Who made your clothes? Introducing Julie Moore of Fiberactive Organics

(Julie Moore, Founder of Fiberactive Organics wearing a shawl she knitted from North Carolina grown organic cotton)

As we are taking part in both Earth Day and Fashion Revolution Day this week, we are going to focus on sustainability and transparency on the blog by introducing some incredibly inspiring individuals and companies that we are collaborating with to create organic kidswear here in the USA. Purchasing a garment means purchasing a whole chain of value and relationships - therefore transparency is hugely important to us at Ruth & Ragnar, we want you to be able to answer the question "who made my clothes?" - even down to the thread! 

First up, the creative artist and founder of FiberActive Organics, Julie Moore. I was first introduced to Julie by Shannon Whitehead during my time in the Factory 45 program as Shannon knew I wanted everything in our kidswear line to be 100% organic, thread included. Enter Julie. When she first started Fiberactive Organics back in 1993 it was a quilting company that has grown, evolved, helped and inspired people across the country and the globe. Her life is like a beautiful indie film with an altruistic & business savvy heroine as the main character. She has gone from quilting to creating organic thread to handcrafting unique urns all the while having a life changing impact in the lives of Montagnard families in North Carolina.

Julie, thank you for creating the world’s first organic cotton thread! We are incredibly excited to use your GOTS-certified thread in our kidswear line! Please tell us about the thread and how it’s different from any other thread on the market?

I can’t really say I’ve created the world’s first organic thread because the world only had organic cotton thread before we introduced chemicals in the 1950s. I think what we’ve done is just gone back to our roots. A few others tried to bring organic thread to market in the 1990s, but finding a spinner willing to make organic sewing thread proved to be the biggest problem. The threads that came before Fiberactive Natural just didn’t perform well so they didn’t sell.

Fiberactive Natural thread is spun in Peru from organic cotton that is grown in Peru. After two years of trying to convince US spinners to make thread for me, my thread partner, Jim Miller of YLI Corp started looking for spinners outside the US. The goal was to find someone as close to home as possible to keep the carbon footprint down.

(Examples of some of the lovely colors of organic cotton thread offered by Fiberactive Organics.)

Just like organic foods, organic cotton is grown without all the disastrous chemicals that are used on what I call “chemo” cotton. There are a million things we don’t do to Fiberactive Natural thread, we don’t treat it with anything during processing, it is not mercerized, or coated with anything to make spinning or spooling easier. What we do is clean, comb and spin raw organic cotton. That’s all.

The next thing we wanted was colored organic thread. So Jim went searching and at an industrial trade show in Europe he found a company called Forbitex of Holland that was looking for someone to market their wonderful organic cotton thread that they make in 34 different colors. It’s called Scanfil. Fiberactive is now the distributor of Scanfil thread. Scanfil is made up of certified organic cotton grown in several countries. It is mixed, cleaned and spun then colored with fiber-reactive dyes according to the GOTS standrards.

Please tell us about the women you work with at Fiberactive Organics?

The women that I work with are Montagnards, the indigenous people of Vietnam. They helped our Special Forces during the Vietnam war so the Vietnamese have been conducting a slow genocide of the Montagnards ever since. If a Montagnard can escape from Vietnam they seek protection in refugee camps along the borders in Thailand and Cambodia. The UN, LIRS and other NGOs find sponsors for them and they are placed in the US, Canada, Finland and a handful of other countries.

More than 10 years ago my church sponsored five Montagnard men. We made them a home and found jobs for them. Then started working on bringing their wives and children out of Vietnam. It took four years to get the first woman out. When she arrived she felt helpless in our society. She had never had electricity, running water or any kind of tools. Their language is specific to their village in the mountains of Vietnam, so there were no translators.

(Jum creating in Julie's sew studio)

I had just lost the use of my right hand and needed someone to help me with sewing. Somehow in our efforts to communicate and work together Jum and I formed a deep bond. When her niece got here the following year I knew she needed the same kind of help, so I took her in and home schooled her. As more women arrived each one came to work in my sewing studio. I began designing products that were within each woman’s capabilities.

(English Language Classes held in the sew studio)

Now they all speak English well enough to function. Once people heard about us donations started coming in and now each of the women has a sewing station in her home. I take materials to them and they give me back finished products. We make bow ties for a company called Olly Oxen, cat toys for a company called Organicat and lots of other things.

When did sustainability become so important to you?

My father raised most of our food organically on a five acre horse ranch in Kansas City. I studied the environment with him over the years. Then continued with organic gardening when I had my own home. I never could see the logic in making something out of new materials when you could re-use materials to make something new. That’s how the pioneers started piecing quilts - that’s how I got interested in making quilts. Now that the world is so small and the impact of our disposable society is so obvious, I’ve gone from being thought of as eccentric, to interesting, to artistic, to inspiring, and finally now I’m trendy!

Please tell us more about Earth to Earth, the natural burial process you have helped to create.

I’ve never thought of death as a terrible thing to be avoided at all cost the way our society does. And I’ve always wanted to be wrapped in a quilt and laid directly in the ground. So, several years ago when I met Jane Hillhouse of Final Footprint and learned about the burgeoning green burial movement I knew I had found another home for my ideas and creativity. At the time I had no idea how horrible conventional burial is for the environment, but now that I know I’m really glad to be part of the natural burial industry and I’m doing all I can to spread the word. I’m going to be buried in a natural burial cemetery in Wake Forest NC. I have my own organic cotton shroud ready and waiting for me. Someday this body is going to be part of a beautiful forest. That’s everlasting life!

Quilts, thread and urns, I am amazed and incredibly inspired by your story, please tell us about the road to get here!

You know how when you’re driving out in the country on a beautiful day and you see a charming country lane and you just can’t resist turning in to see what is there? That’s how I’ve conducted my life. An irresistible path presents itself and I just trust my higher power and walk down it. I never planned any of this, I just kept myself open to the universe and the roads took me to beautiful places.

To push for more transparency, the Fashion Revolution Day Campaign is encouraging people to turn their clothes inside out on April 24th and ask "who made my clothes?". Who made your clothes?

Most of my clothes come from second hand stores. I find the coolest stuff! And it’s so cheap! I love to upcycle things that are not quite right or that don’t fit me. I also love to knit my own clothes from yarns that I find at flea markets or better yet spin myself. The first certified organic cotton crop in NC history was grown by Orpha Gene Watson in 2012. I wanted to support the effort, so I bought a bail of cotton from him. It weighed 450 lbs and it resides in my front room. I spin cotton yarn from it and I teach spinning classes and sell my cotton to my students. I think I have enough cotton to last about three lifetimes. But I love it!

Mountains or ocean?
I lived at the base of Pikes Peak for several years and I love to ski. But there’s nothing like the ocean for meditation and putting life into perspective.

Favorite quote?
"You take with you not what you have had, but what you have done.” Who said that? I did.

Favorite piece of clothing in your wardrobe?
A skirt that I knitted from weaving yarn found at an old fabric mill here in NC.

Favorite place to visit in North Carolina?
The Montagnard Community Garden on a Sunday evening. The women are weeding or gathering vegetables for dinner. The men play volley ball on the court near by and the children hover around Grandma Julie to see what she’s going to dig up.

Last time you laughed out loud?
When one of my little Montagnard boys tasted his first radish.


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