Sourcing Locally: Friends + Flowers Totes
Textile manufacturing within the United States has declined so significantly over the last 30 years that developing a domestic supply chain for a product has become something of an art form. I’ve spent years visiting mills, vetting sources, ferreting out contacts, and putting together trails of crumbs to create domestic supply chains; so when you find a factory right in your own back yard that is willing to work with you - it can feel like a magical discovery. Asheville has a hidden gem right off of Swannonoa River Rd (behind Brother Wolf) in Cross Canvas Company. Cross Canvas was the first company I turned to for the project bags that you all know and love, but the truth is that those bags barely scratch the surface of what Cross Canvas excels at creating - branded canvas totes. This year we have expanded our tote line a bit to create something that truly celebrates the things we love.
Glenn Russell and his team have been creating custom, made to order branded bags and totes here in Asheville since the late ’80s. They held on to their business while countless other factories closed their doors thanks to their flexibility, customization, customer service, and investment in new technology. They have a friendly and devoted team that handles so much of what they do in-house that they have been able to weather the seas as many aspects of manufacturing here have evaporated and stay in business creating what they are good at.
Cross Canvas has an in house pattern and sampling team - so you head to them with an idea for a bag and they quickly make it real. You can also work with them and supply your own custom artwork that they can screen print or (in our case) digitally print directly on the fabric you select. They also have a room full of embroidery machines for logos or artwork, as well as the ability to emboss images into leather. Their manufacturing combines old school know-how with new school machines and technologies so that they can create really quality product.
The thing about the future of American manufacturing operations is that, unlike in the past where supply chains were a closely guarded secret, resources like Cross Canvas need to shared. We want to share our supply chain in hopes that more and more people will turn to suppliers right in their own hometown. The cool thing about being able to visit your mills is that you know the working conditions, you know the people sourcing the materials, you know the quality that you can expect, and you know that your tote bag didn’t travel 12,000 miles worth of carbon emissions to get into your inventory room. Got an idea for a bag? Drop them a line. We also suggest checking out the Carolina Textile District for other resources in local and domestic manufacturing.
Sourcing local inspiration for this tote was not even remotely difficult. All of the flowers depicted in the design grow right outside the door of the mill in our experimental dye garden. The dye garden is seeded, grown, weeded, and shared by everyone working at the mill. Marigolds, Tansy, Indigo, Madder, Hopi Black Dye Sunflowers, and Equisetum are all represented on the tote, and are also a colorful presence in our daily lives in the summer. The animals seen on the tote are an Alpaca, Sheep, and a little Angora rabbit among the hills and mountains we call home and under the stars we all share. We wanted the three animals seen there to represent our dedication to a triple bottom line - People, Planet, and Profit. We have been using alpaca and wool fibers in our yarns for years, but getting to add angora rabbit fur to the line for Bunnypaca has felt like a real accomplishment. As much as seeing these flowers outside our door every day is a treasure, working with these fibers from local farmers all day long within the mill really gets at the heart of why Echoview was founded and what drives us.
As quickly as the idea for the tote formulated, the idea of who could bring it to life did too. I have long admired the work of local artist, Ratbee Press & Design. I find myself picking up her work in shops in town or at craft fairs and flipping the print over and thinking “Of course, it’s by Ratbee.” Sally has such a beautiful way of capturing the natural world in print, and as of this summer is raising a small flock of her own sheep. She kindly visited the mill to take cuttings of these incredible plants home for inspiration, and voila - this beautiful print was created.
Once Sally had created the final version of the artwork, Cross Canvas created the samples, and I trucked them over to the studio of Nicole McConville with a load of these freshly cut flowers from the dye garden to capture the whole picture. The fact that something could go from idea to finished photography in time to have the same flowers that inspired the artwork still in season for the photographs is a testament to local sourcing.
Because I am a completionist, the Lanyard Yarn we used for the drawstring of the smallest tote is naturally dyed in madder from the garden. There is, however, one local tie in that I never expected - The day we photographed the tote bags, we worked with a local fiber artist, ceramicist, and shepherdess, Jessica Sanchez, as our model. During conversation about the bag and the artwork by Sally we learned that it was Jessica’s herd of Najavo Churro that Sally was starting of her own flock from. If that doesn’t complete the local circle of life in the mountains of WNC, I don’t know what does.
We hope you love our new project bags and totes, Friends + Flowers, as much as we do.