Sow to Sew plants seeds for an industry
August 26, 2013

Flax is an ancient crop which is used cultivated for its oilseed and to make linen.

Who grows your clothes?

Until the mid 20th century this would have been an easy question to answer. The textile industry was an integral part of North America's agricultural economy. The growing of flax, hemp and plants for natural dyes, the processing of spinning yarn and weaving cloth were localized activities.

But by the early 21st century, 90 per cent of cloth production had moved offshore. Most clothing is made cheaply at an unsustainable cost to the planet.

“Something has to change. Textile industry stakeholders ranging from agriculturalists, craft persons, textile and fashion designers, retailers to consumers are situated to challenge the status quo, by once again thinking locally,” says Robin Muller, Textiles Professor in the Craft Division at NSCAD University.

NSCAD’s Textiles/Fashion Department is bringing those stakeholders together for a one-day conference that will explore the emerging localized textiles industry. Sow to Sew takes place Friday, Sept. 27 in NSCAD’s Bell Auditorium.

“People are realizing the societal and environment cost of producing clothing and textiles offshore,” says Prof. Muller, citing the devastating fire in a Bangladesh garment factory. “Everyone appreciates that our model of industry has to change, so we want to be ready when manufacturing comes back to Nova Scotia. ‘Local’ and ‘artisanal’ are marketing catch phrases now.  It can mean producing textiles and fashion in a more cooperative way, in a meaningful way.”

The time seems to be right—judging by the overwhelming response to Prof. Muller’s invitation to speakers. Everyone approached said yes, leading to a jam-packed schedule on Sept. 27.

The speakers are organized according to four subject areas. Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose, co-authors of Fashion & Sustainability: Design for Change, and Kelly Drennan, founding executive director of Fashion Takes Action, will address “Sustainability in Fashion.”

On the topic of “Growing and Using Natural Dyes,” speakers are  Rowland Ricketts, Assistant Professor, Textiles, Indiana University, and an artist who uses indigo to create contemporary textiles, Shanna Robinson, professor of art, North Central Michigan College, and a fibre artist, and Laura Sansone whose Micro Textile Lab connects fashion with the farm.

Leading discussion on “Manufacturing Fabric” are Lesley Armstrong, part-time faculty at NSCAD, Claire Gagnon, N.B, and Patricia Bishop, TapRoot Farms in Port Williams; Meaghan Earle, head designer with a textiles manufacturer based in Cambridge, Ont.; and Bethanne Knudson, who is a cofounder of an artisanal mill in North Carolina.

The fourth topic to be explored is “Fashion and Clothing Production.” Exploring issues including ethical fashion, small-scale manufacturing and running a business are speakers Barbara Starr, owner and designer of Terra Cotta clothing design in Toronto; Julia Grieve and Peter Frieson of Preloved; and Sibylle Klose, a professor with two major fashion design programs in Europe.

Preloved, shown here at Toronto Fashion Week, creates one-of-a-kind clothing from reclaimed vintage fabrics.

All the speakers gathered for Sow to Sew will take part in a think tank session happening in Lunenburg the next day, on Saturday, Sept. 28. The session is co-sponsored by consultants Leslie Wright and Brian Arnott, owners of Luvly in Lunenburg, a store devoted exclusively to independent Canadian designers, and the Lunenburg Makery, a place for learning, making and gathering around craft.

Sow to Sew is made possible through a SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) Connections grant.

For more information and to register, please see Sow to Sew