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A 150 Mile Wardrobe: How One Closet Helped Kickstart a Local Economy (Video)

Posted: 09/27/2011 5:57 pm

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.

The outsourcing of the American closet

"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.

Hyperlocal clothing

Inspired by the success of challenges like the 100 Mile Diet, Burgess decided to put her wardrobe on a diet, limiting herself to wool, cotton, dyes and even designers within 150 miles of her front door.

For six weeks she wore one outfit, 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.

A local textile marketplace is born

Rebecca's 150 mile wardrobe -- her Fibershed Project -- helped motivate local designers and farmers to work together to create hyper-local product and in the process helped revive a local local textile industry in the San Francisco Bay Area. At least 4 new businesses have started, an online Fibershed Marketplace is launching this fall and Sally Fox has put the doors on the first farm-based, solar-powered, North American cotton mill.

"This whole no jobs thing, like economic downfall, that's just, to me that's just understandable that people feel that way but also kind of shortsighted," explains Burgess as she points out all of the artisans on her Fibershed Project map (i.e. fiber farmer, knitter, weaver, designer, seamstress, felter spinner, cotton farmer, natural dyer, mill owner). "Plants keep growing, sheep keep breeding, the world doesn't stop just because Wall Street lost a few points."

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