The movement of producing sustainable, environmentally mindful, American made clothing and fiber has been a growing topic of discussion, especially here in Central Oregon. Asking where our clothing is coming from and who is making it is becoming more common, and the discussion continues with the 140-year-old Imperial Stock Ranch in Shaniko, Oregon, producer of sustainable and natural wool, yarn and apparel.
Jeanne Carver, part owner of Imperial Stock Ranch, has become an advocate for sustainable fiber production and has promoted, marketed and created collaborations with local fiber artists and designers in order to change the way we see fiber and ranch industry.
“What got us interested in this vein of production was simply about survival,” Carver explains. “The wool industry was crashing in the late ’90s and buyers didn’t think the ranching industry was relevant anymore. Obviously they did not know wool as the ‘miracle fiber’ that it is and how important it actually is to maintain.”
Tremendous obstacles including changing commodity markets, loss of processing and manufacturing infrastructure for textiles and the growing pressures from meat imports, the economic viability of raising sheep was severely threatened. The Carvers began creating retail products from their raw commodities as a way to maintain the presence of sheep as a vibrant part of Imperial Stock Ranch.
Though Carver’s formal studies were not in agriculture or marketing, she has been able to attach the power of where these products come from and highlights the importance of the ranch’s heritage and nurturing of the land.
“The biggest question of marketing is ‘why would anyone buy this item?’” Carver explains. “The two most important things that make an item, like a sweater, blanket, etc. important is the heritage. On our ranch we work on the land; carefully managing livestock rotations and low impact farming practices to form an ever-improving landscape. Our grazing animals vitalize plants, harvest sunlight and help keep healthy stands of grasses growing on the High Desert landscape. By telling where the item gets its magic, the item sells itself.
“The other factor which makes these items important is the collaborative process it takes to create them. The artisans who we originally affiliated with, including Mary Wonser, Kay Flynn and Linda Davis to name a few, were local women,” Carver continues. “These amazing artists worked with our yarn to create small, unique offerings created entirely in and sold throughout Oregon.”
The evolution of these products carried Imperial Stock Ranch through various marketing channels, which has helped them achieve incredible feats such as being recognized as one of the few National Historic District Ranches in Oregon, and having their yarn used by Ralph Lauren to be made into sweaters worn by the 2014 U.S Winter Olympic team.
The future of Imperial Stock Ranch has many excitements on the horizon. For now, they continue to lead a collective effort to change American manufacturing with fashion and outdoor sports lines. “It’s really all about connection,” Carver summarizes. “Everything we have done so far is strengthening the concept of family ranching, rebranding and reimagining American products by supporting each other. Together, we are stronger.”
Linda Spring, Wearable Art (top image)
Linda Spring’s vibrant, hand-painted and dyed designs are easy to spot in a crowd. With two fine arts degrees and an extensive art background, Spring has useD her knowledge to create a line of one-of-a-kind clothing that is truly wearable art. “I didn’t have any big plans to build my own studio, it just happened organically,” Spring explains. “So much of what I do is repurposing items and using them for my art and it was the same with my studio.”
Spring’s studio is a one-person factory, where she hand-paints and dyes her fabrics, creates her own designs and textures from found objects, sews her own garments including hand beading and adding embellishments and then hangs the finished garments that await a new home. Any garments that she does not sew herself, are still sustainably American made.
“There is an incredible amount of waste created in foreign countries that do mass-manufacturing of clothing,” Spring states. “Excess dyes are dumped straight into water supplies, fabric waste isn’t reused or repurposed and it is a huge issue. The clothes may be cheaper to buy, but the environmental impact we are making is astronomical.”
Spring went on to describe our willingness to spend $300 on a Patagonia jacket without thinking where it was manufactured, yet purchasing quality and sustainable American-made clothing isn’t at the forefront of our minds, when it really should be.
Not only are Spring’s garments environmentally and sustainably conscious, they are exquisite pieces of art. Beautiful colors and textures are handcrafted by Spring to make each piece truly unique.
“I am so inspired by the environment around us. Just the other day I was out walking and saw this beautiful rock that had amazing texture and I just knew I had to try and achieve it.”
Spring uses found objects, including barbeque grates, mountain bike tires, two-by-fours covered with nails, old, cut-up sponges and diamond plate steel, in order to create enchanting and organic patterns.
Her process for creating pieces is extensive and has many steps including: getting the perfect consistency and color of dye from scratch, painting fabric and letting it set overnight, washing and re-washing until the pattern is complete, cutting and sewing the fabric into a garment and adding final touches. It is an incredible amount of work that looks completely effortless when the piece is complete.
“I think about the body as I am creating the garments. I think about the placement of patterns and coverage of the wearer. If it doesn’t look good on, what’s the point?” Spring explains that one of the most gratifying things about her designs is seeing it on a body. “After all of those steps, the final one is seeing someone wear it. That is when I see the full intention of my work and say, ‘wow, that looks amazing on you.’ This is the purpose of what I do.”
Linda Spring’s one-of-kind clothing can be found on undergroundspringclothing.com and at Lotus Moon Boutique in downtown Bend and Desperado in the Old Mill.
Nicole Flood, Clothing & Fiber Designer
Clothing designer Nicole Flood prides herself on creating one-of-a-kind garments while repurposing and creating her own fabric. “I believe that clothing has the ability to help us transcend the way we feel about ourselves and our bodies. By putting on certain clothing we can feel more confident, grounded and expressive of the true nature of our souls,” Flood states.
Flood has been creating for as long as she can remember and fell in love with the process of repurposing materials to make entirely new clothes. “The limitations of using everything I can from a single a t-shirt and producing a beautiful garment creates a kind of friction,” Flood explains. “If I were to go into a fabric store, I would be overwhelmed with all of the possibilities. Therefore, the fabrics I reuse help drive the concept of what I create.”
After studying apparel design, Flood began creating and crocheting her own line of hats, made entirely out of recycled clothing.
“I was selling designs out of a suitcase to classmates and after a while I started looking into what else I could design during the summer months,” Flood states. “From there, it grew into a full line. I started lookbooks of my designs and showed at the Portland Saturday market where I could get feedback from people. It was helpful to hear from customers and to interact with them on that level so I could learn more about the custom designs I wanted to do, and eventually I started putting together ideas for my own store.”
Flood’s process for designing is as unique as her creations. “I usually begin projects by asking what intentions I am setting for myself,” Flood describes. “I will use how I am feeling to come up with a keyword that will then direct what I want to work on. From there, I draw in inspirations, play with silhouettes, work on maximizing efficiency of my fabric, modify and play with fabric until I’m ready to sketch.”
She continues to explain this as a kind of meditative state. “After processing all of my ideas and inspirations, the designs seem to write themselves. I like to call this ‘downloading’ to get a clear picture of what I what to create. Then I start from scratch every year with brand new ideas.”
When it comes to future goals, Flood hopes to keep expanding so that she can reach more people and continue making beautiful, custom designs. “I’m developing a system that will allow me to spend more time building fiber and creating more intensive, one of a kind wearable art. I chose this craft because I love transformation. Both transforming old garments into new clothing and the transformation I see in people when they wear my work.”
Waylon Rhoads, Jewelry Designer
Waylon Rhoads was motivated at a young age to take his creativity and find something he was passionate about that would meet the market demand and jewelry-making seemed to be the perfect fit. “It is one of the oldest industries that exists,” Rhoads explains.“Every civilization in the world has had some relationship to jewelry.”
Rhoads began taking classes and apprenticing with several jewelry makers, including one of the largest, family-owned jewelers in the nation. There, he was able to hone the technical skills that are clearly displayed in his custom work today. After his various apprenticeships, Rhoads decided to venture into working on his own line of jewelry.
“My motivation in taking that step from being an employee to becoming an entrepreneur was the realization of how labor is exploited and my resistance of not wanting to be a part of that system,” explains Rhoads.“It was more of a rejection of that relationship. I realized how much money was being made off of my labor, and that’s when I decided that with the tools and training I already had, I could do this for myself.”
Though it was tough to figure out which direction he wanted his custom line to go, Rhoads had a defined style that he was drawn to. I have an affinity for organic flowy lines that are well controlled in form and structure,” he states. “I had a lot of skills, such as hand-engraving that separated me from a lot of other jewelers. But it was hard to pick out what I was going to do. Eventually I realized, why limit yourself with one set production when you can do it all if you have the time?”
Rhoads draws inspirations from many sources including other cultures and different art forms. “I’m drawn to ancient arts of Southeast Asia, sandstone temple carvings and the beautiful and detailed relief work of those countries. I get inspired by Victorian era embellishment where you use as much detail on any given surface that you can. I don’t like sterile, emotionless designs that modernity usually expresses.”
The process Rhoads uses to make his custom creations begins either with customer’s input or from his own imagination. “I usually will start around the main stone that will be used in a piece, a build a design from there that makes the stone the focal point. I ask customers a series of questions of what they are drawn to and what they want to see. For my own pieces, it really depends on what I’m feeling on any given day,” Rhoads explains. “I tend to be drawn to curved lines and contours and sculptural forms, there is so much that can be done with bold lines.”
Rhoads’ diverse set of skills comes in handy when he is working on his designs. “After getting a sense of the design, I will carve the wax model, which is one of my favorite things to do,” Rhoads says. “I love working on a tangible object that is very easy to get a tremendous amount of detail.”
He then casts, polishes and moves on to stone-setting, which Rhoads feels is one of his greatest strengths as a designer. “I can set any shape type of stone in any fashion. I don’t shy away from that.”
When it comes to the direction he wants to take his company, Rhoads says it deviates from the traditional business model. “I like to incorporate workers’ self-determined enterprise, which is sort of at the foundation of what collaboration is about,” Rhoads explains. “I don’t want to put anyone else in the position I felt as an employee. I want to bring everyone involved in the production process together to have a vote and a say in the direction of what we are producing and how profits are shared. From there, we can go anywhere.”
Waylon Rhoads Jewelry can be found at www.rhoadsjewelry.com and his store in downtown Bend.
(Top photo:Linda Spring of Wearable Art)