Let’s Be On Good Terms
Organic. Environmentally friendly. Responsibly made. These words show up a lot these days, and sometimes I see them used in ways that seem diametrically opposed. What do they really mean, exactly?
Dictionary.com defines organic as “noting or pertaining to a class of chemical compounds that formerly comprised only those existing in or derived from plants or animals, but that now includes all other compounds of carbon.” The word “organic” is thrown around a lot these days, especially when it comes to food, only for me to discover it doesn’t always mean as “natural” as “organic” is in my mind. “Environmentally friendly” is another term I’ve learned to mistrust and investigate further, especially when it comes to fibers, as the term often can refer to only one of the many processes involved to bring plant to textile. And “responsibly made”? How far down the chain does one need to go to be “responsible”?
When I started this venture, I really wanted to use fibers that don’t use up a lot of water, or deplete the soil, or make the people who grow, harvest, or process the fibers unhealthy. My family farmed cotton for at least 3 generations, and pesticides are not good for anyone: farmer, neighbor, animal life. As a child I remember seeing people in the fields when the crop dusters would fly over, poisoning them along with the crops. A lot of cotton now is even grown with the poison inserted into the seed, so that it is actually part of the fiber itself – there is no separating it or washing it out.
Finding these “environmentally friendly” fibers is not as easy as one would think! That’s why I chose hemp for my first product. Hemp is not presently grown in the US, which is another story, but it is grown without the use of pesticides or even a lot of fertilizers, simply because there is no need. It’s rarely irrigated. Once grown, the stalks are cut and laid in the fields for several days, turned and left to dry in the sun, during which time the fibers fall away from the woody central stem. They are then collected, put into the ditches and ponds in the fields, and left for several weeks to separate further. They don’t need chemicals to break them down further to be spun into thread which is then woven into cloth, unlike wood or bamboo rayon, which both use a lot of chemicals and are terrible for the water supply (which is also why they aren’t produced in the US, by the way). Hemp is very strong, silky, long-lasting, and has a beautiful natural color. My hemp is undyed and unbleached, just the color the sun and rain made it.
I am committed to finding fibers that are grown without the use of pesticides or industrial fertilizers that accumulate in our water supplies, minimally processed, and printed using low-impact dyes that also don’t contribute to runoff into our water. It’s more difficult that I imagined, and I upped the difficulty level by wanting to use fibers grown, milled, spun, woven and printed in the USA.
So. The hemp I use in the electronic envelopes is grown in Romania, without chemicals or pesticides, and brought over by sea to minimize the carbon footprint. It’s digitally printed in North Carolina, using fiber reactive dyes that cut waste and water usage to the bare minimum. It’s cut, sewn and finished in Athens, GA, using a lot of human power (which is, contrary to what we tell each other some days in the studio, completely renewable). The closures are aluminum, die stamped in Minnesota using a minimum of 30% recycled material. The artists are paid for the fine work that they do, receiving a percentage of sales as well. The sewists are paid a living wage, too, and I’m proud to call them my friends. We ship in 100% recycled polyester envelopes, to keep the products clean and dry, made in the USA, and using a minimum of packing materials. This is the best I can do to be “responsible.”
I am always on the lookout for great fibers and textiles that are home-grown, milled and dyed in the US, and any suggestions you have will be explored. But I just wanted to be sure that we understand each other when we use these words that are increasingly used more for marketing than truthtelling. Because it’s important to me that you know exactly what you’re getting when you buy from Cambridge Lane.