Although the Fibreshed concept is fairly new, the idea of connecting through clothing and fibre is not. It is an ancient practice that can easily be traced back thousands of years.
During the middle ages all of Europe was a Fibreshed. Very simply put England raised the sheep for the wool and made the cloth, France (one of many) grew the plants to dye the clothing, and Italy dyed the cloth to be worn. A completely interdependent system where every player had a specific main role that suited what their geographical location excelled at.
Today, what Fibreshed, and farming in general can help us understand is that each region excels at something. We can always strive for improvement and expansion of ability, but there will always be environmental constraints to what we can do. There is a possibility that we will eventually be able to grow citrus in Canada in a large way, but that is going to take a long time, so for now we focus on something that does grow well. Nature tends to work slowly.
Here in Canada we have a very under-developed textile and fibre industry – not because of lack of knowledge, ability, or skill, but it hasn’t been a focus. Alpaca farmers are the only ones that have really taken up the Canadian fibre cause. Others are just beginning. Angora rabbit breeders are beginning to realize that their animals are excellent and that their soft fur is a desired product in the marketplace. Some determined sheep farmers have been keeping heritage sheep breeds alive that were originally used for fibre. We even have local cashmere and mohair! Most of the pieces are there to have a vibrant and progressive fibre economy, just a few need to be filled in.
Of course it is wonderful, and lots of fun to imagine how great things can be, but that doesn’t address today’s challenge: how do we begin and keep going? Well, We focus on what we have. So we don’t have a lot of soft cotton and merino wool, but we do have alpaca. We have lots of wool that isn’t suitable for clothing, but it can be used for insulation, home decor, or housewares. The rural economy needs more viable businesses, then we need to look at how fibre can fit into that space. What plants can provide local colour? Can existing growers grow them?
These models are old, and they work. This isn’t about getting rid of international trade, but about doing what we are good at – and we can be good at whatever we put our minds to.