Follow a sweater with an “Italian Merino” label back far enough and chances are its life began not in Milan, but in Montana. Many people want to look behind the label and know where their clothes come from, but the textile supply chain-one of the most toxic on the planet-remains largely invisible. In Raw Material, Stephany Wilkes tells the story of American wool through her own journey to becoming a certified sheep shearer.
What begins as a search for local yarn becomes a dirty, unlikely, and irresistible side job. Wilkes leaves her high tech job for a way of life considered long dead in the American West. Along the way, she meets ornery sheep that weigh more than she does, carbon-sequestering ranchers, landless grazing operators, rare breed stewards, and small-batch yarn makers struggling with drought, unfair trade agreements, and faceless bureaucracies as they work to bring eco-friendly fleece to market.
Raw Material demonstrates that the back must break to clothe the body, and that excellence often comes by way of exhaustion. With humor and humility, Wilkes follows wool from the farm to the factory, through the hands of hardworking Americans trying to change the culture of clothing. Her story will appeal to anyone interested in the fiber arts or the textile industry, and especially to environmentally conscious consumers, as it extends the concerns of the sustainable food movement to fleece, fiber, and fashion.