corner of the world today. The more we support sustainable textiles and local artisans, the healthier we become as a society.
Slow food has over 100,000 members in 132 countries around the world. Many of their events connect us to our food, our community, our local economy and our history. The idea of supporting local organic farmers is a key message since we continue to find that there is so much to learn from the generations that have come before us. The most important thing is to continue to promote systems that allow all of us to feed our families the healthiest produce available while sustaining our local economy and in turn creating a healthier planet. Even though the slow textile movement isn't as mainstream as the slow food movement, I believe it will prove to be just as important.