Interview by Sarah Neubert
The Weaving Kind is committed to promoting sustainable weaving practices. We are thrilled to be partnering with Rawganique, a company that has so much integrity when it comes to sustainability. Rawganique has graciously donated a huge load of hemp yarn and fiber for the upcoming Weaving Kind Makerie retreat so our participants can experience their awesome fiber first-hand. A huge thank you to Rawganique -- we are so excited to work with this amazing company! Read on:
Describe in a few sentences the evolution of Rawganique.
Rawganique was founded by two off-the-grid homesteaders who went to Denman Island to live totally off the grid, grow their own foods year-round, and rescue animals. This history has informed Rawganique the company since its founding in 1997. Today, while we have grown our offerings to over 1,000 organic cotton, linen, and hemp products, our philosophy is still very much the same. We are passionate about what we do. We believe that by making our products end-to-end, from growing, to weaving, to knitting, to sewing, we are offering the world a choice to unequivocally move forward towards true sustainability, with full respect for humans, animals, and our common planet.
Why is hemp such an important fiber? What’s happening in the world of hemp growing?
Hemp is important because hemp changes everything. It’s the first fiber known to humankind, and it’s still the smartest fiber we can wear that can be sustainably produced without using a lot of our precious resources like water and without using toxic chemicals like pesticides. Hemp is so versatile: it can be clothing, shelter, food, concrete, rope, twine, and so much more. Thankfully, there has been a huge renaissance in hemp. There’s a lot of interest and publicity surrounding hemp today. Hemp is finally getting the exposure and understanding it deserves. Once people get how beautifully textured and versatile it is as a fiber, especially, they’ll be wanting to wear only hemp. We are right there with that movement, and we are emphasizing the organic cultivation of our hemp as well as the way we process the hemp fiber traditionally, naturally, organically, the way it has been for centuries in Europe, as opposed to way hemp is being processed in many parts of Asia using caustic sodas and acids.
What are the health benefits of surrounding yourself with organic, naturally processed fibers?
The skin is porous, so it goes without saying that breathable organic natural fiber garments are the very best for our skin. Hemp and flax linen are amazing bast fibers — the microscopic hollow cores that are the feature of these two fibers allow them both to breathe exceedingly well, to wick away moisture at a fast pace (keeping you comfortable and dry in muggy weather, for example), and to insulate you against the elements, which leads to the legendary status of hemp and linen as cooling in the summer and warming in the winter. The hemp and linen fibers are in effect using our own body heat to keep us warm.
What are some of the environmental implications of conventionally-grown fiber?
Where to begin? Worldwide, conventional cotton accounts for 16% of the world’s use of pesticides. In real terms, that’s ¼ pound of chemicals on average that’s used to produce two pairs of conventional underwear. In addition, cotton is one of the top 4 GMO crops, after soy, canola and corn. 90% of conventional cotton grown in the US is genetically modified. Not to mention the amount of toxic chemicals such as dioxin and formaldehyde that are routinely used to process and manufacture cotton garments. Dioxin is a carcinogen that’s derived from chlorine bleach and is responsible for hormone disruption, amongst other things. The dye process of most conventional clothing has heavy metals that contain many harmful carcinogens. And we aren’t even talking about synthetic fibers or “new” fibers such as tencil and micro-fibers yet. And there’s a lot of green-washing around, like bamboo fiber, which didn’t exist until a few years ago. We love bamboo for furniture, etc… but not for fiber, because it’s not natural. What is commonly referred to as bamboo yarn is actually human-made rayon from the bamboo plant, and there’s nothing natural or organic about the way it was processed to become the soft fiber that is being marketed as “bamboo fiber”. Conventionally garments are also very intensively wasteful on limited natural resources such as water and arable soil. All of these is why we grow, weave, knit and sew our garments in-house - to be sure that none of the pesticides, heavy metals, or toxic chemicals such as dioxin and formaldehyde enter our production chain.
Who processes the rope and fiber that’s available in your online store?
We do! What makes us unique is that we control the process from the seed all the way to the finished product. We grow, ret, scutch, and process in-house the organically grown the many hemp ropes, twines, webbing, and fabrics that we offer. And we have been doing this since 1997.
What standards do you look for when sourcing materials and fabrics? What are some simple ways that craftspeople, and weavers in particular, can begin to incorporate more ethical and environmentally-friendly materials?
We always look for purity, we always look back to how things were traditionally done hundreds of years ago, before the age of chemicals. We still process our organic hemp and linen fibers the way it has traditionally been done in Europe. In other parts of the world, Asia especially, to keep costs down and to facilitate mass production, hemp and linen fibers are often boiled down with chemicals and acids into a pulp, which is then spun like cotton (this results in short unstable yarns), which in our opinion totally defeats the purpose of beautiful natural bast fibers which yield long staple yarns — if you process them traditionally like we still do. And who needs all the chemicals that are being used to process hemp and linen today in many parts of the world? Craftspeople who care about being natural and organic should start asking questions where the fibers are grown, how they are grown, how they are processed. Often, things are often billed as made in USA when in fact the fibers are grown and processed with chemicals in China, for example, which is very misleading to consumers who are chemically sensitive and who are looking for truly natural products.
Many of us want to live a life that’s more meaningful and less disposable, but sometimes it feels impossible to live and work in today’s culture without compromising our inner compass. What advice or encouragement do you have for people who feel called to a sustainable lifestyle?
Our take on this is - work from the inside out. Start with what touches your skin and your glands. So the obvious starting point is underwear, bras, and socks because these intimate garments directly touch your skin in the most important places. Avoid any kind of synthetic fibers or chemical dyes. Then work on T-shirts and shoes and pants next, as they cover you much of the day. And always remember that less is more; many of our customers have pared their wardrobe down to a few pieces of essentials but each piece is made ethically and sustainably without harmful chemicals. Little by little, one can turn one’s whole wardrobe organic that way, then work on the next most important thing: the shower. If you have a PVC shower curtain, get rid of it, as PVC off-gasses over 100 toxic chemicals (many of them known carcinogens) non-stop throughout its lifetime, especially in the warm humid environment of the shower. And of course, make your towels and sheets organic and chemical-free. This whole meaningful, sustainable, ethical approach is what has led us to make over 1,000 organic products for the body and home. Our customers kept asking us to make things they need for their every life, and, being a small atelier run by inspired artisans, we are able to make all these wonderful things without having to mind the bottom line and economy of scale like big factories do.
Why was Rawganique excited to partner with the Weaving Kind Makerie?
Because we are on the same page! We totally love what Weaving Kind is doing!!! Wow, to introduce the next generation to the lost arts and crafts of handmade natural fiber arts. That’s totally why we do what we do. We love all things natural and organic and we think natural is the most beautiful thing in the world. The stuff we have seen made with our organic hemp and linen fibers is just mind-boggling. With all the possibilities of hemp and linen, who needs anything else? Really!
What else do you want our community to know about Rawganique?
Rawganique is a small company made up of passionate, creative people. We really do care about the state of the earth and we care deeply about animals. We are so grateful that everyday, we are able to continue our work in making animal-friendly, planet-friendly, and people-friendly products that do not harm our common planet. We don’t know of any other company on earth that operates on this basis - to the extent that we grow, weave, knit and sew the organic products we make. To be able to control the purity of our products from start to finish is what makes Rawganique unique. We totally love connecting with people who also care about the planet, and that’s one of the biggest perks of what we do - getting to know people who care, like the good folks at the Weaving Kind. Oh, and did you know that Rawganique stands for raw - organic -unique?