Homegrown Homespun: The project growing sustainably-produced jeans in the Lancashire countryside

It all started when Justine Aldersey-Williams wanted to fix a pair of jeans.

Thursday, 17th June 2021, 4:55 am
Justine Aldersey-Williams, Patrick Grant, and Laurie Peake of the British Textile Biennial (Beatrice Photography)
Justine Aldersey-Williams, Patrick Grant, and Laurie Peake of the British Textile Biennial (Beatrice Photography)

As a natural dye artisan with The Wild Dyery and a teacher committed to sustainable practices, she wanted to use British fibres and natural dyes - not too demanding a request in a country with Britain’s textiles heritage, right?

Wrong.

“It was impossible,” says Justine. “There are no linen spinning facilities in the UK anymore [and] no arable textile crops since our entire industry was off-shored over 60 years ago. The idea of making a mending kit has exploded into a much more ambitious project.”

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Sustainably-created linen

That project is Homegrown Homespun. A collaboration between the North West England Fibreshed (founded by Justine herself last March), Patrick Grant of the Great British Sewing Bee, and arts programme Super Slow Way, the project is setting out to do what has become depressingly difficult: make a pair of sustainably-sourced British jeans.

Following litter-picking and ploughing (even the soil was tested by scientists from RegenAgri), flax and woad was planted on disused urban land in Blackburn in April to then be turned into linen and natural indigo dye. All being well, the products will be used to make a pair of jeans at the British Textile Biennial in October.

Homegrown Homespun then aims to create the necessary manufacturing infrastructure to enable their prototype jeans to be upscaled into a full production line launched by Patrick Grant’s social enterprise Community Clothing by the following biennial in 2023. All being well, there’s plenty of retting, scutching, hackling, spinning, dyeing, weaving, and sewing to come.

“I spoke to Patrick about getting textile crops reintroduced but also to create that mid-scaled manufacturing infrastructure to make it a viable possibility,” says Justine. “Everyone’s so excited and people are ready to get involved: we’re working in a socially-deprived area due, in part, to the decimation of the textiles industry and the off-shoring which took place.

Justine of The Wild Dyery and Patrick of Community Clothing

“The response has been pure joy,” she adds. “Subsistence farming and the textiles industry is in the fibre of our heritage, if you’ll pardon the pun. Reviving that feels right; it’s a massive challenge and there’s no guarantees, but we’re going to give it a good shot.”

Ambitious as it may be, the Homegrown Homespun project lands a few home truths. Textiles are one of the largest contributors to the climate crisis thanks to fast fashion’s wildly unsustainable reliance on carbon-filthy plastic fibres such as acrylic, nylon, and polyester.

Committed as she is to championing sustainable fashion, the uncomfortable truth which faced Justine when she sought to repair her jeans was that eco-friendly ambitions in the textiles world are severely hampered by the brutal prevalence of carbon-heavy global supply chains which contribute to not only environmental exploitation, but to human exploitation too.

“So often our purchases support poor quality, exploitation, and pollution, all cleverly concealed by an expensive ad campaign,” says Justine. “[We] recognise that changing the paradigm may take time, experimentation, trial, and - no doubt - error, but nothing will feel better next to the skin than clothing that has regenerated a local ecology and economy.”

Motivated by her desire to ‘be a good ancestor’ as she puts it, Justine’s efforts and those embodied in the Homegrown Homespun project are evidence of the fact that another way is eminently possible.

“At a time when humanity is facing the devastating effects of climate change and loss of biodiversity, regenerative fashion initiatives like this can offer much-needed hope,” Justine explains.

“Everyone who wears clothing must now choose whether it comes from imported, non-renewable, fossilised carbon or locally grown, renewable carbon, from plants like flax. One option pollutes throughout the entirety of its lifespan, the other has the potential to reverse climate change.”