CHICO, Calif. – Have you ever wondered where your clothes come from? How about where the materials used to make your clothes come from?
In an effort to answer those questions, a Chico-based couple has launched a new business venture designed to bring a new crop and new business opportunity to Butte County.
“We hope to provide a new industry to Northern California,” said Durl Van Alstyne. “Our goal is to grow small parcels of flax to be machined processed into linen and yarn.”
Flax is a crop that is resistant to many pests and insects and it needs little water. Planting a variety of flax in a three-acre farm not far from downtown Chico, Van Alstyne and Sandy Fisher are hoping their vision brings a new type of ‘texture’ to the region.
Fisher says flax can and does grow in this region. She said it can also grow in the foothills and even on the coast.
As a lifelong artisan and weaver, Fisher says harvesting flax is not difficult work and simply time-intensive. She explains that linen is derived from flax, but that material has not been a strong player in the textile industry here in the United States.
Fisher said there are currently no linen mills in the United States, but sees this industry as one that could be lucrative. She said if the region had a mill locally, farmers from all over Northern California could bring their flax for processing, to be turned into various products.
As the venture gets off the ground, many volunteers have recently visited the farm to help harvest the flax. One woman drove all the way from Tulare County to take part in the effort.
Volunteer Iwona Mamolik describes flax as a great plant and end product. She said linen is a breathable fabric and perfect for California weather.
Fisher said the process of taking flax from the field to an end-product involves several steps. First, the flax must be soaked in water. Then, it is dried. Once that is finished the remaining product is processed by hand in preparation to be used for spinning or weaving.
Fisher said her desire to know more of where her clothes and the materials used to make her clothing originate, helped spur this business project. She said growing flax and turning it into a product creates connectivity not found with store-bought items.
Fisher and Van Alstyne say they envision their enterprise, Chico Flax, as being able to create local jobs for processing, harvesting and weaving of flax.
They said they have already had some interest from the bay area fashion industry in their concept.