New York Pol Touts State’s Natural Fiber Potential

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This year, designers aren’t the only ones debuting their innovative ideas during New York Fashion Week; the state’s government is, too.

New York State Governor Kathy Hochul revealed Saturday her administration had proposed that the state’s 2025 executive budget include a $5 million allotment for hemp and bio-based product processing.

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Per a release from the governor’s office, that investment could increase the production of natural fibers, which fashion and apparel companies have been working to adopt in line with some of their sustainability commitments and interests.

“New York’s economy is built on our world-renowned fashion industry and the designers, farmers, manufacturers and other professionals who keep the industry moving,” Hochul said in a statement. “This Fashion Week, I am doubling down on my commitment to supporting fashion in New York and ensuring that the industry, which generates more than $24 billion in wages for hard working New Yorkers, continues to move our economy forward.”

Hochul also shared the newest recommendations from New York’s Natural Fiber Textile Development Workgroup, which has a mandate to understand how natural fibers and textiles contribute to New York’s economy; up the number of jobs in the state’s textile industry; source private funds that would further New York-based companies’ efforts in the natural fibers and textiles arenas and more.

A spokesperson from Hochul’s office said the governor will continue to support the industry based on the suggestions from the workgroup.

“Governor Hochul is committed to supporting natural fiber and textile manufacturers across New York who keep the industry moving and will review the workgroup’s recommendations to determine how best to grow their role in our state’s economy,” the spokesperson said.

Fiber processing

The report detailing the workgroup’s recommendations notes that while New York has the climate and natural resources to foster the growth of natural fibers, it lacks the infrastructure for those fibers to be processed in the state. While New York does have nine fiber processing mills, those mills alone cannot support the state’s output.

“Due to the lack of infrastructure and processing options, the wait for a farmer to receive their finished yarn/product back from a mill can be 12 months or more. Most farmers shear or harvest once yearly, so that means it can take up to two years before a farmer has any product to sell,” the report states.

Because of these infrastructure issues, the committee recommended that the state support grant opportunities for the expansion of existing fiber processing mills, as well as the establishment of new mills.

Pooling natural fibers 

The workgroup found that, because many of New York’s fiber farmers don’t consider fiber farming their primary job, they lack the time to effectively market their product. Per the report, that can result in farmers choosing to store wool and other fibers for long periods of time or can cause them to capture less profit than they could.

The workgroup said it recognized the importance of increasing the sale and movement of natural fibers if the state wants to encourage more farmers to join the industry. The report notes that aggregation of wool and other bio-based fibers would be useful to designers and other buyers who have an interest in sourcing wool from New York.

Creating at least one warehouse that could pool farmers’ yields, the workgroup asserted, would benefit farmers, natural fiber purchasers and end consumers alike.

“Many fiber farms are small and could potentially benefit from partnering with other farms to combine their raw fiber to create a finished product. This would help farmers because their costs would decrease with economies of scale. It would also benefit the end consumer because prices would decrease as more efficiency is built into the system,” the report states.

While the benefits may be apparent, building shared warehouses could require an investment from the state. For that reason, the workgroup’s official recommendation on aggregation was to “support an economic impact and feasibility study to determine the best way to develop a warehouse and its management to ensure long-term economic viability.”

Educating farmers and consumers

The state also has an interest in raising the number of farmers actively growing and producing natural fibers, but per the report, many newcomers find they don’t know where to start.

For that reason, the workgroup recommended the development of a mentorship program, which would connect seasoned farmers to newbies looking to get started. It also suggested the creation of a digital resources library, which would include a variety of educational videos farmers could turn to to improve their techniques.

Per the report, the workgroup expects that the digital library “could make a large impact on the quality of fiber produced in the state and, in turn, farmer profits.”

The state also wants to encourage young people in search of a viable career path to consider fiber farming and processing. The workgroup has proposed that the state should focus part of its efforts on recent college graduates, noting that it could leverage a state program that allocates funds to further develop and promote apprenticeships to do so.

But per the report, farmers—and potential natural fiber employees—aren’t the only ones who need to be educated.

The workgroup notes that the average consumer does not understand the difference between items that have been manufactured with natural fibers and items that have been manufactured with synthetic fibers. Because natural fibers often come at a higher cost, consumers who lack the knowledge to discern between the goods could choose to purchase products made with synthetic fibers.

The workgroup suggested that the state should consider launching an educational campaign, with consumer-facing marketing materials and activations at events like the New York State Fair, to help bridge the gap.

Per the report, the Natural Fiber Textile Development Workgroup will meet twice in 2024 to “focus on opportunities to implement [its] recommendations.” It will also develop further recommendations for 2025.