Sustainability Begins with a Local Culture
While mass production has afforded us unparalleled convenience, we have come to learn in the last several years that it comes at a great cost. As we experience rising health epidemics, waning resources, and accelerated climate change, it’s becoming clear to all of us that this is not a sustainable system. But what can we as individuals do to change and create a solution that benefits us now and future generations?
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Where To Begin?
While mass production has afforded us unparalleled convenience, we have come to learn in the last several years that it comes at a great cost.
As we experience rising health epidemics, waning resources, and accelerated climate change, it’s becoming clear to all of us that this is not a sustainable system. But what can we as individuals do to change and create a solution that benefits us now and future generations?
What Price Convenience?
The Slow Food Example
Luckily, we do not have to look far for that answer. In fact, we should start looking more locally.
Even though we are not going to be able to find everything we want readily available and local, we can change our mindset about how we buy. Take the Slow Food movement for example. When we learned that tomatoes do not grow in December and they must travel thousands of miles to get to our plate, we purchased cold season vegetables like beets and squash instead.
Plus, supporting locally grown produce isn’t only beneficial to our environment, it is also more beneficial to our health and well-being. As we shifted our perspective, we began to enjoy other benefits as well, like the experience of new flavors and new varieties of winter vegetables that we had never tried before.
If we can change our way of purchasing food, we can also change our way of purchasing clothes, beauty products, and household goods.
As conscious customers, we can choose to support artisans who source their materials locally and ethically and who approach their work within a holistic framework.
With the growing movement of local artisans, sustainable goods are within our reach. We can start an upward spiral - the more we support our artisans, the more our community will grow, the more options and choices we will have.
Fashion And Fibers
Before there’s fashion, there are fibers. But do you know where your fibers come from?
According to Kristin Morrison, a local textile artist and fashion designer, we used to grow cotton and indigo in the South, but since the era of industrialization we began to export fibers from overseas, US fabric mills began to close. There are only 2 organic cotton farms in California currently and they do not produce enough to support the industry.
As a result, fiber, textile, and apparel production are exported to places like China and India, where the cost of production is low and there are few regulations on the ethics of labor and farming.
Where Does It Come From?
In today's ephemeral, fast-fashion world, the demand for inexpensive and quickly discarded apparel is contributing to a vicious cycle of mass production and resource depletion.
We are buying clothes more quickly than ever, and also discarding more, with each of us throwing away 54 pounds of clothes and shoes into the trash each year.
Added together, that’s about 9 million tons of shoes, jackets and other wearables that are sent into the landfill annually, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
It’s clear that fast fashion, just like fast food, is a not sustainable system. The question is how do we change this mindset?
Kristin offers a solution, “To change that is to begin a local process, i.e. making textiles here, and the other portion of that is consumers supporting local makers and designers who are a part of a local process.
Making better decisions within the realm of opportunities is key - anything that challenges you in your personal life to consume less per year and be more conscious about the designers that you’re purchasing from, looking for local, and locally made. It’s also about building a relationship between the consumer, retailer, and designer. It all needs to happen together to shift the paradigm that we currently live in."
Kristin is also adamant about designers taking more responsibility for pushing awareness because designers have more opportunities to be directly connected with the production process.
“The good news is there is a small but strong movement towards bringing woven mills back to the states. I’m starting to work with domestic woven mills like the California Cloth Foundry and denim producers like Cone Mills on the east coast mills.
This year, I’ve started working with LA Fibershed, who are doing amazing work towards that. We’re essentially a nonprofit, resource organization, and art collective who is trying to connect designers and artists to local fibers…what we’re calling a Fibershed.
Similar to a watershed, it’s connecting with bioregional fibers like California cotton, wool, dye plants, production, resources, and water. We do our best to source all of the above within a 250 mile radius of downtown Los Angeles,” Kristin explains.
The challenge with such an intensively hands-on approach is the cost of production, which increases the price of products.
Kristin sees this as an opportunity for a cultural shift: "I am the designer, the maker, and the textile artist, and I am pushing to make more of my own fabrics. Thus, the process is going to take infinitely longer than sending it off to someone else. But the value and quality of each piece go up infinitely as well.
So there is a direct correlation. If the customer values all that we said, then the hope is the willingness to invest in one or a few pieces a year rather than a few pieces a month.” In essence, we are investing in functional, durable products that will last a long time and bringing back a craftsmanship culture that celebrates the artistry of handmade goods.
Personal And Priceless
According to Buck Owens, a basket artist who weaves each piece by hand, “Anything handmade is better than machine made, I'm not aware of any machine that can make a basket like mine, or make any basket better than a human being can.
I've made hundreds of baskets over the last 33 years and no two are the same even the dyes come out different as each piece of reed takes the dye differently.” The uniqueness of each product is what makes it truly personal and priceless.
Floriculture & Flowers
Vegetables have their seasons and so do flowers. Yet, if you walk into any grocery store or flower shop, you’ll notice that certain flowers, like roses and orchids, are available year-round.
When Valentine’s Day comes around, roses conveniently all reach their peak perfection. But the real story behind these blooms isn’t so rosy.
We caught up with Lili Cuzor, a local floral artist, to learn more about the business of flowers.
We Don't Know
"When one purchases flowers from a flower shop or flower mart, the buyer usually doesn't know where the flowers and plants are coming from, how far they have been shipped, under which growing conditions they have been placed under, how many pesticides and hormones have been used to grow them, and how much of an impact that one specific bloom has had on the environment.
Some flowers are force-grown out of their proper season in green houses and shipped across the world before they arrive in a vase in your home! These are all things that are easy to ignore because we are not used to thinking of flowers and plants in that manner,” Lily explains.
Like food, flowers are also grown on farms and they play a big part in our carbon footprint.
According to a San Francisco Chronicle investigation of contaminated wells and waterways near a California lily farm, flowers grown with conventional techniques contribute to the contamination of our watershed through fertilizer and pesticide run-off, which can in turn impact wildlife and human health.
Going back to those perfect Valentine’s Day roses and where they come from - more than 120 million roses are imported from South American farms that use pesticides restricted in the US and labeled as highly toxic by the World Health Organization, the New York Times reported.
“In my opinion, there’s nothing romantic in the large-picture cost that the exotic flowers have on the environment, especially if they were force-grown, sprayed, packed, shipped, and then unpacked and set up in a shop already a week old.”
Lili's approach is to find what’s locally available. "When possible, I try to forage as best as I can. Foraging is wonderful for many reasons, including being mindful of what your surroundings are, picking things that are in season and growing naturally, learning about what grows natively in your surrounding environment, and understanding what the impact is one makes when picking from a nearby garden, a sidewalk, a field or simply while out on a walk as opposed to buying in bulk from a flower shop or flower mart.”
Local Farmer's Markets
Lili also encourages everyone to check their local farmer’s market for what’s seasonal and to think outside the box, “Herbs, grasses, and weeds create beautiful arrangements too.
It’s not only show-flowers that get all the attention.” Herbs such as basil, sage, and lavender also add a wonderful sensory experience with mood-lifting aromas. Take a stroll and observe your natural environment to learn what normally grows in this climate.
For those who love gardening, how about growing your own wildflower box? Growing native wildflowers encourages beneficial insects to visit your yard and provide the additional benefit of keeping away pests while also pollinating your garden.
Furniture & Forests
It’s a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees. We’re losing forests at an alarming rate and yet the demand for wood-based products continues to rise.
While wood is a renewable resource, unfortunately, many logging activities in the tropics are done without regard to the forest ecosystem. Over time this can limit the forests' ability to regrow which leads to reduced biodiversity and increased global warming pollution.
"Wood that comes from South America is difficult to determine whether or not it was harvested sustainably or not. There is a huge problem of illegal logging in the Amazons and other regions where government control is lacking,” says LA-based furniture maker, Elliott Marks.
Legal – Or Not?
What’s considered good wood? If you’ve followed along with us, you can easily guess the answer: it comes down to what’s available locally.
"For this region, and Southern California in general, I would say the Eucalyptus family of trees are the most abundant species. They do produce some magnificent hardwoods,” says Lana Rasmussen of Killscrow,
"Unfortunately, the process of harvesting and seasoning Eucalyptus is extremely difficult and time consuming, thus making it challenging as a commercially viable species.”
But there are many varieties of wood that are available in the US.
Darrick Rasmussen gives more details: "Furniture making as a whole can be very low impact environmentally when ethical decisions are made to choose certain wood species and types of finishes.. I prefer to use domestic woods such as White Oak, Walnut, and Douglas Fir because they are abundant, beautiful and grow right here in the US.
I think the finishing process is the most toxic aspect of making things from wood, but there are products available that have little to no VOC content. I am always trying out new finishes with the goal to find one that is environmentally friendly, (which usually means they are pleasant to work with), looks great, and protects the wood without taking away the natural look and feel.”
Elliott also looks to domestic woods for his furniture: "Some of these West Coast woods can be harvested responsibly allowing the forest to renew itself.
Douglas fir and redwood are both examples of fast growing species that if replanted and selectively cut are a sustainable source. Other woods such as oak and walnut are harvested from naturally felled trees on private property. Asking the lumber yard about the specifics of their inventory may be the best way to determine the sustainability of a given species of wood.”
Today’s environmental challenges may seem daunting because the existing system is so pervasive in almost every aspect of our life that it has become a part of our lifestyle.
As Lana & Darrick point out, "Environmentally responsible use of materials cannot be compartmentalized from lifestyle.” When we change our lifestyle, we change the paradigm.
Across the board, no matter if we talk about food, flowers, home goods, or apparel, there is a very simple yet powerful solution: Choose local. Support your local community of growers and makers, and better yet, become one yourself.
Slow is fast and less is more.