One of the first groups that I started working with after moving to the Pacific Northwest was the PNW Fiber Web Cooperative. The project began as a effort to build resources for the animal fiber producers and fiber artists on the Olympic Peninsula. The wool industry in the U.S. collapsed in the 90’s with globalization and competition from Asia and Oceania (most of the wool that the U.S. uses now comes from New Zealand and Australia).
However, that doesn’t mean that fiber production is extinct in the U.S. as anyone who has attended a county or state fair can attest. Sheep, Alpaca, Goat, and even Yak are currently in abundance on the Olympic Peninsula and throughout the PNW. As part of NWCDC’s engagement with the Fiber Web co-op, we helped produce this video about their project:
Working with the group, it became clear that they only way to really make any wool products pencil out would be to have a mill. While the co-op does provide other services (see below), the mill is still the main goal for the co-op.
In 2017, the board decided to rename itself and begin operating at Twisted Strait Fibers (a nod to the Strait of Juan de Fuca). They began a membership drive to raise the capital to start a full-service fiber mill. They entered and won the Washington Coast Works competition in 2017. The prize from WCW went into creating the commercial website that provides a marketplace for their members.
They are still working towards the mill, but are also in operations. They provide trainings to the general public on fiber arts. One of the most interesting to me, is the upcoming “Create a Skinnfell” session.
One of the great aspects of my job is that I get to learn about a lot of different industries and sectors! I know more about animal fiber than I ever thought that I would need to know (and I really don’t know that much). I also get to work with very committed and engaged people who work to bring their passion into the world. These folks are the epitome of the co-op values of self-help and self-responsibility and while perserverance is not an offical co-op value or principle, as the members of Twisted Strait Cooperative demonstrate, it is an very important quality.