Monday, February 23, 2009

Locally Grown Clothing Line Brings the Local vs. Organic Debate into the Closet

While we consider the fate of our country’s faltering economy, the national conversation has been rich with voices extolling the virtues of buying local. Farmer’s Markets have been lauded with relish over national airwaves and recent reports have shown that while Starbucks is suffering, local cafes are actually doing more business.

As a result, we can safely say that among foodies, eco-minded individuals and the budget conscious (to name just a few) the buy local movement and with it, the local-versus-organic debate, is alive and thriving. This time though, it doesn’t stop at the kitchen. In fact, the local vs. organic face-off may soon be appearing in a closet near you.

More and more companies, like North Carolina-based TS Designs, are looking local—to benefit regional economies, decrease their carbon footprint, and steer clear of potential human rights abuses. This month, the company which usually retails organic cotton apparel, launched a new line of T-shirts grown, made, and sold in the Carolinas.

President of TS Designs, Eric Henry, is excited about the opportunity to provide consumers with locally grown cotton clothes. And in North Carolina, whose textile industry has been in steady decline for decades- losing business primarily to overseas manufacturers- it’s a hopeful sign.

Speaking with Henry, you’ll realize in seconds—he knows what he’s talking about and he’s ready to share it with you. He casually hops from talk about NAFTA to the Slow Food Movement, to his hopes for the new brand. One such hope is bringing the farm, factory and consumer closer together.

The shirts will travel about 700 miles (compared with up to 17,000 miles for a conventional garment) and that means a lot to him. “I know all the people involved,” he explains, “I can get in my car, or you can get in your car and within one day you can touch everybody that’s involved in the process.” That’s a lot more than I can claim for the clothes I’m wearing today. After a quick review of tags, I’ve got on clothes from Turkey, Cambodia, China, and Egypt—and I’m starting to feel pretty guilty.

But before you torch the contents of your closet in favor of exclusively local attire, it’s important to remember it’s not all a bed of locally cultivated, organic, heirloom roses. Actually, it’s not organic at all.

Owing to North Carolina’s climate, the farm supplying TS designs has elected to use conventionally-grown, Roundup Ready GMO cotton. For the uninitiated, that spells ‘Monsanto,’ the multinational agricultural biotech firm accused by groups like the Millions Against Monsanto Campaign of “Global Corporate Terrorism.”

So, much like the conversations many of us have had about locally grown versus organic foods, when the debate enters the closet it’s just that—a debate. We live in a time where almost anything we buy has participated in a supply chain that reaches farther geographically than the average American has ever traveled. It’s up to the consumer to pick.

Whether you opt for organic socks that hail from Burundi or locally produced ones that grow from genetically modified seed, participating in the conversation does make a difference. Indeed, TS Designs plans to research the feasibility of organic and local cotton for future years. It’s just further proof that adding more voices to the conversation can yield positive results.

by Juliana Sloane

Keywords:: sustainable clothing local clothing organic cotton organic clothing


Eric Henry said...

Thanks Juliana for the blog posting. I did want to make a correction about my statement on the miles traveled, it can be 17k not 71k miles that a t-shirt can travel. We have not yet started shipping to the moon to source cheaper labor.

One of the most exciting things about this project is re-connecting to all the stakeholders that live right in our own backyard of North Carolina. I think one of the best ways to to get to organic from conventional is through local.

Sally Kneidel, PhD said...

Eric, I changed the 71,000 to 17,000 but I'm not sure that's what you meant. I guess in your correction the "k" means "thousand" and not "kilometers." Right?
Sally Kneidel

Alison Kerr said...

The organic vs local question was one several people voiced on my blog last week when discussing Green Guilt. I'm encouraged to read of the idea of locally grown and produced clothing. Realistically, we can't all have locally grown and made cotton clothes - I'm sure not everyone lives where cotton can be grown. I think it's a great first step though to see a company doing this. We can't all have cotton, but there may be other options.