Local discoveries for sustainable fashion design

In conducting preliminary research for my Masters thesis in Apparel Design, I was excited to find that there are several local fiber farms in Tompkins county. I found farms in Ithaca, Groton, and Prattsburg NY that produce yarns from the soft, fluffy hairs of sheep, goats, and alpaca (ie “exotic” animals). Learning about these local farms was exciting to me because it would allow me to learn more about local resources.


Even though many people suggest that there is almost no apparel/textile industry in the U.S. because of outsourcing, I think that there are many local opportunities. This is why I immediately contacted NY fiber farmers and asked whether they sold their yarns in Ithaca stores in preparation for knitting a seamless sweater.

Carol from The Angel Tree Alpaca Farm in Groton indicated that she sold alpaca yarns in “The People’s Market” in Lansing. I visited “The People’s Market” and was very happy to be greeted with the names and photographs of the crème, black, brown, and grey adorable alpaca. Each skein of yarn was labeled with the name of the alpaca and within minutes I found myself grabbing a skein of yarn, reading the label, and finding the picture of the alpaca posted on the wall. It was very enjoyable to consider how the cute alpaca helped produce the yarn that could help keep a person warm when used for clothes. (Especially because the alpaca were not harmed in the shearing process)

Thinking about the healthy human-“exotic” animal interaction, although it may be indirect, can lead a wearer to appreciate where their clothing came from. Alpaca are labeled as “exotic” because they are from South America and were imported to the U.S. around the 1980s. Although alpacas can be intimidating with their stature as tall as a person, their big eyes and long eyelashes are reminiscent of babies’ eyes that are big, sparkly, and full of life. Just appreciating the eyes of the alpaca can trigger memories of childhood and the innocence of childhood.

Reflections about how humans can relate to animals can lead to a greater awareness of ethics (right-wrong). Would it be right to throw away clothing that was made using the resources (hair) of an animal (alpaca)? Which can lead to the question: what nourishes the growth of the alpaca’s soft hair? Adequate food, water, low stress level, freedom of terminal diseases, youth, breed? We can reflect on the human-animal commonality that we both grow hair and require acquired resources that prompt or inhibit good health to produce “quality” hair.

Our ability to empathize and imagine what it would be like if we only had hair to cover our bodies can help us appreciate our use of natural resources to a greater extent. Would we like it if someone cut off our hair every so often, made something that is “disposable” (ie clothing in fast fashion paradigm with a lifetime of as little as 10 wears), and stopped using it after it went out of style? No.

Giving the greatest emotional value to the resources alpaca produce–yarns for clothing that we will keep for as long as possible—can help alleviate moral dilemmas. In “The People’s Market” I chose to buy the crème yarn made from fibers of an alpaca named “Normandy.”


Angora Goat; Laughing Goat Fiber Farm

As an expansion of my knowledge about local fiber farms, I was happy, excited, and eager to visit Lisa’s “Laughing Goat Fiber Farm” in Ithaca on January 20, 2013.

We went into the barn, and Lisa explained how she takes care of her fiber goats, each with their own personalities. Mother goats may/ or may not be good mothers to their babies. When we went into the barn, there were 5 goats that were 1-3 days old and they were all wearing little sweaters from Petco to keep warm on the chilly day.

Helen and Nidia carrying newborn baby goats
Helen and Nidia carrying newborn baby goats

I was trying to take to picture with one of the 1 day newborn baby goats and the baby screeched “baaAAaaaa!.” At first I was startled, but Lisa said that the lamb was probably hungry because the mom didn’t do a good job of feeding it. We watched the lamb looking for the mother goat’s teet, and Lisa pointed out that the mom was not sending the goat in the right direction. This was surprising to me because I assumed that all animals aim to care for their young as best as possible. Lisa later prepared goat milk and fed milk to the baby goat with a bottle.

When we went outside, Lisa told stories about them that made the whole experience extremely memorable. Lisa told us a story about one of her older goats, she said that the goat didn’t really give good fibers, and that she didn’t really want her. Then the goat got pregnant and gave birth to 2 goats. Lisa observed how the goat interacted with her baby goats and noticed that the mother goat ensured that her goats were warm by covering them with her body. This proved that the goat was a good mother, and Lisa decided to keep the older goat because of her strong maternal instinct.

Angora Goats; Laughing Goat Fiber Farm

The visit was extremely humbling and I am very grateful that I got the opportunity to visit and see how Lisa interacted with all of her adorable animals.


Laughing Goat Fiber Farm: http://laughinggoatfiber.com/

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