“Fibershed” as Social Entrepreneurship

“Social entrepreneurship” involves social change, continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning. The Northern California non-profit “Fibershed” embodies the definition of “social entrepreneurship.”

Initially, the founder of Fibershed, Rebecca Burgess, collaborated with local fiber producers and artisans to make an “150-mile wardrobe.” The success of the “150-mile wardrobe” project steered the development of the non-profit Fibershed that promotes a local clothing and textile economy by connecting farmers, artisan designers, mill owners, the apparel industry, educators, and consumers. The innovative Fibershed-network model creates a greater sense of community and is altering what “sustainable clothing systems” are. Discussions are inclusive of community members and attention is placed on the local ecosystem that includes fibers such as wool, cotton, mohair, angora, and alpaca fibers.

Diversity of Wool Display, Fibershed Symposium 2014
Diversity of Wool Display, Fibershed Symposium 2014

The annual Fibershed symposium provides a venue for intellectual and social engagement around fibers, natural dyes, and techniques. There is an exchange of knowledge among farmers, artisans, consumers, and educators. The symposium’s unique themes, and diverse panels throughout the years reflects Fibershed’s adaptability to existing local fiber, clothing, and textile conditions. They are expanding knowledge and strengthening collective awareness to help the local fiber community prevail for the creation of clothing and textiles.

In 2014, the symposium theme was “Enhancing Diversity-The Ecology of Wool,” which highlighted the variety of sheep breeds and gamut of wool types. The community space that Fibershed created led me to understand how farmers and artisans create social and cultural value for wool. It is a material that we should value for its meaning, not just its material worth. The promotion of wool at the Fibershed symposium, and narratives from farmers and artisans are re-situating wool for the 21st century.

Wool is not just a material by-product of sheep. Fibershed is framing local wool as an embedded part of our culture and society. Shearing, skirting, and classing demonstrations during the Fibershed symposium added another layer of knowledge to physically convey how “processing of wool” is not only a tangible activity with raw materials. “Processing of wool” is also ideological because it can lead us to re-think the worth of wool, and who contributes to the value-added process–farmers, artisans, mill owners, consumers.

Fibershed’s ongoing strifes to develop climate beneficial wool in collaboration with the Carbon Cycle Institute conveys how they are continuing to innovate, adapt, and promote learning. “Carbon Farming” involves applying compost to farm rangeland. The compost stimulates the capture and storage of carbon on the land, soil fertility, and water retention that is beneficial for the growth of grass that fiber animals graze and feed on. “Carbon Farming” can address climate change and ecosystem needs, especially during a time of drought in California. Fibershed is currently raising funds through their “1% for Regenerative Fibers System” campaign to make “Carbon Farming” feasible for farmers.

Retuning back to “social entrepreneurship,” Fibershed is stimulating social change by developing a sense of community that spans beyond the 150-mile radius of the Northern California Fibershed. There are currently 29 Fibershed affiliates throughout the world (8 outside of the U.S.). This suggests solidarity for Fibershed, and the beginnings of a movement in support of local fiber, clothing, and textile communities.

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