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P.O. Box 155
Brooks, CA, 95606
USA

530 796 3388

Foxfibre® Colorganic® naturally colored organic cotton and merino wool in the form of raw spinners seed cotton, prepared sliver, yarns, fabrics, and some articles of clothing. Bred, grown, designed and produced by Sally Vreseis Fox in the USA.

Newsletters

March 2016

Sally Fox

Greetings Customers and Supporters,

The pollution that can be caused by synthetic textile dyes is significant and preventable. So many of us who work with fibers are all too familiar with the problems, and we often wonder why there is not a larger commercial focus on solving this global menace. Even when they are responsibly disposed of, these chemicals must be put into  toxic waste dumps. And to dye cotton a good amount of water and power are required. Color is quite an expensive component of textile production.  Can we use less dye, water and power to achieve color in our textiles? My 35 year old breeding program aimed at commercializing organic colorful cottons to reduce dye use remains ready to be a part of the solution. I initiated this work because of a personal conviction that colors produced by the plant (or animal for that matter) were gorgeous and that these inherent colors would be appreciated and should be used whenever possible. That these cottons were naturally pest and disease resistant allowed me to breed and grow them organically and they indeed were the vehicle towards the larger organic cotton industry's genesis that took root in the early 1990's. The project grew into what my friends named and I trademarked: Foxfibre® Colorganic®. Along the way we discovered that one can use these cottons as a pre-mordanted base to achieve deep color penetration of dyes- both natural and synthetic. Reducing the amount of dye required to as little as 20% as for that needed to color white cotton. We also found that brown cottons have inherent fire resistance. Despite these technological breakthroughs, the original goal remains very far from being realized. This cotton has yet to hold it's place in commerce alongside other environmentally important developments in our work towards clothing ourselves with materials that honor our love of this earth.

The technical hurdles of transforming (utilizing classical plant breeding) the garden types of cottons grown for their beauty and medicinal values so that they are appropriate for mechanized organic farming, machine picking, industrial spinning, processing and laundering have been pretty much been accomplished. I funded this work by using all of my salary (from my paycheck as a working scientist not taken up by the cost of living in an inexpensive small town) that first decade. Then by utilizing the proceeds of the sale of the larger scale cotton produced in the second and third decade of the work. In the beginning the primary customers were hand spinners and then once yarns were made available from my testing at research mills, hand weavers became the core customers. By the late '80's a commercial mill from Japan bought the first bale I was able to produce and from there the business to the textile mills in the parts of the world where dye wastes were cleaned up grew rapidly. There were numerous, wonderful products that sold exceedingly well in the US - the Levi's Natural's Line, the LLBean Sweater, the Naturals line of sheets and towels manufactured and sold by Fieldcrest Cannon among others. I used the money generated from the sale of the cotton to pay for more extensive and expensive research and development of this ecologically critical product. For a few decades I had a really well funded absolutely fascinating diverse and amazing breeding and textile processing research program. From which great advances were made. Including significant improvements such as strong green and longer higher yielding browns and red ochre colors that were wash fast. All despite a sustained and profound attack from the conventional cotton industry requiring that I relocate farms and states a heartbreaking (not to mention bank breaking) two times.  Despite this, in the ’90’s the people working with me and the farmer’s growing these cottons for spinning mills were responsible for over 4000 acres of organic cotton production. We got the organic cotton industry going in the United States, which inspired others to try it all over the world. If it were not for the collapse of the textile industry in the places where dye waste clean up was mandated we would have kept growing and a major source of pollution in the world would have been reduced significantly. Because even though the yield of these colorful cottons are less than white cotton's (yes, it is expensive for the plant to produce color), the cost of dyeing and dye waste clean up are even higher. We were poised to transform textiles in a fundamental way. But quite tragically and rapidly we lost our textile industry in the US, Europe and Japan to the mills in the parts of the world where dye wastes were not cleaned up. What cost responsible mills between $2 and $3 per dyed pound of yarn or fabrics to clean up, these new mills simply dumped in their rivers. Punishing and poisoning the people, crops and living systems downstream. In the US we have only recently produced as much organic cotton as we did in 1995. And the naturally colorful component remains almost nil. This happened because the retailers dumped the good mills that had been supplying them with products, wonderful R&D and loyalty.  The US went from the number one textile manufacturer in the world to almost vanishing within a mere 10 years. And despite the sort of conventional wisdom at the time "that the manufacturers left the US to go to cheaper places offshore", what really happened was that the manufacturers lost their customers, and workers lost their good jobs, and iconic businesses closed. It was the retailers and big brand names who stopped buying from them because they could go offshore and get their products made for so much less money. And so, I lost the business of almost every single mill that had been buying this cotton, mills that were on the brink of incorporating through sound business principles a real and sustainable path towards cleaning up a major toxic textile waste product. All the while supporting organic farming of a rather large commodity crop. It was a devastatingly sad experience.

I have been funding my breeding program in such a modest  way this past decade (as compared to those days of a salary or good mill sales), but despite that it is alive and there is progress, albeit at a slower pace. It has been funded by the sales of products from my own farm many of which can be seen on my website : www.vreseis.com. and from financial gifts from caring individuals who have kept me and the research going by their generosity.

I believe that my life’s work is to get this cotton into commerce to reduce the pollution both on the farm and at the mill. I have been considering setting up a research institute in the hopes of getting financial support from foundations or the USDA (which is beginning to fund organic breeding programs- but so far only those associated with a University- but one can hope) for quite some time now and am making slow progress in that area. It is positively ridiculous that a project as important as this has been left behind as it has, being kept afloat only by me and the small group of individuals (who I thank sincerely) who are helping in any way that they can. To pull this off- commercializing this cotton, heavy work has been required breeding wise. And this work must be and has been informed by working with designers to create pull through. Research in and knowledge of textile processing from spinning mills though knitting, weaving, fabric finishing, cut and sew, retailing, and washing and light fastness under various conditions are all required of each potential variety. All of these tests require time and money.

So, how to proceed? I am generally so busy just doing the work of all this from the farming to filling the orders, that the way out of this often (setting up a Research Institute)  eludes me. And I keep thinking that some commercial project will catch on for one of my customers and that bales will get ordered and the commercial production will just fund the research again. But this has yet to occur. And really the research that I do ends up benefiting everybody who chooses to getting into this industry. For this reason the "Research Institute/Eco-Textile Incubator" idea resonates more and more.

This year thanks to the retail sales on my website I was able to pay for some excellent part time help on my farm, which  made such a fundamental difference to my mood. Having the help of two intelligent, talented younger people even just a few hours a week (thank you Sierra Reading and Maggie Smith) has made a huge difference. And thanks to a grant from the USDA NRCS and a generous gift from dear friends an irrigation system more efficient than drip -a center pivot that cannot blow into the highway - has been set up on my farm. 


But long term I remain hopeful that somehow a more secure way of funding this research will materialize. And so, should you have any ideas to share, please e-mail them to me. Should you know of foundations that would lend a helping hand or real grant opportunities, please let me know.

In the meantime, when you buy socks, cotton bolls, yarn or fabric from me, this is what you are in fact supporting. The research that I have kept going three and a half decades now founded on the belief that intrinsic color should be a foundation of our textiles, not just for those dedicated enough to seek it out. Thank you for believing in this cotton, and thank you for helping me stay the course with my work on it's behalf.

With gratitude,
Sally Vreseis Fox