As Told By Our Founder
Fiberactive Organics actually started out life as Fiberactive Quilt Company in 1993; I designed and made quilts on a 45 year old Elna Supra and a Nolting Pro quilter. After being told by three separate physicians that I should be wearing a respirator in my studio because of the carcinogenic chemicals on conventional fabric, in 2005 I started the transition to organics.
I wanted beautiful rich colors for my quilts; but in those days organic meant earth tones, so I started dyeing fabrics myself at home using fiber-reactive dyes and low immersion techniques to minimize the environmental impact.
In the summer of 2006 life came to a crashing halt. Due to long years of tendinitis, I lost the use of my right hand; I went into a deep and terrible depression. After months of physical therapy I was able to do basic things with my right hand, but still functioned mostly with my left. I had recovered from my depression and it was time to get a life again, but I needed a right hand.
A few years earlier, my church sponsored several Montagnard men, refugees from terrible oppression in the mountains of Vietnam. These men had escaped through the jungle leaving their wives and children behind, so when they were settled here, efforts began to bring out their families. The first of the wives to arrive was Jum. I figured she was a capable woman and she really wanted to get a job, so I asked her to work with me in my sewing studio.
Jum had spent her whole life gathering food in the jungles of Vietnam, she had her first baby when she was 14. While working for Vietnamese farmers, Jum sometimes felled large trees with a machete, one baby on her back and one in her belly. To say that she was a strong woman is to put it mildly, and yet she was meek and helpless in our high tech society. On her first day in my studio it was hard to tell which of us was more needy. She had never used sewing scissors or threaded a needle, I could barely show her how. There were no translators for her language which was spoken only in her mountain village so we had no way to talk to each other. Suffice to say, overcoming all those obstacles created a bond between us, she became my right hand.
At that time I changed Fiberactive’s focus from quilt production to organic cotton table linens because they were more in demand and much easier to make. Teaching Jum to make table linens was slow but fun, after working a whole day to produce one napkin, Jum was dumbfounded to find out that we had spent that much time and resources on something to wipe your mouth! I learned from her too, Jum taught me how to forage for food in my own yard, I taught her sewing, English, and important concepts like, lunch. Jum’s niece H’tonh soon joined us. Suddenly, life was full again.
The company grew. We expanded our line of linens with beautiful fabrics from Harmony Art in California. Everything was organic except for the thread, and there was no organic cotton thread on the market anywhere in the world So, in November of 2007 I entered into a joint venture with South Carolina thread company, YLI Corp. to make and sell certified organic cotton sewing thread. With the release of our thread, the Fiberactive Quilt Company became Fiberactive Organics, LLC. (the “LLC” stands for “Looks Like a Company”)
Jum had a baby, Natalie, in March of 2008. By summer it was clear that we had outgrown my home studio. So in October we moved to 4224 Beryl Drive in Raleigh. Three times the space, sky lights filled the studio with light, we could walk to restaurants and the post office, on one side was the NC State Arboretum and on the other, their dairy farm. More space, more work, more jobs for Montagnard women – welcome H’nam, Tuat and Klum.
We usually had only two or three women working at a time because the children, too young for school, came to work with their moms. I got to be everybody’s grandma! Interns from NC State, just down the street, rounded out the staff.
With all these creative minds at work, we produced a line of organic cotton children’s clothes, men’s shirts and women’s sleepwear.
Our wonderful interns eventually moved on to their own careers around the country one even started her own organic cotton bridal wear studio, Kendal Leonard Designs.
Fabric vessels made a big splash in the holiday season of 2009. Tuat and Klum wrapped miles of cording, Jum and I sewed them together on the sewing machines. We participated in several holiday fair trade markets in churches around Raleigh and Chapel Hill. We sold so many vessels we sometimes had to go back to the studio after a full day at a market, to make more so we’d have something to sell the next day.
At the urging of my friend Jane Hillhouse, I expanded the line of vessels to include cremation urns. Jane owns Final Footprint, a company that sells bio-degradable caskets for those who want to have a natural burial. I became so enthusiastic about natural burial that that I began designing organic cotton shrouds, bio-degradable urns, casket quilts and pillows, and even infant/toddler caskets. I opened a new division of Fiberactive Organics called Earth to Earth Burial. My burial products now sell around the world. There’s something really wonderful about making something so prescious and profound. As I sew, I try to impress each stitch with peace.
When the recession hit in 2008, Fiberactive evolved again. The new trend was for your money to not only get you a product but also do something for the local economy and the environment. As doors closed across America, many who had been laid off took the opportunity to bring to market ideas for eco products that they’d been toying with for years. For those creative people Fiberactive Organics became the cut&sew resource they’d been looking for. My staff of Montagnard women were fully trained in sewing by then and we made everything from silk scarves to organic cat toys under many different labels. The more contracts I could find for us the more Montagnard women I could put to work.
My dream of bringing to market the world’s first colored organic cotton thread became a reality in 2010 when we became the North American distributor of Scanfil organic cotton thread. Scanfil is a Tex 35, multi-purpose thread that comes in 34 colors, it’s spun in Holland and is Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified.
At the end of 2012, I made the decision to close down the central studio. The Montagnard women each had sewing stations in their homes and some had gone on to other jobs. It made financial and logistical sense for me to work from home too, but it was a huge effort to move – it took six Montagnard men to move my 400 lb bale of organic cotton. I sold off and gave away tons of fabrics and industrial equipment in an effort to get things pared down to functional size.
Over the year between February 2017 and Feb 2018 I sold most of Fiberactive’s left over finished products in a retail location in in Pittsboro, NC, Studio 17 . We sold organic table linens, fabric vessels, childrens clothes and all the prototype dresses and skirts we’d made over all the years, plus a smattering of my own knitted products and hand-spun yarn. Recently I’ve turned my creative energy to making rugs from Carolina cotton rope and fabric scraps. They are sold in Cocoon Gallery in historic Apex, NC.
As the world heats up and people learn more about the value of organic cotton farming for sequestering carbon, the sale of organic cotton thread continues to skyrocket and has become the focal product line of Fiberactive Organics. Thread is so basic to every textile product, it gives me the greatest opportunity for worldwide environmental good. This winter, 2018, we’re launching a new brand of organic cotton thread we’re calling, Sewpure. It is the strongest organic cotton thread that’s ever been on the market and we think it will be a game changer in how organic textile products are made.
The Mission is still the same.
Fiberactive Organics’ mission to increase the market for organic cotton in order to promote organic farming throughout the world is working out well, with spinners in Holland and now India, that part of our work is coming along nicely.