Local Cloth: The Creative Thread Continues

Since 2011, Local Cloth -- an Asheville-based nonprofit composed of fiber hobbyists and full-time professionals alike -- has been committed to growing the economy of the region's textile and fiber sector "by connecting people that raise the raw material with those who use [the] materials to make garments and household goods," says Judi Jetson, the organization's chairman.

During this time, support for the group's work has steadily increased. According to the nonprofit's website, the Asheville "fibershed" (defined as the fiber community located within a 100-mile radius of the city) includes 2,500 fiber hobbyists, 462 fiber animal farms, more than 400 fiber art professionals, 80 related galleries, over 80 textile-related retail shops, and seven schools and colleges with programs in fiber arts.

Taken together, these numbers underscore the organization's crucial role in supporting and promoting the sector. Jetson likens part of what Local Cloth does for its constituents to the local food goals of Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project.

"It's a very typical rural economic development strategy in the U.S. and in developing countries," she explains. "You see what raw materials are present in the community, then you figure out how to add value to them and how to substitute them for things that may be imported."

A decade since it launched, Local Cloth is entering its next phase, moving from its previous location inside The Refinery on the South Slope to a community-centered space at 408 Depot St. in the River Arts District. The nonprofit will host its grand opening on Saturday, June 12, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; the celebration will feature demonstrations, workshops and live music.

The move, notes Jetson, is a welcome change for an organization that has plans for continued growth.

In the beginning
Local Cloth started out small, putting together educational exhibits explaining how clothes are made. "People would show their fiber and fleece," Jetson says. "We had one exhibit where someone had an Angora rabbit in her lap and spun some yarn from it while the exhibit was going on."

From there, the membership organization grew rapidly and scheduled additional events, including a fashion show. "We found that more and more people were interested in learning some of the techniques that we use," Jetson says, "whether it be weaving or spinning or dyeing or painting on fabric."

Recognizing its expanding role within the community, Local Cloth's leadership began exploring possibilities to acquire a space to host classes. Ultimately, in 2015, the group found a home at The Refinery on Coxe Avenue.

At the time, the Asheville Area Arts Council managed the site. "We were one of their 'anchor tenants,'" Jetson says. "One of a few organizations that would help provide some ongoing stability in the building."

During its five years at The Refinery, Local Cloth grew its membership to more than 200 people. Educational offerings increased at a similar pace. "We established that not only was there a need for classes and interest in them, but that we could provide some income to local artists [through] teaching," Jetson explains.

Currently, the organization offers 70 to 100 classes each year, taught by 25 to 30 different local instructors. The pandemic has led Local Cloth to provide some of its training online via Zoom, which Jetson believes will continue even after the COVID-19 era subsides.

But returning to in-person classes remains essential to the nonprofit's identity. "I still can't teach beginning spinning class online," Jetson says. "And I probably never will, because it's really tactile."

Next logical step
For Jetson, the move to the River Arts District is the next logical step for the organization. The new space is three times larger than Local Cloth's footprint at The Refinery and will include a retail gallery, working areas for resident artists and plenty of room for classes.

But its greatest asset, notes Jetson, is its visibility. The River Arts District attracts more foot traffic, which Jetson believes will help put Local Cloth on the map, moving the organization from an intentionally quiet endeavor to "something that more people can take part in."

Over the years, Jetson continues, she has found that people join the nonprofit for a number of reasons. Some come for the perks. "We give a little bit better price on classes if you're a member," she says. Constituents who sell their fiber goods at the organization's annual Fiber Farmers Day also get a discount on booth rentals.

"But a lot of people are members because they believe in the mission," Jetson emphasizes. "They believe in growing the fiber economy, and joining Local Cloth is part of the way they can participate and support it."

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