I never thought I would be doing this. I thought the textile industry would evolve to improve fabrics for the benefit of the wearer. I definitely didn’t expect things to get progressively worse, especially in light of what we now know about climate change and the many factors that contribute to it. Not to mention one of the biggest contributors; the clothing industry.
Spending many years working for corporations and living and working in Silicon Valley, I became disenchanted with the overall attitude of profit at any cost. I specialized in Graphic Design Communications and worked as an Art Director, though I felt I was using my skills to promote ideas and concepts I didn’t always agree with. One day, my husband Andreas asked me how I’d like to spend my time professionally. I had been thinking about textiles since I was in my teens and actively observed garments and their performance for 30 plus years. I had very specific ideas about better ways to produce fabric, however, with absolutely no background in textile manufacturing, it seemed impossible to break into the industry and have any real impact. Andreas encouraged me to pursue my ideas, and I was intrigued to challenge the status quo.
It had been suggested that I contact universities with textile programs to see if they would help me in the development process. I decided to begin with a simple, fundamental item that every human uses on their body on a daily basis; a towel. When I contacted universities with my idea for a wool-based towel idea; they were quick to decline. They explained that they only work on ‘technical fabrics’ (code word for synthetics) and didn’t utilize long-staple, natural fibers such as wool. Moreover, they absolutely rejected the idea of a wool-blended towel, and claimed that no one would be interested or use such an item. The response left me feeling like the universities were part of the system that feeds the conventional textile industry and were not interested in innovation.
Doors open for innovation
I gave up on the university angle and decided to turn my attention to finding a custom yarn maker. I spent many months and countless calls, all with the same result: NO. I was frustrated and discouraged, but was compelled to keep going. One day I discovered Jagger Yarn in Maine and made a call to them. After a conversation with Scott Grey, I was elated when I heard him say YES! Scott is a wealth of information and has remarkable experience in the yarn and textile industry. He put me through the paces and asked me all kinds of questions about my idea. I described my ideas and theories and he was ready to jump in and get started with some experiments. With his expertise and my decades of observations, our experiments were very focused and targeted on the performance of the yarn, because the final fabric needs to have specific functions: highly absorbent, fast drying, soft and warm.
Yarn is only part of the final product. Now I needed to find a weaver. Scott made suggestions for knitting and weaving mills though all were too big in scale for experimentation. Within a month I found Thistle Hill weavers and Rabbit Goody, Master Weaver. I mentioned Scott and it turns out they’ve known each other for over 20 years. The doors were now open for innovation. Andreas and I decided to take an extended trip to the East Coast of the US to visit various mills. We drove over a thousand miles to meet the makers in person, from yarn, dyeing, knitting, to weaving. I was eager to finally meet Rabbit. We had an immediate connection and I was intrigued and excited about her deep knowledge, and willingness to try things.
Towel as proof of concept
Focused on the design properties of the fabrics I had in mind, Rabbit guided me with her deep knowledge of historical weaves to find the right patterns and production techniques to achieve our goals. We quickly had success with an early towel prototype and continued to improve the performance and quality. The result was so innovative we were granted two design patents on our work. The next product we developed was a washable wool bathmat, it needed to be highly absorbent, and fast drying. It also needed to pass national Federal Trade Commission (FTC) flammability tests, and regulations. Our bathmat easily exceeded the requirements as wool is naturally flame resistant without the use of chemicals.