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Localism & Fibershed


Locally sourced, km 0, regional supply chains, reshoring… These are all terms that you might have heard, probably in the context of food. As it often happens, for example, with organic farming, issues are first tackled in the food and agriculture industry and then make their way into Fashion.

These concepts emphasize the importance of sourcing materials and production locally rather than relying on global supply chains, which can be environmentally damaging and socially exploitative. In current models, dozens of countries can be involved in producing one pair of jeans, from mining and processing metal for buttons to ingredients for the chemicals used in washing, cotton farming, sourcing of packaging, etc. Locations are chosen according to their comparative advantages, such as price, availability of materials, and technological knowledge. The consequence of producing worldwide is that we need to be more connected to the time required for production, the effort behind each step, and its impact on the land, air, and water. By disregarding this knowledge, we have come to believe that mass volumes of cheap clothes don't come with side effects.

Over the last decade, clothing imports to the EU Member States increased in value by 62%, even though many EU countries are considered fashion hubs. In the 1960s, around 95% of clothing bought in the US was made locally. If we compare that to today, it's the opposite; about 2% of apparel is made in the US.This shows a significant disconnection between us and what we wear.

Producing locally can involve sourcing fibres from local farms, and using local factories and artisans for production. By doing so, the most apparent benefit is the reduction of transportation and the overall carbon footprint. Still, many other benefits come with supporting local economies, such as increased transparency and accountability in the supply chain, as well as community development.

In this article, we want to introduce you to the benefits, limitations, and examples of local production in fashion supply chains. In this context, we refer to local production as reshoring. Reshoring refers to bringing productive activities' home' to a specific location, while nearshoring refers to manufacturing being relocated to a country closer to 'home.'


How is it possible to create a local production model within our complex and largely fragmented global fashion supply chain? What does reshoring look like in practice? Different models of local textile production contain the common thread of reconnecting the wearer to where their clothing was grown.

This is the approach weaver and natural dyer Rebecca Burgess had in mind over a decade ago when she began a project focused on wearing fibres produced within a 150 km radius of her home in North Central California. Burgess discovered it was possible to build viable supply chains closer to home, coining the term FibreShed to describe this regional textile community.

Spun out of Rebecca Burgess's vision, FibreShed is a non-profit organization that develops regional fibre systems that build ecosystems and community health. Their focus is on climate-benefiting agriculture, rebuilding regional manufacturing, and using education to connect consumers to the source of the fibre.

What began as a bioregional project in California has expanded into an international network of FiberSheds (bioregional textile communities), including the Upper Canada FiberShed, which brings regional textile production to Ontario and includes any producer, processor, farmer, or artisan within 400 km of Toronto.

FibreShed's producer program hosts farmers, ranchers, designers, sewers, weavers, knitters, felters, spinners, mill owners, and natural dyers to reinforce and support local production. All members holistically think about clothing production, asking: where is it coming from, where is it going, is it biodegradable, does it work alongside the living systems associated with it?

We love this quote by Rebecca Burgess: "Our clothing should be able to go back to the soil."

Farms in the FibreShed network use a soil-to-soil framework based on the principles of regenerative framing. Soil-to-soil closes the loop on production by growing fibres that are decomposable and can be applied back to pastures as nutrients to continue the fibre cycle in a self-sustaining way.


FibreShed has shown how investing in regenerative fibre farming systems has numerous benefits to soil health, regional manufacturing, and improvements to economic equity within material culture. While talks of sustainability are present in the Fashion industry, for instance, around recycling, more focus should be placed on working with earth's carbon pools.


Localism and climate are intimately connected through soil health. Our planet holds an imbalance of carbon; there is too much in our atmosphere and not enough in our soil (a deficit of around 116 Billion Metric Tons). Local producers in the FibreShed deploy a practice called carbon farming, which enhances the flow of carbon from the atmosphere into the soil and plant matter, which is crucial for feeding the underground biodiversity or microfungal networks. Through techniques such as windbreaks, planting multi-species cover crops, or prescribed grazing, this farming method can help mitigate climate change.


In addition, producing locally reduces the overall transport cost and emissions associated with garment production. Local supply networks are estimated to reduce Fashion's climate footprint for wool, cotton, and linen by around 75% (when comparing renewable energy-powered local production to international or domestic production powered by grid energy). With shorter supply chains, we lessen our impact.

The impact of transportation is straightforward for us to visualize, and we are all familiar with pollution from cars, trucks, and flights. However, transportation is a smaller fraction of the impact of a garment.

According to McKinsey's Fashion on Climate report (2018), transportation is only 3% of the average effect of the entire value chain of a garment:

What this tells us isn't that we shouldn't think of transportation at all because 3% of the Fashion industry is still massive. Still, when compared to the selection of materials, and the product use phase, it is more important to make sure that fewer clothes are produced, made with renewable materials and resources, and used as much as possible.

Transparency & Connection

Maintaining local production creates a sense of connection between all levels of the supply chain and with the land and seasons. Artisans can work with their local mill or farm to understand how seasonality affects wool blends and regional differences in texture and colour in their design process, maintaining transparency.

Brands and designers can also ensure the sustainability of their materials by using FibreShed's Climate Beneficial Wool and wool from farms using carbon drawdown techniques. Data on carbon capture is measurable, which means brands can maintain transparency with consumers and better understand the environmental impact of their products.

Understanding where our clothing comes from down to the soil type and location strengthens our connection to the land and the environment.

Reinforcement of local production & manufacturing

Since the industrialization of Fashion, production has moved overseas, and domestic clothing production has mainly become obsolete. A wave of liberalization policies in the 1990s wiped out import restrictions, so we flipped our production model and eliminated much of domestic clothing production.

Keeping production local returns economic activity to regional areas by providing employment opportunities and concentrating profits closer to production. Local fibre systems create strong, connected rural communities that benefit each other and are equally connected in production.

A shorter supply chain also reduces the risk by maintaining greater control over operations. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the fragility and over-reliance of global supply chains that were largely disrupted, highlighting the benefits of local/regional supply chains that avoid geo-political issues altogether.


In our ideal future, there would only be localized supply chains. However, some limitations make this impossible, primarily based on the different climates and soil types worldwide determining what can be extracted.

Sourcing materials locally limits the availability and diversity of fibres, dyes, and metals which can impact the design and production of garments. For example, cotton requires a particular climate, which means it's impossible to grow in most countries, or it requires vast amounts of irrigation, fertilizers, and pesticides, which come with side effects such as droughts, ecosystem loss, and soil degradation. Forcing the growth of a specific plant in an area which isn't suitable would have a higher impact than transporting it from a different location where it grows more naturally.

These challenges require brand commitment and innovation from the design stage when the decisions on materials are made. A significant thing brands must do is stop using air transportation for Fashion. A cargo ship emits about 10 grams of CO2 to transport 1 metric ton of cargo 1 kilometre. For the same distance and weight, the emissions are about half as much as a train, one-fifth as much as a truck, and 50 times less of an aeroplane.

Sustainable production would avoid using flights altogether, which means sourcing materials locally or from places where they can grow with a low impact but are transported using sustainable methods.

Flights should never be used for Fashion. Clothes don't expire :)

Finally, given the differences in buying power across nations and the value of currencies that vary a lot between countries, local production is more expensive in developed countries. Producing locally would mean increasing the cost of production, which would be great for reducing production volumes. Still, it might increase living costs for families that already find it challenging to make ends meet. Pricing garments is rooted in history and economics, and although it is not fair, it isn't something brands can ignore. You can learn more about it in our wage distribution article. Sourcing across countries should ensure that the same environmental and social standards are applied as if the sourcing was to be done locally.


How can localised production be applied to a realistic supply chain? Materials and labour should be sourced locally to ensure no unnecessary transportation, transparency is provided by directly having eyes on all the steps, and the relationship with the customer is local, enabling repairs, take-back programs, and recycling (with the right infrastructure in place).

When materials, expertise, or machinery are unavailable locally, they can be sourced from abroad and transported using ships and trains, preferably. This should be coupled with decolonizing our supply chains instead of finding the cheapest option but the best quality with the lowest impact. Human rights must be respected at their highest standard, regardless of whether a brand is sourcing locally or internationally. The process must be decolonized and equitable soil to skin.

An excellent exercise we always like to do is to look back into history only a few centuries away. Some materials, such as Indigo or other specific dyes, were traded worldwide, but materials such as wool, hemp, or leather were always sourced locally. It is possible!

A beautiful example is the Trama Textiles weaving cooperative that uses local Guatemalan cotton dyed, woven and sewn across a few villages to make beautiful pieces. You can check it out here.

Wearing clothing is an agricultural act.

Each garment starts with fibre farmed by human hands connected to our environment. When produced locally, our clothing has the potential to provide meaningful nutrients for our soil, improve economic equality, and improve climate to transform the fashion supply chain to reimagine the lifecycle of garments.

Is this a fashion world you would like to see? Let us know in the comments on IG!

Until next time friends, Always Be Curious & Stay Diligent x


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