Fibershed Wants to Know What Californians Have in Their Closets

Fill out a survey that will help build more sustainable fashion policies.

woman in a closet

Getty Images/Carina König/EyeEm

If you live in California, then Fibershed wants your help. This organization, which works to develop regional and regenerative fiber systems, is asking people to participate in a Closet Survey for Climate and Ocean Health. By sharing information about what's in your closet, you help create a more detailed picture of the kinds of clothes people buy and wear, how long they last, and what happens to them at the end of their life.

Why does this matter? Research from the San Francisco Estuary Institute and the 5 Gyres Institute has shown that 73% of the microplastic particles in the San Francisco Bay are fibers, and more than half of these are plastic from synthetic clothing. These microplastic particles are like little sponges, absorbing pollutants from the surrounding water and transferring them to any marine wildlife that ingests them.

At the same time, California produces 2,704 pounds of cotton and 2.4 million pounds of wool each year, yet remains a net importer of clothing. These textiles have the potential to be fully biodegradable (if dyed and processed in an eco-friendly way) and therefore less harmful to the environment than synthetics; but there remains a serious disconnect between what's available and what's being purchased.

It's more important than ever to choose our clothing carefully and make a conscious transition toward more natural fibers. Fibershed writes that "a wool garment grown and made locally, with carbon-sequestering farming practices and renewable energy powered manufacturing, could represent an estimated 82 pounds of CO2e sequestered."

This is where the survey hopes to help. It asks participants to describe a minimum of two shirts and two bottoms in an online form. Detailed information is provided about each item's brand, where it was made, where it was purchased, how much was paid, how long it's been worn, what the fabric composition is, and how it will eventually be discarded, e.g. donated, thrown out, turned into something else. 

The questions are not meant to pass judgment on one's shopping habits; rather, they generate much-needed data for an aspect of society that has always been difficult to measure. From a press release, 

"The Closet Survey for Climate & Ocean Health Project will generate critical insights to reshape the flow of materials in our region, by supporting public and private investment in infrastructure to create locally grown and sewn natural fiber garments, to capture and recycle textile waste, and to inform social and structural changes to how we buy and use clothing."

Using the data collected, Fibershed and its partner Ecocity will make maps and infographics of what Californians are wearing, where it comes from, and what happens to it. "This first-of-its-kind data will be used to inform grassroots and upstream solutions to the ecological, social, and economic problems in fashion and textile systems." With data in hand, it becomes easier to convince policy-makers to prioritize the local textile economy for numerous benefits and to build a movement in general.

Fibershed founder Rebecca Burgess (whose work we've written about on Treehugger) asked, "What if locally grown, sewn, and worn clothing were less expensive than fossil carbon clothing, and everyone had access to it? Why is plastic clothing artificially cheap? Knowledge is power, and we invite you to take part to help us craft a healthier, and more environmentally just future." 

Participating in the survey is a good place to start. You can find it (and more information) here

View Article Sources
  1. Box, Carolynn. "SF BAY MICROPLASTICS PROJECT." Bacwa, 2021.

  2. "Commodities & Products." Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.