Wild and Wooly
Multitasker green pulls groups together
Sheila LaDrew is an art teacher, environmentalist and mom. She is also as close to a pixie as you will find in Reno. Pint-sized with rainbow hair, homemade clothing and an agelessness that has you guessing whether she is in her 30s or 40s. (She’s in her 50s.) LaDrew punctuates her sentences with laughter and writes her emails in poem-like stanzas.
But what’s really special about LaDrew is her ability to “just get people together.” In fact, that’s her job. Through her home-based business, Art on Earth, LaDrew offers classes like kids art camp, sacred feminine circles, choir practice and—most recently—a new project called “Fibershed.”
Spelled out in lowercase, “fibershed” is the textile equivalent of a “foodshed,” a geographic footprint for sustainable production within a 20- to 300-mile radius. It’s easy enough to picture a fibershed if you sub out the parts of a foodshed—replacing “organically grown food” with “organically grown fibers,” “local grocers” for “local weavers,” and “drip irrigation” for “greywater-grown dyes.”
These small-scale methods stand in contrast to the cheap labor and environmental degradation that characterize the $3 trillion global fashion industry, which is responsible for 20 percent of the world’s industrial water pollution and 10 percent of global carbon emissions every year. LaDrew calls it “fast food fashion.”
The capital “F” version of Fibershed is a Califonia-based 501(c)3 that supports local textile production and “climate beneficial clothing” through small-scale sourcing. Started two years ago by founder Rebecca Burgess, the non-profit boasts a good-looking website with pictures of lush fields of indigo, smiling farmers, and lots and lots of sheep. Their tagline, “local fibers, local dyes, local labor,” is a concept they are looking to spread with the help of their affiliate membership program.
A few weeks ago, LaDrew became Fibershed’s newest affiliate, a role loosely defined as “organizing efforts that work to connect fiber farmers, processors and artisans.” It’s a tall order for a membership with no structured protocols or financial support, but Fibershed does offer its members a platform to share stories and access tools to learn more about their own region.
“I’m still fact finding,” said LaDrew. “If anyone is interested they should contact me to get it started, too. Artists, people that are raising animals for wool, anyone that’s raising plants for dye materials. I’m just trying to get it all started and off the ground.”
To kick off the project next weekend, LaDrew is hosting “DIY Indigo Undies,” a sort of gateway drug into other fibershed activities. During the class, participants will learn how to hand-sew organic bamboo underwear and dye it using a Japanese technique called shibori.
“Just start with your underwear, if you don’t wear any bright colors,” advised LaDrew.