Fiber Feature: Hemp

Hemp is one of the world’s oldest domesticated plants. There are records from 5000 years ago of hemp farming in China. It is an extremely fast-growing biomass, and can be used for textiles, paper, biodegradable plastics, fuel, and it’s a superfood. While no textile industry is completely clean and faultless, I’ve chosen hemp as one of the few fibers I’m completely comfortable with using in my clothing business. I want to share a short overview of industrial hemp and some of the reasons why you should consider choosing hemp over the alternatives.

In the early years of America, hemp was commonplace. In fact, many landowners on the east coast were required to cultivate hemp crops. This was because it is much healthier for the soil and requires far less water and attention than comparable crops like trees and cotton. The majority of paper and textiles were hemp-based until the 1820’s: the industrial revolution, the invention of the cotton gin, and the rise of big pharmaceutical and chemical companies. Alternative (and often synthetic) fibers and oils became available to consumers at a lower cost. The nail in the coffin for industrial hemp was prohibition in 1920. Cannabis was included in strict regulations on alcohol and narcotics. When prohibition ended in 1933, alcohol was once again legalized, but hemp didn’t make quite the same comeback.

So why should you choose hemp clothing? 

  1. It’s natural and biodegradable.
  2. Hemp fibers are 4x stronger than cotton. The fabric will get softer over time, rather than just wearing through.
  3. Hemp fabric isn’t always rough and uncomfortable–it’s easy to find fabric with a similar soft, natural feel to linen.
  4. Hemp has natural anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and UV-blocking properties.
  5. Its biggest rival is cotton: an industry that is notorious for the use of harmful chemicals. In fact, it accounts for 16% of the world’s pesticide use. This contributes to a) environmental health and b) the ever poor working conditions of cotton farmers.
  6. Hemp yield per acre can be as high as 10 tons of fiber, significantly cutting down on land use compared to other natural fiber crops.
  7. Hemp is cheaper than high quality, organic linen.
  8. A cotton t-shirt can use 5,000 gallons of water from cotton growth to garment production. A hemp t-shirt takes up to 800 gallons.

I made a dress [rayon]

Lately I’ve been in one of those slumps. Like where you try to be creative and productive, but you’re just tired and kind of confused and nothing really seems to go the way you planned. Maybe it’s because I started a second job and my shoes are old, so I spent 9 of the last 10 days working (including 3 doubles) with a sore back and minimal introvert time. Coming off a stretch of time where every design went from paper to cloth in one smooth, fast swoop, it’s been pretty annoying. But yesterday, I made a dress. And today, I wore it to work. And got lots of compliments. So yeah, I want to tell you all about it.

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Let me tell you the story of this lovely Rayon Challis. I saw a girl wearing amazing wide-leg pants out of (what looked like) similar material, and decided to give it a shot. Nope. It looked like pajama pants. I didn’t take any pictures (because who likes to document what they’re not proud of?), but trust me. Anyway, then I came up with a few sketches of ideas for the 6 yards of this stuff I had.

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The first thing to note about rayon challis is that it’s woven, but pretty unexpectedly stretchy. So this fabric has the perfect drape for something more flowing, but you have to be careful about cutting on grain and hemming straight.

I ended up going with the center sketch because I have a top in basically the same design that fits me really well, so I could just use that as a pattern guide. And luckily, the pieces I had cut for the pants were about the right size to cut into the dress pattern.

Everything was pretty easy to do until I got to the armscye (armhole) and mandarin collar. I cut bias strips for armhole facings, and two curved pieces for the collar. After redoing those parts a few times, my advice is to pull the bias pieces as taught as possible while sewing to avoid stretching out the self fabric.

 

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Shop Responsibly

Over the past year, I have been developing a small business in the fashion industry. In the process, I have spent countless hours researching ways to make it possibly for me to run my business ethically, sustainably, an profitably. Let me tell you–it’s not easy. Since the Great Depression (probably even since the Industrial Revolution), America has been tearing down the road of consumerism and “throw-away” culture. I don’t agree with the full stereotype that all Americans are wasteful, but there is a lot to be said about our society as a whole caring more about immediate impacts than long-term ones. Much of this is because manufacturing and technology has advanced much more quickly than science (or at least the everyday impacts of scientific research, probably hugely stunted by big pharma and the like). But things are finally catching up.

However, in my attempt to find the best ways to shop responsibly (for clothing, skincare, food, or business supplies), I have found that the resources available to the general public are sadly underdeveloped. You almost have to dedicate yourself full-time to learning how to properly take care of your body and the earth. That’s why I have decided to start blogging more about my research on this topic–the more information available, the better!

So, let’s start with how to shop responsibly for clothing.

I will write more in the future about specific fibers and sustainable clothing practices, but let’s start off with some basics. Emma Watson (sustainable fashion spokesperson and overall wonderful human) has said that if you wear an item more than 30 times, then it’s a good purchase. This is a good starting place. All that stuff that you buy from H&M or Target and wear 2 times in the summer before it falls apart… don’t do it. You don’t need that. If the jeans cost $20, you can almost guarantee that every step of that production line was unethical.

The thing that is crippling to most of us who really want to enact responsible shopping practices is that we just don’t know how. Well, a good place to start is by reading the “about” section on a company’s website. Unfortunately, there aren’t any regulations in the USA on the use of words like “all-natural”, so you’re always taking a gamble on whether people actually do what they say. But you can look for certifications like Fair Trade, non-GMO, and Vegan. These are regulated, and you can know exactly what they mean. Also, a lot of the websites for those certifications give a list of approved-brands.

Rebecca-approved brands:

https://www.thereformation.com

http://store.americanapparel.net

https://www.dstld.com

http://www.naja.co

https://jungmaven.com

https://www.rudderandfern.com

https://myarture.com

Further research:

http://www.thegoodtrade.com/fashion/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/the-dirty-secret-about-your-clothes/2016/12/30/715ed0e6-bb20-11e6-94ac-3d324840106c_story.html?utm_term=.bd90f08d3ac5

http://vegan.org/vegan-certifications/

http://fairtradeusa.org

http://www.refinery29.com/2016/06/113127/ethical-clothing-costs

Christian Body-Shaming

I’ve been thinking about writing this for a very long time. I’m not the first of my peers to speak out about this issue, but I am calling out a lot of people who have played significant roles in my life.

I grew up in a very loving, truth-seeking, Christian family. I grew up smack dab in the middle of Colorado Springs’ evangelical, homeschool community and if you’re at all familiar with that I’m sure a few stereotypes are popping into your head right now. There were a lot of bizarre and upsetting things about that community (along with the beautiful and nurturing things about it), and one in particular continues to weigh heavy on my heart: body shaming.

If you know me, then you’re probably starting to think ‘What the heck, this girl is a size 00 with a thigh gap and platinum blonde hair. What does she have to talk about.’ For starters, anyone who hears comments about their appearance or weight every day of their life is going to be self-conscious about it. Comments like ‘do your parents feed you?’, ‘you’re skin and bones!’, ‘OMG your legs are like twigs’ don’t have any positive effect.

But that’s not even really what I want to talk about. As someone who has chosen to make clothing her career and life, what I want to address is this: the church’s approach to body image perpetuates rape culture.

[Don’t mistake this for a disgust with the church’s support of traditional gender roles. This is a disgust with the inability to address gender roles, sexuality, and the significance of the physical body in a healthy, relevant manner.]

“Modest is hottest!”

“Skirts below the knee, shorts longer than your fingertips, necklines two inches below your collarbone.”

“Don’t be a stumbling block.”

“Your body is a temple”

If you grew up in the church, do you remember these rules and catchphrases? I remember them being thrown around as something unexplained, but definitive and not to be questioned. I remember crying because I couldn’t find a one-piece bathing suit to fit my long torso. I remember a summer camp counselor interrupting my conversation with the boy I liked to tell me that I had to put on a sweater because my bra straps were showing (they were a perfect color match for the tank top I had on, fyi). I remember hating the choice between looking totally un-christian or accentuating my twig limbs in oversized shorts.

We’re looking at this all wrong. It’s not about hiding our bodies or subduing our desires. It’s about finding beauty and strength in all the glory that God created our bodies to be. We humans have a knack for taking a totally utilitarian answer to a basic need and turning it into art. That’s why I love designing clothes so much. It is a way to add our human level of creativity on to God’s masterful creativity that is the human body. We can accomplish amazing things and exhibit a vast array of emotion, intelligence, and impulse. I want us to teach little boys and girls about all of this. I want us to stop teaching little girls that their bodies are some prize to be won, and until then they must hide them from the little boys. I want us to stop teaching the little boys that their minds are uncontrollable and the little girls have to do their part in making it easier for them to subdue their desires and guard their hearts. Because this is what perpetuates rape culture. The only explanations I ever got from church leaders were that these rules allowed your inner beauty to be more important or that physical attraction was something only acceptable after the “I do”. But let’s call a spade a spade: the rules and training say that our bodies are bad, our minds are depraved, and they are to be hidden and suppressed.

I reject this. Yes, I do believe in the Fall of Man and the implications of that. But being broken isn’t the same thing as being spoiled. So here’s what I think: these rules should be established by individuals and families based on what they feel is comfortable and good. The place of the Church is to empower people to live into the fullness of strength and beauty in themselves and as a community. To respect each other and admire each other and cherish each other.

regrets

It’s the middle of the night on a Sunday and I’ve been laying awake thinking about one of my regrets. There are very few things in life that fall into that category, as I made the decision long ago to give myself permission to live according to my instincts and never regret something that made sense to me in the moment.

But somehow on occasion something manages to slip through, and this one’s been bugging me for the past two years. Every once in a while I’ll find myself re-living the scenarios and wondering why I made those choices and what could be different now.

It’s not something so drastic as you might be thinking. But actually, it could have been all the difference in the world.

When I lived in London for the fall semester of 2014, I experienced a lot of things for the first time. Living in a foreign place–living outside of Colorado, even. I was forced to become extremely adaptable if I was going to have any sort of meaningful experience at all. It was necessary to be tactfully thrifty if I wanted to have any sort of nutrition besides kebab, Waitrose cheesecake, and PG Tips (UK dwellers, amiright?). Street smarts were acquired, new cultural skills learned, and if I didn’t try my damnedest to immerse myself into a new social environment. But there was something unfortunately off that I didn’t realize until it was too late.

At the time, I was very concerned with building relationships with British folk and having very British experiences. I mean, I had been planning and dreaming of living in London for about 10 years. But it was without a doubt the other international students that I built the most meaningful and lasting relationships with. I now have friends in Switzerland, Tbilisi, Australia, and The Netherlands that I wouldn’t hesitate to go visit, but when I recently spent a short stopover in London, there was no one to call upon.

So here’s the thing that is keeping me awake at night two years later: one person. One very brilliant, dynamic, wonderful person. This person had me awestruck from the moment we met, but some nagging feeling of personal inadequacy held me back from going full throttle into building a relationship. I timidly invited them to a few gatherings, and we ended up in a class together where we hit it off. But that potential for actually impacting each other’s lives was never reached. I can recall three distinct times where I turned down invitations to spend quality time with this person based purely on one of two reasons: I had a) already planned out my day and was set on that or b) I felt that accepting the invitation would result in a waste of my limited funds.

If I could go back in time I would accept each of these three invitations without hesitation. I do see very clear lessons learned about how valuable time is, and how important the choice of how we spend our time is. But I still wonder what other lessons I could have learned from this person. Had I spent more time with them and built a relationship, I could have glimpsed the world from their beautiful, unique perspective. We could have changed the world and each other’s lives through a mutual compassion towards humanity, shared faith, and passion for beauty in the world.

Since then, I have had a rather changed approach to the people I encounter. This one, lasting regret has made me realize that some gut feelings are invaluable, and some interactions are worth the time, the money, and the energy. Even when I am out of my element and less than comfortable, I try my best to be intentional about following that spark. About accepting the invitation for a Karlovacka and conversation with some Serbians and Croatians (who all looked like Dothraki) in the sketchy part of Split, discussing Thomas More with a German architect on a flight, pausing my closing work at the cafe to talk with a lonely old man, and wandering into Oslo in the middle of the night with a Filipino, Canadian, and Spaniard to sing happy birthday to a Californian.

The thing is that I’ve traveled a decent bit, become highly adaptable, and learned to capture those moments of beauty and instinct. At least at this point in my life, I believe this to be one of my best qualities. This learned skill is something that I have found to be highly valuable. If you are an extrovert, maybe this is something you’ve never had to consider. But if you are an introvert, you probably know exactly what I mean. Sometimes every ounce of me is drained and I just want to be alone, but I can say with certainty that it’s worth the extra exhaustion and discomfort to go out on that limb every once in a while and follow your gut feeling.

Dear person in London, I wish I had followed that push to know you better. You are stunning and inspiring. May we all learn to stop our busy lives and soak in those beautiful moments with beautiful people.

Why I went Birkenstock and will never go back

I used to think that Birkenstocks were awful, clunky things that cost a lot of money. But after a fruitless search for shoes that didn’t aggravate one of my various foot problems (thanks, ballet), I convinced myself that they weren’t that bad and decided to give them a try. Well, they are the most comfortable things I’ve ever worn. If you’re one of the millions of people who have ever worn them, you know. But here’s the thing: Birkenstocks are still rejected by the majority of the fashion world. They are seen as a necessary evil at best.

I recently observed some different fashion trends during my travels in Europe that got me thinking about this even more. In Oslo, Nikes are considered very fashionable. Almost everyone I saw wore comfortable, clean, simple, classic clothing (usually in black & white). Way to go, Norway. This trend is a bit of a result of the personality of Norway (athleticism and comfort are highly valued), but I also see it as a mark of true style. And here’s why:

Style is one of those ambiguous terms that no one really knows how to define. It’s often described as how you wear something (where fashion is what you wear). So then, it’s more of a personality trait. Knowing what will serve you and your purposes as a human being, then wearing it with confidence: that is style. Style (defined this way) should determine fashion, but it’s doesn’t always. I think that’s because people don’t believe in their own style.

I see this topic from two points of view: as a consumer and a designer. People often see fashion designers (and designers often see themselves) as artists who determine what everyone else should look like, what fashion should look like. I don’t think that’s right. Yes, I think that what I do is an art… but it is different from most art in that I also have the responsibility of ensuring the comfort of another human being (not just of making something beautiful or interesting). If I have made something that you are uncomfortable in, then I have not done my duty. It doesn’t matter if it’s ‘on trend’ or ‘fashionable’ — it’s bad style.

I think that more people should 1) believe in their style, and 2) demand that designers do their full duty in creating attire that is flattering, comfortable, and functional. It’s a damn hard job, but it’s important.

So back to the Birkenstocks. The designers did something amazing in creating those little shoes that do so much for the wearer. And let’s be honest, they also did a good job of giving them a timeless, minimalistic look. I think I’ll always be hopelessly intrigued by fashion trends, but I will never again make the mistake of letting fashion trump style. The fact is that we should never buy into the masochistic idea that ‘beauty is pain’. It doesn’t make sense. Silly humans. We spend so much time and effort eating healthy, exercising, and seeing various doctors, then forget to attend to our most basic everyday comfort.

And that is why I went Birkenstock and will never go back.

L’élégance du t-shirt

I’ve owned a lot of t-shirts in my life. When I was a kid, I liked the ones with sparkles and pretty buttons. In college, they gave me one on my first day. And my second day. And every time I raised my hand in class (anybody want some DU t-shirts?). I’ve had jobs where we all wore t-shirts emblazoned with the business’ logo and witty remarks across the back.

Ok, so t-shirts. Yeah. They’re as common as colds everywhere in the world. But have you ever really thought about a t-shirt? An economics book I read in college followed the lifecycle of a t-shirt to illustrate the international economy and outline how much goes into every manufactured product. This item is a fashion staple, and probably has been for as long as anyone alive can remember. But it was actually first created about 100 short years ago. And that’s impressive.

So yeah, t-shirts. I’m here on my soap box to talk about the importance of this little garment.

Most studies I’ve seen on t-shirts are out to expose the shortcomings of the fashion and cotton industries. It’s true, it’s mind-blowing to think about that tiny garment taking 600 gallons of water and over 1 pound of fossil fuels to create, then using 1000 pounds of CO2 emissions to transport, (a few years where it covers your back), and then taking about 30 more years to biodegrade. I already wrote about the environmental impact of the fashion industry, so I I won’t get into that too much here, but I think it’s significant to note that the lifespan of a t-shirt goes far beyond the years that we spend with it.

T-shirts have as much social impact as they do environmental. It’s very common today for people to represent brands, causes, or ideas with their t-shirts. American Apparel is trying to save the world with their ’80s-style made in USA t-shirts. Back when t-shirts first came about, simply wearing them at all was a statement. They first popped up in the Navy in 1913 as undergarments and soon became standard work wear in America, as it was light, flexible, durable, and you never had to sew buttons back on. Marlon Brando probably could have single-handedly made the t-shirt a staple item for men in 1951, but four years later James Dean became the second heartthrob to make the look iconic and really drive it home. I haven’t been able to find documentation on when women started wearing them, but I attribute it to Coco Chanel and her style revolution of women wearing more comfortable clothing (and making a significant amount of menswear unisex).

Some would say that t-shirts are sloppy, low fashion. I disagree. It’s true that not all t-shirts are created equal: some are that weird, rough fabric, and some are tissue-thin. But I think we all know what a quality t-shirt looks like (and quality means it will last longer, which means less waste (and if you don’t know what a quality t-shirt looks like, go to J Crew or Calvin Klein or something)). I think that classic white t-shirts and dark blue jeans are the epitome of American fashion–perhaps all western fashion. Think about it this way: have you ever known someone who looked bad in this outfit (given that it was well-fitting)? I haven’t. There is nothing more effortlessly chic than a simple, well-fitting t-shirt. They are breathable, comfortable, practical, and look great. It’s been that way for a hundred years. This is why I advocate that everyone should invest in a good-quality solid white and a solid black t-shirt for their wardrobe. If I haven’t convinced you that t-shirts are important, go watch Rebel Without A Cause and let James convince you.