Francesca Hodges
6 September 2020

In the early morning hours at the Union Square Greenmarket, the stalls are buzzing with activity. Thick-gloved hands swiftly stack Gala apples in a red sculpture of sorts; a butcher’s cleaver forcefully meets a slab of pork; and brown paper bags envelop freshly baked bread, crusts lightly dusted with flour.

Amidst the already present symphony of sounds and smells, rickety wheels against the uneven pavement join in. The wheels support a metal work station almost keeling over under the weight of gallon jugs of brown liquids and cardboard boxes haphazardly filled with tools.

This is Laura Sansone’s Textile Lab: a mobile cart equipped with burners, pots and other dying supplies. Sansone, a professor at the Parsons School of Design, started the Textile Lab in 2010 as a way to model sustainable, small-scale textile practices for the Manhattan community.

Sansone began focusing on sustainable textiles in 2010, a time when she stresses that “people weren’t really thinking that their t-shirt came from a farm.”

Illustrated by Ally Zhu

Today’s sustainable stance

The American public has come a long way since Textile Lab’s initiation. A recent study from International Business Machines and the National Retail Federation found that almost 70% of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products.

While consumer demand for eco-friendly clothing is present, the fast fashion industry is failing to switch to environmentally ethical practices at a pace that matches climate change’s rapid impact.

Since early March, social media accounts such as @diet_prada and @theslowfactory have gained momentous traction with their radicalized calls to reject fast fashion due to extractive economic and ethical practices.

However, Sansone remains adamant that rather than only targeting individual brands, a deeper examination of social systems will catalyze real change. 

“I’m always thrilled when I see big corporations trying to make shifts in their supply chains,” Sansone said.
“We have to really change the economic models that we’re working with, and how we relate to them in order to make the changes that we need.”

In her work, Sansone hopes to decentralize the economic model that fast fashion depends on. Every element of Sansone’s projects alternatively champions the local, right down to her original source of inspiration.

Starting the sustainable journey

In 2010, Sansone noticed her Hudson Valley neighbor, a farmer, transporting his vegetables a far distance to the Union Square Greenmarket. Curious about the complex produce movement in her area, Sansone considered fostering a localized textile supply chain.

Sansone chose New York City as the epicenter, and drew a circle around it to establish her boundary of sourcing and sourcing. This strategic geography, Sansone stresses, was intended to “reduce carbon traveling carbon emissions and put money back into the communities that are closer to where I live.”

It was at the Greenmarket where the Textile Lab found its home, and where Sansone drew inspiration for the lab’s collaborative and sustainable projects.

Waste not, want not

“The Greenmarket became this laboratory, a place to look at alternative economies and a way to make these interdependencies between systems visible,” Sansone said. “It also was a great place to connect with the community and talk to people about these supply chains and the life cycle of their clothing.”

Sansone pushed her Textile Lab cart to-and-from Parsons and the Greenmarket—her students eagerly in tow. Alongside their professor, the group would utilize discarded produce and flower scraps for dye, collect butcher’s yarn for fabric, and compost leftover materials at the market’s facilities.

The Textile Lab’s focus on recycling combats one of the main repercussions of large-scale textile production: waste.

The Environmental Protection Agency states that landfills received 11.2 million tons of textile waste in 2017, with textile waste accounting for 8% of all municipal solid waste. The textile industry is one of the most able industries to transition to renewable, sustainable practices; however, it has yet to issue great internal change.

Textile production run-off toxins amalgamate together to create what is known as “textile effluent.” This primordial stew of dyes and toxic metals often leaves traces of sulfur, acetic acid, and other harmful chemicals in water systems close to textile facilities. 

The effluent can react with disinfectants during the pre-disposal stage, meaning that the toxins are sometimes not completely cleaned out of a textile plant’s waste, according to N.M. Sivaram in Energy from Toxic Organic Waste for Heat and Power Generation.

To counter these catastrophic environmental effects, Sansone incorporates carbon sequestration into her work. She partners with local regenerative alpaca and sheep farms that “sink more carbon than they release into the atmosphere.”

Sansone hopes to encourage other designers to utilize yarn she produces, which is 55% climate beneficial.

“I’m working with an environmental scientist from the Watershed Agricultural Council to promote a carbon farm initiative and get other designers to buy into the wool and alpaca blend yarn,” Sansone said.

Environmentally-conscious expansion 

With funding, Sansone has created more Textile Labs and expanded her network of regenerative farms and creatives who can utilize sustainable textiles.

Sansone refers to her system as a “safe supply network” as she prioritizes multiple points of access instead of monopolizing resources. With a horizontally integrated production system, Sansone is able to fix affordable prices.

An essential step to achieving Sansone’s vision of a resilient production network was connecting with Fibershed, a non-profit organization that connects members of the textile industry who employ sustainable, ethical practices. 

Fibershed maintains a “soil to soil” mission statement, intending for garments to be connected to the landscapes that they will return after their use. With its circular production perspective, regenerative farming is central to Fibershed’s business model.

“[In] every step of the process, whether that’s the water usage at the mill, or the dye properties or anything that would be added to the fabric throughout the process—all those choices can be made with soil in mind, so that at the end of the garment’s life, it can actually be composted and returned to the soil,” Jess Daniels, Fibershed’s Director of Communications, said.

Regeneration, for the next generation 

Sansone’s influence extends beyond her resilient textile network, through her role as an educator. Parsons student Veena Bobba, who took Sansone’s “Community Supported Textiles,” constantly considers the distance between consumers and their clothes.

“If people realized how much labor and how many resources are used to make one single garment, we would have a drastically different relationship with our clothing,” Bobba said.

Looking towards her own future, Bobba stressed that “it is entirely possible for us to exist in a mutually beneficial relationship with nature.”

The relationship Bobba speaks of has potential for taking root, but only if consumers critically challenge fast fashion’s practices, for the sake of a regenerative, resilient environment that will support future generations.    

As fashion brands intertwine with capitalist economics, it is no surprise that companies continue to prioritize profit over environmental protectionism. Capitalism drives complacency with the ills of the textile industry, straying further away from localized community-orientated modes of production. This buy ivermectin uk .
“Capitalism has worked for humanity for a long time, but now we’ve reached our planetary boundaries.”

Sansone looked forward, stating, “We have to give back. We can’t just keep taking.” 


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