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Growing the Fibreshed movement in the UK

Deborah Barker, co-founder and director of South East England Fibreshed, explains how a new movement is emerging around more localised clothing supply chains.

The term ‘Fibershed’ was first coined by Rebecca Burgess in 2011 to describe the geographical area within 150 miles of her home in California from which she sourced fibres, dyes and labour to create a wardrobe of clothes. The Fibershed Affiliate Programme has now spawned a global grass roots network that includes four registered affiliates in the UK.

Each Fibershed decides its own priorities and focus but common to all is a membership directory of farmers, designers, weavers, makers, mill owners, natural dyers and fashion activists aligned to the Fibershed values of a ‘local and fair economy and ecological balance.’

Beyond sustainability

At the heart of the Fibershed movement is a commitment to creating a textile and clothing culture that enhances soil health and biodiversity through regenerative farming practices grounded in the concept of soil-to-soil systems and right livelihood for every person involved from farming to finished garment.

Garments produced from natural fibres (material derived from plants and animals), grown and processed regionally without chemicals or artificial inputs and dyed with botanical colour can be returned to the earth at the end of their useful life. They will in turn build soil health as part of a regenerative ecosystem to grow the next generation of fibres.

This approach is rooted in indigenous traditions. By adopting these practices in tandem with the best of 21st century technology such as renewable energy and fair pay, we have the potential to create zero-carbon clothing and revitalise the rural economy.

Purple flax flower in hand
Flax flower - Image courtesy of Fibreshed

Fibreshed in the UK

As the devastating social and environmental impact of fast fashion becomes more widely understood, the Fibreshed movement is gaining traction in the UK. There is a growing interest from designers and end users in sourcing regenerative, regional textiles with a verifiable transparent supply network from farm to processor, maker and end user.

The challenges of meeting this demand are common to all four UK Fibresheds and are largely the consequence of offshoring our fashion and textile industry. They include:

  • the loss of spinning and weaving mills for cellulose fibres
  • a shortage of small-scale wool processing and organic processing facilities
  • the lack of commercial scale botanical plant dyes, and 
  • the breakdown of supply networks.

The UK Fibresheds are currently run on a voluntary basis, but all have secured project funding for 2021 to start to rebuild the connection between farming and fashion.

Four UK Fibresheds

A Wales Fibreshed was established earlier in 2021 and is working with Gower Flax CIC to create a model for growing and processing fibre flax at scale on an organic farm in Swansea, to create a certified organic regenerative textile.

A North West England Fibreshed situated in the historic heartland of British textiles is working with the British Textile Biennial for 2021 on the Homegrown Homespun project. They aim to grow a woad-dyed flax garment in time for the Textile Biennial this October.

A South East England Fibreshed, founded in autumn 2019, has a micro grant from Fibershed USA to explore the commercial potential of growing botanical dye plants with three trial sites on farms in Sussex, and to build links between farmers and growers and the London design community.

A South West England Fibreshed, the longest established Fibreshed in the UK, has recently received funding to create a source book, make a film exploring the connection between farming and fashion and map the capacity of UK textile artisans and manufacturers for small to medium scale processing of natural fibres.

The UK Fibreshed movement is at the beginning of a long journey that takes inspiration from what has been achieved in California. It seeks to work collaboratively to realise its vision for producing clothing available to all, created from soil-to-soil systems that nourish our bodies, the biosphere and our fragile ecosystems.

For more information visit or click on the UK local links above.