Creating soil to soil textiles relies on the collaboration and talents of each piece of the value chain. From the rancher managing the landscape to the wearer caring for an item in their wardrobe, a series of milling processes make fiber into finished goods. Through decades of so-called free trade deals and an expanding market of underpaid labor, the American textile industry has downsized and dwindled. Though less than 2% of garments worn by Americans are currently made in the USA, we know that many mills have remained on the landscape. As we approach the idea of regionalizing textiles and supporting circular systems that invest in the local economy, we know that our milling partners are key, and understanding their offerings will allow us to support their endeavors. Yet, we frequently receive requests from fiber producers, textile designers, and others searching for a mill to engage in collaboration to create goods. To serve the community and our mission, we began a research project to understand fiber milling at a national scale.
The National Mill Inventory began with the goal of illuminating fiber milling capabilities across the United States. Reaching out to mill owners and operators at all scales, we sought to understand what services are offered, what supply chains are possible, and what components need fortification to support a thriving domestic and regionalized textile industry.
To visualize the fiber processing opportunities around the country, we are launching an open-source visualization that maps regional mills and offers a way to connect with appropriate project partners. The National Mill Inventory Explorer is a navigational tool to understand and connect with fiber processors, and can be viewed online by clicking here.
Curious about how fiber becomes fabric, how to search for mills using the National Mill Inventory tool, or how to scope out the true cost of creating yarn? The video above walks through milling research and resources including a quick overview of the steps of fiber processing, and a guided tour of the National Mill Inventory map including how to filter the results by fiber type, volume, or geography. Then, learn more about some of the creative and practical decisions involved in making yarn at regional mills in the United States, with a narrated guide to Fibershed’s free worksheet, Let’s Make Yarn.
Download a free step-by-step worksheet for tracking and estimating the cost and variables of making single source or blended yarns: Let’s Make Yarn: a Milling Modeling Worksheet
We began with a series of questions designed to understand the capabilities and capacity of mills, and then compiled a list of known fiber mills through interpersonal knowledge, community information, and online searches. Reaching out to mill owners, we began conducting phone interviews and sending out questionnaires by email.
For mills that did not provide a response, we sought out as much information as we could through individual websites, network connections and communications.
Our findings are based on synthesizing this body of information, from the survey process, research, discussions, and supply chain experiences. Our goal in sharing these findings is to foster greater understanding of milling capabilities in the United States. The summary report includes:
- A ‘by the numbers’ look at fiber processing across the United States — sum totals of facilities and services by region, by fiber type, and by capability
- An overview of the scale of fiber processing, from mini mills to industrial facilities
- A discussion of the ‘bottleneck’ of fiber processing: scouring at scale and on-site at smaller mills
- A list of the limited but exciting offerings of production weaving services
- Notes on additional challenges facing the industry, such as lead time or turnaround time, and labor
- Why pooling fiber makes sense for meeting larger minimum orders
- How approaching mill owners as supply chain partners can support a successful collaboration
- An introduction to the idea of prosumption and how modern craft is reshaping the role of consumers
- The role of designers in providing the ‘pull through’ to facilitate domestic production
Download and read the summary report: Mill Inventory Report
Explore our map of mills by visiting: http://nationalmillinventory.com/explore-mills/
(Photos by Jess Daniels)