Fiber artist honors Earth Day with sustainable fashion

Fast fashion has exploded over the past decade, with many synthetic textiles and harmful dyes draining our environment — waterwise.

A local artist is finding ways to be more sustainable.

“The trend now is for people to buy hundreds of garments a year and just wear ’em a few times and throw them away. They’re not well made, and the people who make them are not getting paid a lot,” said fiber artist Tenley Shewmake. “Wages are poor, the conditions are poor. We wanted to highlight some of the ways people could make their wardrobes more sustainable and there’s a history of that.”

According to Shewmake, in the 1930s and 40s when flour companies realized that women were making garments out of flour sacks and gunne sax — they started putting prints on the fabric so it would make their product more attractive.

“They would also hold fashion shows and women would make these garments,” Shewmake said. “That persisted from the early 1900s up until the 50s and 60s when paper bags became the way that flour and grain was sold.”

The fiber artist also recommends secondhand use of fabrics. She says you can get a lot of great stuff from a thrift store and give it new life. Some of the items in this ‘Enduring Fashion Choices’ exhibit are repurposed, torn apart and remade. Take better care of your clothes by laundering them less frequently and that also keeps them out of the landfill.

“This is an organic linen dress made by a woman in Philadelphia. She gets this great linen and hand-dyes it with natural dyes so it’s sustainable,” said Shewmake. “Instead of being a cut-and-sew garment that doesn’t really fit anyone — it’s made to measure. Will last a long time and biodegrade once it’s thrown away.”

It’s all about honoring Earth Day, because if we don’t preserve Mother Nature there are negative consequences for all of us.

“This exhibit and the fashion runway we had was a fundraiser for the Democratic Women’s Club, who believes in sustainable initiatives,” the fiber artist said. “We can do a little better job and be more conscious consumers and treat the earth with more respect.

The exhibit was produced by the Greenbrier County Democratic Women’s Club. Most of the sustainable (and associated) fashion is available for sale through the Lewisburg Visitor’s Center.

To see more of Shewmake’s work…

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