Fibreshed

From sheep to nettles to textiles, a visionary movement for full-circle local fibre production finds its roots on Vancouver Island

Amy Crook and Lynda Drury

Imagine, locally produced textiles as available as local organic food.

It’s already happening – artisans are making garments and household textiles using locally-sourced fleece and yarns sold at the farm gate, local craft fairs, retail shops, and etsy.com – places where they also sell their finished goods. While the local textile economy exists on a micro-scale, there is tremendous potential to expand and build from here.

Vancouver Island Fibreshed (VIF) is now underway, building a local textile economy based on renewable resources and cli- mate-beneficial farming methods, while establishing a foundation of support and communication with and between farmers and fibre consumers.

Cooperatively with Island farmers, VIF supports the growth of sustainable textile products from both animals and plants. Our current focus is to identity what animal-based fibres are being grown on the Island and to collect information that could lead to enhancing the number, breed diversity, and quality of fibre from sheep, alpaca, and llama. VIF will then focus on working with farmers involved with fibre plant crops. The aim is to explore the viability of growing and increasing production of hemp, nettle, and flax, as well as crops for dyeing or embellishing fibre products (indigo, madder, weld, dye flowers).

The textile industry is one of the world’s worst polluters because they use over 2,000 chemicals and a tremendous amount of water in their industrial process. By weight, 70% of our clothing has some form of fossil fuel-derived substance in it.

Our longterm goal is to develop a sustainable farm fibre economy – one that brings regionally manufactured garments and products to local, national, and international markets while connecting us more closely with agricultural lands that grow non-toxic fibre sources.

VIF is part of the growing “Fibreshed” movement throughout BC, Canada and North America to support small-scale sustainable textile industries. The VIF geographic scope encompasses all of Vancouver Island and the surrounding Gulf Islands, with the Comox Valley as the nucleus. We will collaborate and learn from other Fibresheds, and build on their hard work, knowledge and results. Have a look at the original Fibershed website, based in California, to learn more. We have been inspired by their mandate: “We develop regional fiber systems that build soil & protect the health of our biosphere.”

Emerging Industry

Until now, one of the barriers to a thriving VIF textile economy was the lack of a functional local fibre processing mill and limited demand for fibre and finished products produced onVancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. Presently, many farmers compost or landfill fleece because sending it to out-of-province mills for processing into finished goods (anything from clean fleece to carded rovings, bats, and yarns) is not economically viable due to high shipping costs and long wait times. With little market value, farmers have no incentive to invest in improving fleece quality and quantity. This is a tremendous waste of a valuable renewable resource, and income forgone for farmers.

The new Inca Dinca Do fibre mill, based in North Saanich, will help reduce processing wait times and associated expenses. This emerging industry brings VIF closer to our potential for a complete textile economy loop – with fleece farmed, processed, blended, dyed, marketed, and made into finished garments, all within our Fibreshed.

One of VIF’s goals is to support the development of a regional “soil-to-soil” system, where fibre for textiles is grown, processed, designed, sewn, sold, worn, and eventually composted within our Fibreshed, thus producing “climate beneficial fibre.”

The choices we make when shopping for clothes have the power to protect our air, land, and water quality. The textile industry is one of the world’s worst polluters because they use over 2,000 chemicals and a tremendous amount of water in their industrial process. By weight, 70% of our clothing has some form of fossil fuel-derived substance in it. We are wearing plastic, which does not fit with the Fibreshed vision of clothing that is naturally sourced and returns as nutrients and carbon back to the ecosystem. One of VIF’s goals is to support the development of a regional “soil-to-soil” system, where fibre for textiles is grown, processed, designed, sewn, sold, worn, and eventually composted within our Fibre Shed, thus producing “climate beneficial fibre.”

The rising consumer demand for locally, ethically produced natural fibres creates an opportunity for VIF farmers to increase their revenues from fibre production while reducing climate change through the use of “carbon farming.” Carbon farming has the potential to sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions by drawing down carbon from our atmosphere into the soil using widely available and inexpensive regenerative organic agriculture practices. Carbon farming can also help reduce the legacy load of CO2, re-balance nitrous oxide and methane levels, and cool global temperatures, moving us towards climate stability.

VIF will complete an inventory and assessment of current fleece and fibre producers and consumers, in order to understand the status of the local fleece and fibre industry. This project is being delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC, and is funded in part by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the government of BC.

Through this project, VIF will connect with sheep, alpaca, and llama farmers to document breed types, as well as the amount and location of fleece production. Farmers will be asked what they need to produce high quality fibre, and we will identify markets for local fibres and build interest in buying local fibre, yarns, and dyestuffs. Current and potential farmers and fibre users will be linked through social media and face-to-face information meetings. We also hope to collect information on uses for lower quality fleece, such as composting wool into pellets as a soil amendment to promote water retention, green burial caskets, and felted bats for upholstery, insulation and quilts. All information will be compiled and available on our website, which is under construction.

We welcome your involvement. Contact us through our Facebook page to sign up for membership and receive our newsletter.


Amy Crook and Lynda Drury, VIF co-directors, are fibre worshippers with complementary skill sets ranging from science and communications to community development.

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