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Episode 133: Regenerative Storytelling with Amy DuFault

In this week’s episode, LaChaun is speaking with Amy DuFault. Amy is a sustainable textile industry writer. She works as the Sustainability and Communications Director for Botanical Colors as well as the Communications Lead for TS Designs. Amy also co-runs the Southeastern New England Fibershed, which aims to create a dialogue with farmers about climate change in order to create a regional supply chain that supports Massachusetts and Rhode Island textile businesses.

Amy DuFault's Website

Amy DuFault's Instagram 





Sarah Resnick: I’m Sarah Resnick.

LaChaun Moore: And I’m LaChaun Moore.

Sarah Resnick: And we are the hosts of the Weave Podcast, a project of the weaving yarn shop, Gist Yarn & Fiber.

LaChaun Moore: Hello. Hi, everyone. I hope all is well. In this week’s episode, I’m speaking with Amy DuFault. Amy is a sustainable textile industry writer. She also works as a sustainability and communications director for Botanical Colors, as well as the communications lead for TS Designs. She also co-runs the Southeastern New England Fibershed, which has goals to create a digestible dialogue with farmers about climate change in order to create a regional supply chain that supports Massachusetts and Rhode Island-based textile businesses.

Hello, Amy. Welcome to the podcast. Thank you for joining us.

Amy DuFault: Thank you for having me.

LaChaun Moore: Can you start out by introducing yourself?

Amy DuFault: Yep. My name is Amy DuFault, and I am… I guess I’m calling myself a regenerative storyteller nowadays, but I’ve been a journalist for 25 years, and really focused on sustainability for about 15 years now, and so I work in… I wear many different hats, but I always come back to this idea of how we communicate out a story. So, whether that’s through an event, or it’s through writing, or it’s through Zoom events, it’s like this finding new ways to frame a story, so that’s kind of the main thrust of what I do alongside communications.

LaChaun Moore: And would you say that the regenerative aspect of your storytelling is also related to regenerative farming practices?

Amy DuFault: I like to think about it like that. Yeah. For sure. I mean, I just feel like for the past couple years, where regenerative just became this word we’re suddenly all saying, it applies to everything, right? It’s like suddenly it’s like regenerative farming, but also how do you regenerate something in terms of say a natural dye without over foraging? How do you regenerate the history of something? How do you regenerate the culture and history around things? So, there’s this idea of regeneration just kind of pops up frequently, so yeah, it’s just kind of my word now I use for everything.

LaChaun Moore: I agree. I definitely feel like regenerative can mean so many things, but I also feel like as someone who’s interested in regenerative farming, that also is going to carry into all of the other aspects of our society that are affected by regenerative farming practices. It also in a lot of ways relates to the social aspects and the political aspects of farming, so I absolutely understand what you’re saying and where you’re coming from when you’re talking about the storytelling aspects. I know that you also work with the Southeastern New England Fibershed, and before we talk specifically about the work you do there, I’m really interested in how you began working with agriculture. Whether it was a part of your upbringing or the professional aspects of collaborating with farmers.

Amy DuFault: Well, I mean, I wish I could say I grew up on a farm, and so I’d have it kind of steeped into. It would be inherently part of me. But I actually… I mean, and though I do have great stories of being a kid on farms in Maine, and up in Quebec with my relatives, I definitely have come to understand and focus on farms more I guess in the past five or so years. And I guess it came from working and having events in New York, like in the city all the time, and we’d always talk about farmers, and talk about people who were never there for any of these kind of high level conversations, you know? Like, “Okay, it’s great that we’re doing this, but there’s absolutely no farmers, there’s no millennials, there’s no garment workers, there’s no…” Like, what is going on? Who do we think we are having these conversations without the people we’re talking about? This is ridiculous.

And then, you know, I’ve been good friends with Eric Henry, who’s the president of TS Designs, for about a decade, and Eric has pulled me in for a couple years into Farm Aid, because he was making t-shirts for Farm Aid. And so, as part of Farm Aid, we would… The first year was the best. We went to farms, we worked with food advocacy groups, we talked with food advocacy groups, and I realized how much the crossover between food and fiber was just so… It was so evident to me that here were two industries that needed to talk way more to broaden the conversation.

So, farming was really kind of coming in through friends talking about it, and then when Rebecca Burgess launched Fibershed, back… God, I don’t even know how many years ago that was. I want to say at least a decade ago. I was a writer, and I was writing about Rebecca, and I remember it was just the coolest thing to me what she was doing. And this idea of like sourcing a wardrobe from 150 miles or so around where you live, and trying to put it all together, these things that you’d wear, from your jackets, to your underwear, to your socks, and that struck me as something very different. And then just through the years, wanting to start my own Fibershed, finally meeting two people who… We did start the Southeastern New England Fibershed, and both women coming from really… coming from farm backgrounds. And my experience coming from working with designers, working, like how do you sell things, how do you market things, how do you tell a unique story?

We ended up when we came together, it was just like this perfect trio, so I learned a lot about sheering, and farming, and soil, and carbon. They just kept teaching me things I’d only been on the fringes of and I was suddenly on a farm, looking at soil, taking samples of soil, talking with farmers, learning the language, and that’s really… It’s like a whole education, just being with farmers right now and understanding what the challenges are, how one can best help. How do you not replicate the past? How do you move forward with these farmers creating new systems, new supply chains, new ways of thinking about their importance as part of how we get a t-shirt or a pair of jeans?

LaChaun Moore: And can you talk about the work you do with Southeastern New England Fibershed?

Amy DuFault: Yeah. We’ve been doing… Well, so I guess I’ll back up a little bit. So, as a co-founder of this Fibershed, everything changes, people have to move on and do things, and so Karen Schwalbe, who is the president, executive director of SEMAP, which is the Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership, she… We’ve been housed underneath SEMAP since we were founded, and Sarah Kelly, who was the other co-founder of this Fibershed, has gone on to do amazing things, but has now moved down to D.C. We’re still doing projects together and she just put out this amazing… What is it? The Sustainable Agriculture Funders, SAFSF. I think you might know about it, LaChaun. So, yeah, it’s just like a fiber roadmap that’s an extensive paper.

So, that Sarah was the one who started this Fibershed. And then the pandemic hit, so Karen has been completely trying to help farmers stay afloat that she’s worked with for years, that really had nothing… Maybe it had nothing to do with fiber, so it was kind of helping them retain their businesses, and I’ve been sort of on my own the past year and a half with this Fibershed, and during that time… You know, when we first started, we had a roundtable where we got 75 people, kind of key people in our area, from farmer to finished product, politicians, universities, we had a big roundtable discussion just to see where we were at.

And then we’ve since done a number of projects, like two wool pools, where we met farmers, trying to help them find new purpose for their wool that they were throwing away, which I can honestly say we never solved that problem and we still have that problem, and farmers are still throwing away their wool here, so that’s something that we’re still working on or I’m still working on with some new people. And you know, other things that we did, we had an alpaca cohort. We’re actually featured in the Fibershed book that came out last year or the year before. I keep saying last year, but last year was like the missing year with the pandemic, so I think it was the year before that, but so we had an alpaca cohort with a grant from Fibershed where we were helping six alpaca farmers learn how to better sequester carbon as part of their alpaca farming practices, I’ll just say.

So, that was interesting, learning everything from how do you talk about this stuff without turning people off, to actually finding grants for farmers, which was impossible. So, it’s like this… It seems like all the old ways, with all the things we want to do, it’s so evident that they’re not working, that grants aren’t there. The ingenuity, the technology, there’s a lot of things that just aren’t there, so even the survey we did with the Patagonia grant, kind of hoping we would get more responses from farmers, and I know about 40 farmers responded to the survey we put out, and we did learn about acreage. We did learn about fiber-producing animals, and who’s throwing away what, who makes what amount of money. It was a good snapshot.

But a lot of these things just seem like we keep going back to, again, these kind of old ways, and old… Just kind of old ways of looking at how we can get fiber to finished product, so I’ve definitely taken a pause and I’m listening a lot more. I’m reading a lot more. Talking with farmers. I’ve been on a million Zoom calls with people, as we all have, just trying to… I mean, I was just reading some really pretty amazing notes with Marzia Lanfranchi. I hope I’m pronouncing her last name correctly. And she runs the Cotton Diaries, so I was just reading over notes from two meetings that she’s had that I couldn’t make, with people really thinking outside the box about cotton, and supporting farmers, and what needs to be done in terms of the conventional way to this new way, and new systems and support, like support systems that really need to be in place for these farmers to even want to do better, want to grow fiber better, treat the planet better.

It’s really… I mean, it can feel overwhelming, but I feel like there is a lot of hope. There are a lot of solutions. We’re just not thinking logically about it. We still want these other old solutions to work and they don’t, and that’s the frustrating part. Getting people to say, “Take a sledgehammer, smash the foundation of everything you know, and get ready to build again.” That’s where we’re at right now.

LaChaun Moore: I so identify with everything that you’re saying as far as there having to be a solution that is somewhere between getting rid of what has existed and coming up with something that is more universal and that works more for the times that we’re living in. And I’m really curious if it’s possible if you can share some of the things that you’ve come across as some of the solutions or the ways that people are looking at transforming or rebuilding the cotton industry.

Amy DuFault: Yeah. Well, I guess the clearest way I have to talk about that is TS Designs, who I work for as a communications director, we just… We launched this 10,000 Pounds of Cotton Project, the beginning of the year, and so though TS Designs has worked with farmers for a long time and we have U.S. grown and sewn t-shirts, and Eric has got some really… His talk about how he’s been around since the ‘70s, NAFTA came in, and how he had to rebuild himself as a business, became the first B Corp in North Carolina, and has really tried to think about how to make a supply chain cleaner and support the farmer all the way through to the finished product, like working with the Carolina Textile District and others.

So, the 10,000 Pounds of Cotton Project is so edited down, which is why I love this. It’s a true spotlight on an experience, which is we’re working with one farmer, Andrew Burleson. Andrew has grown our cotton. We have bought 10,000 pounds of cotton already from him. We bought it for quite a bit more than he was being offered for it and so what we’re doing is we’re working from what Andrew wanted to get paid and working our way up, instead of backwards, which is the market dictates what you’re gonna get paid and hopefully it’s gonna be enough that you can pay your bills. But most of the time, as you know, LaChaun, I know you know a lot about this, the farmers are not getting paid what they should be getting paid, and so it’s this vicious cycle of they can never get their head above water.

Why can’t they get their head above water and why can’t we pay them more? Why aren’t brands stepping up to the plate to actually want to put… You want to have a sustainability, some sustainability messaging? Well, walk the talk and lay some money down for this farmer to really be able to invest in something. So, Andrew is doing no till, and he didn’t even know that that was something that we would think was cool. He just thought organic was what we were probably gonna ask for. We’re like, “No till is really great.” So, like Eric always says, we’re meeting the farmer where we’re at, but I have had side conversations with parts of our supply chain, which we are having monthly Zoom presentations with each part of our supply chain.

So, we’re actually… Next week is part four, and so we’ll be at Contempora Fabrics, and they are the people who take our cotton that’s been ginned, and milled, and made into yarn, and now is going to be made into fabric. So, we have brought each person on our little presentation and they talk about things, and what they do as part of the 10,000 Pounds of Cotton Project. What are the challenges? What are the opportunities? And then we open it up for Q&A.

So, as you might imagine, people are saying, “How come you’re not doing organic? Are people being paid fairly?” There’s lots of questions that come up. And there’s a lot of expectations that they’re gonna be able to do the best thing, the right thing, right out of the gate, but then you have to go all the way back, and Andrew’s just getting paid fairly for the first time. So, now what does that look like for the rest of the guys? Andrew had challenges with this crop. He lost a lot of his cotton this year because it was so wet.

But we did still… We are still able to get our 10,000 pounds, but then something happened with the length of the cotton, the staple, and it wasn’t… There’s gonna be like little bumps maybe, imperceptible to most, but the spinners were like, or SpunLab was like, “We just want you to know this isn’t perfect to us,” so we’ve had to have these conversations, like it has not been perfect even though we have an entire supply chain. It’s not perfect. But yeah, so we have the conversations, we had a Kickstarter, or like a crowdfunding, some crowdfunding for 2,000 t-shirts that we sold as part of a preorder model. We sold 2,064 t-shirts, so that took care of the B2C model for the t-shirts, and now we’ve taken the rest of the cotton that we will have and moved it over to our wholesale platform, which is TS Designs, and now we’re selling wholesale 10,000 Pounds of Cotton t-shirts, so it’s kind of a limited run that brands, or boutiques, you can do kind of like a private label, but we’re offering that.

And it comes with just a really good story, so we definitely have people reaching out to us that love the story. But what’s been interesting is I get on a call with these guys before every, like the week before our presentation, and I tell Eric, “I don’t want you on it. This isn’t the good old boys club. I don’t need it.” I’d rather be wet behind the ears and ask the questions. And he’s all, “Okay, okay. You got it.”

So, I get on the phone and I ask them all kinds of questions. I tell them I’m not so wet behind the ears that I don’t understand greenwashing, so don’t go down roads with me that you shouldn’t, and just kind of keep them on track. And you know, just have honest conversations, and it helps me be more informed as the moderator for that monthly conversation and really digging in, which I feel like we’re able to dig in more since the beginning. So, yeah.

LaChaun Moore: That’s so interesting. I mean, I have so many questions just based off of everything that you’ve told me about this project. It’s so interesting. But I guess one of the things that I’d like to add, which isn’t necessarily a question, is that it is important for us as consumers and people who advocate for sustainability to really understand the amount of pressure we place on farmers and how much farmers go through. I mean, there is just the threat of nature that can affect a person’s practice, that cannot in any way, shape, or form be controlled. And also, it is a process to getting to sustainability, like sustainability is a process. It’s not something that you just kind of flip a switch and go, “Okay, yesterday I was a conventional farmer and now today I’m gonna go organic and everything’s gonna be fine.”

I mean, it takes I believe like seven to ten years if you are working on land that has pesticides or if you’ve been spraying, like it takes a while to transform land. And then also, farmers have to find processing facilities that will process their organic, or you know, like there’s so many things that go into creating sustainability and it really resonated with me, you talking about this is something that we’re doing constructively and talking about greenwashing, which is a really, really, really, really big problem, and I think what I’ve come to know, and maybe this is more of a recent assessment of mine, is that really I feel like some of the conversations surrounding sustainability that aren’t connected specifically to farmers can sort of put a fork between farmers, and sustainability, and consumers, because it in a way can alienate farmers from participating in conversations because they do feel… They might feel like people aren’t really understanding who they are and where they’re coming from and what they’re dealing with.

And so, yeah, absolutely understand everything that you’re saying, and the project sounds so amazing, and I was watching one of the videos that you were just talking about. The owner of TS Designs… I can’t remember his name. I apologize.

Amy DuFault: Eric. Eric Henry.

LaChaun Moore: Yes. Eric Henry, where he was talking with the farmer that you mentioned as well, and he asked him, he said, “Do you accept 75 cents a pound for your cotton?” And he said yes, and I think in people’s heads, that’s how they think the market goes, but in reality, it’s nothing like that at all.

Amy DuFault: No. Yeah. And I just learned that, LaChaun. I didn’t understand that the farmer didn’t get to say what he wanted for his cotton. It’s like I was kind of thinking about how do you make sense of something like that? I go into a restaurant and I order some food, I get my bill, and I say, “I think I’m only gonna pay you half, restaurant owner.”

LaChaun Moore: Right.

Amy DuFault: I’m only gonna pay you half because that’s what I feel like I should be able to pay you. And they’d be like, “What? I’m calling the police. Are you out of your mind?” But the farmer has been able… The farmer has taken that since time began with farming. As far as I know, I mean, it’s always been dictated by the market. The farmer never gets to say what they want, so just starting with that, okay, if we give you 75 versus 50 cents a pound for cotton, and that 25 cents, whatever it is per pound, helps you that much more, like it just seems ridiculous that we wouldn’t be able to meet the farmer there. But that is what happens, and if you think about down the entire supply chain, how many people really get screwed in terms of let’s whittle it down, let’s edit it down… We’re gonna get it down to the penny. We’re gonna save a penny per pound, or a penny per garment.

It just becomes foolish. This is ridiculous. Especially when you’re talking about people’s lives and how much they get to live on in all parts of the supply chain. And then you think about where’s the sort of environmental piece, too? If you’re not putting in infrastructure to recycle water, or to run on different forms of energy, or to think about cutting something so that there’s less waste. Like if you don’t have any time to put into that and you keep doing things the same way over and over, it’s just kind of… You can never move on.

So, again, what I love about the 10,000 Pounds of Cotton Project is that it’s a huge… You know, we definitely have put on the brakes, and I remember talking with Andrew and I said, “Andrew,” because it was a press event, as well. And I had gotten lots of press friends to come and listen, and you know, like Alden Wicker I remember was there from EcoCult, and Alden writes for everybody, but Alden said, “Let’s get on a call after,” and she was asking different questions, which I was expecting her to ask these questions. You know, about the sort of organic piece, or regenerative piece, or… and I just, for the first time in my life, and Elizabeth Cline was on the call, and Jasmine from Sourcing Journal and lots of other places that Jasmine writes for. You know, we had these conversations after that I said, “You know, I feel like for the first time in my life, I’m actually standing up for the supply chain, in a way.”

We’re gonna have to deal with the fact that it’s gonna start out conventional. We totally have to… We’re gonna have to totally do that. And we’re gonna have to deal with educating the farmer and supporting the farmer financially for them to do anything. So, another brand that had been on that first call, which was really an introduction, our first one, to the whole supply chain. They had said in earlier conversations, you know, what were they doing in terms of equity for workers, or were they looking at diversity in farmers, were they looking at women’s rights, were they looking… I said, “Oh my God. Oh no, this dude’s getting paid the right way the first time, so maybe years from now he can consider what you’re saying, but for right now we can’t even go there. Don’t even expect it.”

That is… It’s just not gonna happen. So, knowing you have to put all the things that you’ve believed in your whole career off to the side for a minute, and really think about it logically, and how to work with a farmer, and the spinner, and the ginner, and this… The whole supply chain. It’s like… It’s very humbling. I feel like it’s very humbling.

Now, as I say that, I still don’t feel fast fashion brands out there… I don’t support the work that they do. I do not support their supply chains where they’re moving as fast as they are and they don’t care about people and planet, and they do greenwash. I will not meet them anywhere, the fast fashion brands, and I will always make noise about the wrong things that they are doing. But in the case of something small like this, where we have an opportunity to create something good, and maybe replicable, and not scale to some crazy amount either, isn’t that… Doesn’t it seem like a really good opportunity to try something out? Especially when you have a whole supply chain there. Let’s just figure this one thing out.

And kind of jumping over to the Southeastern New England Fibershed, one of the projects, these kind of side projects that we’re doing right now, is I’m working with a small brand who wants to make a vest and wants to use local wool. And so, I’ve been able to connect an entire supply chain, including a freak happening that we ended up getting a bunch of wool from the University of Rhode Island, because somebody had backed out of buying their wool, so my friend drove down with her pickup, got the wool, and hopefully that is something that can become part of her vest. Seems like all lights are kind of green lights right now with moving forward.

It’s gonna be woven on these really great old machines that Peggy Hart, who’s just kind of like our New England guru on wool and weaving, is gonna be doing. And we’re joining together, even like today I was on a call with some folks who want to grow some natural dye plants. There’s a lot of people that want to grow natural dyes suddenly, so that’s my strength right now, is the natural dye world, so I know the landscape, so I can really help out a lot with that. So, we might have… It looks like we have one complete supply chain in this Fibershed and we’re gonna learn a lot from it, so I’m excited to do that.

And I also had another interesting call this morning with a friend who wants to volunteer and help out a lot for this Fibershed and is working with a boutique hotel in Providence who’s interested in having a live studio there, maybe a live studio produces blankets for the boutique hotel, or uniforms, so that was a pretty exciting conversation that we had today. Because we could do that. So, now it looks like we’re just gonna have an impromptu… thanks, Zoom, impromptu Zoom call with a bunch of people who don’t know each other and just do, “Here I am.” Five minutes. Here I am, this is what I do, this is what I’d like to do, this is what I have to offer to you, to this group.

So, we’re gonna have that probably… What are we in again? Oh yeah. February. Okay, right. Probably sometime the end of this month.

LaChaun Moore: Yeah. I mean, again, everything sounds so amazing and also just so considerate and so well thought out, so very inspired by the work that you’re doing.

Amy DuFault: Thanks, LaChaun.

LaChaun Moore: And aside from these other really wonderful projects, did you have any other projects that you wanted to talk about?

Amy DuFault: I do. Yeah. The natural dye world is blowing my mind. So, I’ve been working for Botanical Colors for over eight years now and Kathy Hattori, who’s one of my dearest friends and also my boss, we’ve been working hard to really start getting more U.S. farmers to come on board and start supplying us with dyes, so we’ve got… I think we have about 10 farmers now that are supplying us with raw dye materials. And that becomes a whole other piece of storytelling, which is, “Okay, you all keep asking us, wish you had more U.S.-based dyes. We do. Now you have to buy them.” So, you’re gonna have to pay a little bit more, but you have to buy them. And we’re not having any problems with people buying the dyes, so that’s been amazing.

And then another part of what we’ve been doing is we started a whole donation page on our site because we have… I think there’s five farmers that are represented there right now, so we’re trying to work with… just trying to get more diversity in for our farmers, so we can support more, so we have like a fund for Black, Indigenous, people of color farmers, so that we can take in that money, 100% of it, except for like the PayPal fees, or whatever, like the fees that just come out in the wash there, the rest goes to our five farmers and their projects, and just gets split between all of them.

So, we’re excited about that, and supporting our farmers, but also letting all our farmers that we’re working with understand what we do need and then from those things, having all these raw dye materials, there comes another challenge. But it’s actually an opportunity, which is can somebody in the United States please learn how to turn raw dye materials into extracts so we can use them in machines?

LaChaun Moore: I’ll second that.

Amy DuFault: Yeah. Can we? I mean, are you kidding?

LaChaun Moore: Can we get some?

Amy DuFault: Can we please?

LaChaun Moore: Some natural manufacturing facilities?

Amy DuFault: Yes. Yeah. Can we-

LaChaun Moore: We just need some really good investment in some equipment, and there’s so many people willing to do the work, but if you could just get some money.

Amy DuFault: I know. Yeah, and I feel like the money is starting… It’s starting to raise its head. These investors are definitely circling. They’re definitely circling us at Botanical Colors. They’re definitely circling us at TS Designs. And they want to be part of what we are doing. We’ve got everything… We’ve got down to the nitty gritty how much we need to do what we need to do. But in terms of the extracts, making our own extracts, nobody I know… Nobody I talk to knows how to do it.

So, I’ve talked to a couple people, West Virginia University, I was talking to a student there who loves problem solving, and I said, “Dude, if you can figure that out, you’re gonna be sitting on a gold mine. And also, how about the color black? And let’s see, and how about how to be able to do the fermentation for indigo so it’s not just…” We can’t just buy plants and do fresh leaf indigo dyeing, like what are the different ways that we can start using indigo? Making cakes, or… I mean, I know Stony Creek is doing something with indigo, but I still don’t understand exactly what it is that Stony Creek does with the indigo and how it works in machines without being a fermentation vat. I feel like I need to do more homework on that.

LaChaun Moore: I’ve also been curious about that, as well, because I’ve seen their website, and I know that they are the most commercially-viable source of indigo in the U.S., at least, so I’ve been very curious of how they are processing their indigo.

Amy DuFault: There is definitely some chemistry involved in that, because I know… I think you’re still growing indigo, are you not? I think you are, right?

LaChaun Moore: Yeah.

Amy DuFault: Yeah. Yep. But yeah, we both know, I mean, you cannot put indigo inside a machine. It’s a hand-done process when you’re indigo dyeing something. You can get elaborate with how you do it, but you can’t have indigo sloshing around inside a machine.

LaChaun Moore: Right.

Amy DuFault: So, I don’t understand. But I look forward to researching it more and honestly, I should have done that a long time ago, just to better understand it. But I don’t know anybody who’s doing extracts, so there’s a real opportunity for natural dye farmers in the United States right now if somebody can figure that out. Yeah.

LaChaun Moore: And when you say dye extracts, you mean that can be used commercially, like in large machines? Or you just mean in general?

Amy DuFault: Yeah. I mean, with extracts, they’re so fine, and they can just dissolve better so that they won’t gum up a machine in a dye house. So, you know, we have people who want… We do production at Botanical Colors, too. And you know, we will have people who will come to us asking if we can use marigolds, our U.S.-grown marigolds, for instance, to do some large production dyeing. We’re like, “Oh my God, no.” We couldn’t.

LaChaun Moore: Yeah.

Amy DuFault: You’re talking about gigantic pots with marigolds floating, and steeping, and simmering, and then straining, and… Yeah, you can’t just throw them in a machine with a lot of hot water and-

LaChaun Moore: And think you’re gonna get a dye.

Amy DuFault: Yeah. So, when you have something like an extract, you can measure it, you can create a recipe or some type of a formula that’s replicable. If I use this much, I can do this many t-shirts, or this many dresses, or whatever it is, but right now it’s just sort of… That’s not possible with the raw dye materials.

Yeah, so there’s so many opportunities out there right now for fiber people, and farming people, and ways to get involved. It’s actually pretty heartening to see. So, for all the challenges, there’s definitely the opportunities. I refuse to look at it like it’s all negative.

LaChaun Moore: Yeah. Absolutely. And just listening to you and hearing you talk about all of the projects you’re working on, it’s again so inspiring, especially when I think about previous conversations we’ve had. It’s just so nice to hear the steps and how you’re just constantly moving closer and getting closer to the goal.

Amy DuFault: Yeah. Well, it was interesting, so Botanical Colors, we have… You know, the pandemic, we started this thing called Feedback Friday. So, every single Friday we have a presenter come on, and tomorrow will be week 41. I can’t… 41 episodes of this Feedback Friday. And we’ve had amazing people over those 41 weeks, so tomorrow we have Deepa… I’m not gonna say her last name properly. I had her sound it out, but it’s on a piece of paper. Natarajan. Oh, boy. Did I just butcher that one. Sorry, Deepa, if you’re listening to this.

So, what Deepa is gonna be talking about, ethnobotany and natural dyes, and we had this… Every Tuesday before, we always have a conversation. Kathy, the presenter, and myself, so we were talking Tuesday about… You know, these people who think about color, and if it’s not color fast, wash fast, light fast, then it’s not a dye you should be working with. And we actually have a few women who, if I put anything up about like say Sasha Duerr, who is one of my heroes, and some of the colors that she gets with things that are just around. She makes these beautiful color dye wheels, but the woman’s like, “It’s not real dyeing. Those are stains. Those aren’t colors that stay.”

And Deepa said you have to think about what is the reason why I want color. Is it to be a journal? Is it because I want to do a run of things and have consistent color? Is it because I want to learn more about what water pollution is doing to color when I do natural dyeing? Is it in the case of something that I’ve been doing, I’m taking natural dyes and making these t-shirt necklaces from… My father just passed eight weeks ago, and I had all these white V-neck t-shirts that my mom gave to me, so now we’ve been making… My mom and I, we’re making these necklaces, and then dyeing them with these local dyes. Actually, we used my onion peels that I’d saved during the pandemic.

And so, the necklaces have become for me something that’s my father’s and something that represents the pandemic, and the storage of stuff, meals, good meals that we had, even though all this stuff’s been going on. So, for me it’s like very sentimental. But if we go into thinking about every single thing that we do, that it has to be replicable, scalable, color fast, light fast, wash fast, then we’re missing the point in sustainability, right? I mean, we’re all gonna come at it in different ways, but to say that natural dyes, whether it’s a beet that just is a stain, to something that’s more light fast, or wash fest, like weld or something, we just have to come into these situations asking what do we want from the process.

And once we are able to answer that question, then we can move forward in the way that we should.

LaChaun Moore: And I feel also… I mean, you can get really beautiful, vibrant colors from natural dyes. It’s just a technique thing, I guess, and also it depends on what you’re working with. But I feel… I used to get the same thing back in the day when I used to work at the farmer’s market. I would do demonstrations and one of the demonstrations I would do was natural dyeing, because that was kind of like my joy, and people would always be like, “I understand that you just used this purple cabbage and I have this beautiful color of faint blue, but why?” You know?

Amy DuFault: Yeah. Yeah.

LaChaun Moore: And I would just… You know, I think at least when adding natural dyes to the market, we could at least not use chemical dyes in places where natural dyes can be used. Even if that’s jeans, like why use a chemical denim when you can use indigo? Maybe you do want that really, really bright hot pink. That cannot come from nature, but indigo can absolutely come from nature, so why not replace that?

Amy DuFault: Right. Yeah. I mean, there’s so many bright colors you can get. I mean, I love going to go to Goodwill and getting white silk shirts, and I have the best closet right now. Thanks to this pandemic and just making constantly, I have these almost neon yellows from fustic, and weld, and onion peels. I have really hot pinks from cochineal. And of course way more indigo than I’ll ever be able to wear, but I love indigo so much. It’s such a… It’s its own beast, understanding how to keep a vat healthy and working for you.

But yeah, lots of beautiful colors, and also I do a lot of bundle dyeing, too, and there’s like logwood, how amazing logwood purple is, or how about a coreopsis flower, that orange you get. That rusty, kind of orangey color. It’s just mind blowing to me, the colors that you can get from natural dyes, and they will stay, and when we are asked questions like… Almost always on Feedback Friday somebody will say, “But is it light fast?” I’ve actually started skipping those questions when people ask, because I can’t take it anymore.

There’s a lot of variables there, okay? So, how often do you wash your clothes? What do you wash your clothes with? Do you dry your clothes in a dryer or do you hang them to dry? You know, those are three biggies just right there, because dryers kill color. You know, a harsh detergent can kill color. And you know, when you’re doing… Not washing something or just spot cleaning, the color will stay a lot longer than if you’re washing it every time you wear it.

LaChaun Moore: And I, you know, whenever.. When I’ve done demonstrations and had conversations with people, they’ve had questions like that, which always kind of take me back just a bit. But the thing that always is like the underlying factor of it is that we are blaming something for an issue or an outcome that we are portraying, like the reason why the clothes might fade is because we are using, or we’ve implemented this system that is not conducive for the outcome that we want. So, as opposed to thinking, “Oh, we should fix the way we wash and dry.” We’re just gonna say, “No, this entity doesn’t have any value, let’s get rid of it.”

And I think it’s the systems that need to change, whether we’re talking about a naturally-dyed good, or we’re talking about a farming system, how do we get people to shift the focus into thinking about creating systems around what we want to see, as opposed to trying to jump to what we want. If that makes sense. I don’t know if I’m putting that together properly.

Amy DuFault: Yeah. No, I totally get what you’re saying. I mean, think about it in terms of color. If we actually had color bars out there, where you brought your clothes to a place to be re-naturally dyed or something, to get another dip in indigo, to get a bundle dyed kind of thing. Almost like a… I guess I never thought about it this way, but like a dry cleaner, right? Drop off your stuff, pick the colors you want, come back in a couple days and it’ll be ready and hanging and ready for you, but like… So, how exciting, you have something that’s new, refreshed with natural dyes. Of course, it’s a plant or animal-based fiber that you’re using, because synthetics are not gonna take that natural dye.

But you know, that could be a whole way of re-dyeing, re-dyeing kind of popups, or a chain that’s out there. Just to get people to think. And that educates people. That’s an idea, like why aren’t more people who create appliances creating… I mean, like on my current dryer I can put it on a low heat. You know, you can kind of play around with the settings a bit, but knowing that heat kills color no matter what, if it’s a synthetic or a natural. I mean,-

LaChaun Moore: Right.

Amy DuFault: Better education for consumers about high heat, and then with high heat comes higher bills, and also more strain on just kind of the need for us all to be more energy efficient. I wash everything in cold water and then all my clothes I actually hang dry. I have a son who does construction, so he’s got really dirty Carhartts and really worn out things, and they just… If I put them outside right now, they’d be like pieces of wood from how cold it is out. So, I have to put that in the dryer. But you know, you just kind of take it case by case, but yeah, the rethinking about the way that we handle our clothes, look at our clothes as having more than one life, and there’s just so many ways to kind of rethink everything, and they’re not hard.

I don’t sew. I don’t knit. My mom’s great at it. I don’t do those things. And I always tell people if in an apocalypse you need me, I will sew you something that looks like it’s ready for the apocalypse, but definitely not for anything else. But you know, natural dyes are my thing, and I love playing around with color. Like tonight, I’m excited. I have a pot of the rest of that onion peel dye downstairs, and I have four pieces of wool gauze in there, two mordanted, two not, and I’m gonna do the Sasha Duerr test where you overdye one with iron that’s mordanted and unmordanted, and then you leave the other one kind of… whatever.

So, you end up getting four colors, which is exciting to see that you can get four colors once you just modify things with like soda ash, or vinegar, or citric acid, or just squeeze a lemon into something and swish it around the water and throw something in. I have a Himalayan rhubarb root, a sweater I dyed in that, and Kathy from Botanical Colors said if I just added a little… I think it was soda ash, then I could actually make it go kind of a burgundy kind of a color from the yellow. I was like, “What?” And it’s always sort of on the edge. It’s little spots on it that I’m like… It just wants to be that color. I can tell.

But you know, we just started selling Sappan wood, which is like a really pretty pink, almost like a cochineal pink. But if you put a little calcium carbonate in the dye bath before you put your goods in, you can make it like a really deep kind of a burgundy color, which is what I ended up doing, and now I have another one of those t-shirt necklaces for my sister-in-law that’s like a really pretty deep purple. So, it’s like the more you play around with things, the more you understand how to manipulate color just using things that are around your house that are in your cupboards, your refrigerator, so it’s not dangerous. And then just kind of bringing new things to life with it all, but there’s also a math that’s involved, and science that’s involved, so you start understanding color better and why color does what it does because of the composition of it.

To me, that’s like geeky, and mind blowing, and amazing. I love it. Because I’ve never been into math and science. I was an English major, journalism major in college, so that I even care about math and science right now is like, “Whoa.” Yeah.

LaChaun Moore: Well, when you find something that you love and inspires you, you will probably find yourself working with so many mediums and so many things that are unexpected.

Amy DuFault: Yeah. I think the idea just of making in general, you know? Whether it’s weaving, or knitting, or dyeing paper, making paper. Like our Feedback Fridays, when we first started, we had… It was a blog post we used to do every Friday. Kathy would answer questions and then we decided to go live when the pandemic hit. It was just to like, “Let’s get everybody so they don’t feel so alone to join us on Zoom.” The first one, we had about 35 people, and then the next one we had about 70 people, and then the next one we had 100 people, and I will tell you, last week we had 560 people that RSVP’d, and tomorrow, just peeked in right before we talked, and we have 400 people RSVP’d for tomorrow. And most of those people are actually starting to show up and not just half the amount. And one of the things we hear from people, we’ll get messages on social media, emails, that people just feel so happy to be part of a community, and maybe they were a weaver, but they’d never used natural dyes and now they’re using natural dyes, and then there were natural dyers who never knit, that learned how to knit. There’s these crossovers that are happening with all these makers on Feedback Friday that have completely blown our minds at how tight the community is, how the minimum, 250 people, mostly women, show up every single Friday.

We have our own theme song that my husband wrote, which is riffing off of weird ‘80s sitcom songs that we play, and people actually get up and dance, and you can see them, because we hold it like a meeting, not a webinar, so everybody… I always feel bad for the people who have never been. They’re like, “What the hell is going on right now? Why are people dancing?” But it’s just this Friday we come together as kind of like a church. It’s the period at the end of a sentence where you didn’t think the week could ever end. Maybe it was good, maybe it was bad, but we have people who set their alarm clocks in the middle of the night in other countries just to get on. I mean, I’ve never seen anything like this in my years in sustainability. I have never seen anything like this, where people just want to be together and talk about making things, and get inspired, and educated.

Our business, like Botanical Colors is doing amazing through this because of the community that we’ve built, and we didn’t start it to be some pitchy thing, to have financial gains. We’re like we needed to do it for ourselves to connect, because we were sad, and lonely, and we thought it would be fun, and it totally worked, and ask anybody who comes every Friday. It’s like they’re serious, like they’re ready to get inspired. That’s very exciting. I love it. I look forward to Fridays. These are like at this point, I mean, I just love them. I actually tell them like, “I love you guys. Thank you for showing up again. Thank you for helping me get through another week. And you know, we were happy we were able to do it for you too, but you mean as much to us as we mean to you.”

LaChaun Moore: Amazing. So, it’s been so wonderful talking to you today, and before I ask you our closing question, is there a way that people can reach out to you on social media or the internet?

Amy DuFault: You know, if you follow me on Instagram, that is your best bet. So, I am @amytropolis on Instagram, and in my bio it says… I have something like Chief Communicator at… and it has a link to the Southeastern New England Fibershed, it has a link to TS Designs, and it has a link to Botanical Colors. So, find me on Instagram and then you’ll find all the other places I’ve been talking about.

LaChaun Moore: Amazing. So, before you go, we have one question that we ask everyone, and that is do you have any advice or words of wisdom to share with weavers and textile enthusiasts?

Amy DuFault: Well, yeah. I mean, one of the things that, again, kind of going back to Feedback Fridays, and listening. We’ve had weavers on the show, we’ve had whatever, I think it’s exciting for weavers to think about trying out natural dyes as part of their practice and just seeing, like giving natural dyes a chance to be part of their design and a part of their color exploration. I just… I can’t say enough how much it'll change everything that they do, especially if they really think about it. Like place-based color, or U.S.-based color, or historical color that might go along with something that they’re creating that’s place based, or historical.

So, you know, I would push your weavers to try out natural dyes, because it’s a whole other rabbit hole that they should dive into.

LaChaun Moore: Amazing. Thank you so much. I really appreciate all of the wonderful insights that you shared with us.

Amy DuFault: Thank you for having this podcast and having so many great people on that I get to listen to a lot, as soon as it pops up on my phone that there’s another episode I’m like, “Yes.”

LaChaun Moore: That’s so sweet.

Amy DuFault: I can’t wait till it says my name. I’m gonna be like, “Whoa! Yeah!”

LaChaun Moore: Awesome. Take care.

Amy DuFault: All right. You too.

LaChaun Moore: That’s a wrap. If you’re interested in supporting some of the projects mentioned in our conversation or to see a full transcript of this week’s episode, you can visit www.gistyarn.com/episode-133. Thank you for tuning into this week’s episode. Until next time, happy weaving!

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