Since being in Nashville I’ve had the opportunity to chat and connect with so many different interesting people and now that includes Kacie Lynn of Fiber Farm. I’m not sure if being in New York mentally drained me or if it was the state of being in a big city and feeling the need to keep people at a distance. In any case, it’s been amazing to take the time to listen to others and hear how they have built their businesses and relate on a more personal level.
Similar to my background Kacie studied Apparel Design, but the difference being she knew very quickly she didn’t want to go down the path of contributing to fashion in a way that could do more harm than good. She took a couple of different paths prior to starting the farm including graphic design and metal working which is what brought her back to Tennessee. She encountered a rare opportunity to purchase a few alpacas at a major discount which spurred her to take the leap and begin her own farm. The rest is history...
You are native to Tennessee, but was farming always in the family or was this a new feat for you?
Kacie: I grew up about 30 minutes outside Chattanooga in Soddy-Daisy, TN. It was rural and surrounded by farms, although I didn’t grow up on one. My first experience living on a farm was in 2011 when I moved back to TN after working as a graphic designer + design network manager for a few years in Seattle.
Was there a turning point in your career where you knew this was the right or most fulfilling path for you? Did you have any concerns about starting this venture?
Kacie: In 2011, I had the opportunity to leave my job in Seattle, move back to TN, and live on a working farm while building a metal fabrication business with a friend. A year into building the metal business I had a serendipitous run-in with an alpaca farmer who was selling her entire herd. I had been researching fiber animals for quite a while at that point, so when the opportunity to purchase a foundation herd at a ridiculously low price was presented, I knew it was now or never.
I had a ton of concerns - how to care for these animals, how to process their fiber, how to build a sustainable business model, etc… but at that point, I was just young and eager enough that I wasn’t going to let it stop me from trying.
What are your main goals with Fiber Farm and have they evolved?
Kacie: When I began farming, my initial goal was to learn the complete cycle from raising the animal, processing the fiber, and turning it into a variety of handmade items to sell. Once I immersed myself in the entire process and learned each step involved from soil to skin, I began opening the farm up for school groups and beyond to share the knowledge and experience with as many folks as I can.
I’m sure running a one-woman farm isn’t easy so what does a typical day look like for you? Are there some tasks that you really enjoy vs. others?
Kacie: No two days are the same, which is the best part for me. Shearing season is currently upon us so my recent days have been filled with all things fiber. Since I process all the fiber myself I have been doing a lot of skirting and carding this week.
No matter what time of year it is, the barn still has to be cleaned, which is less desirable during this rainy season we are currently experiencing. I like to get all the “chores” out of the way in the morning when I have the most energy. Cleaning, packaging orders, and running errands are usually done before noon.
In the afternoon, I am usually jumping between several projects, and there is almost always a dye vat going. After dinner, I will usually sit down and spin while listening to music or watching some weird documentary.
It was shearing time for the alpacas, can you share with us a little about why Spring is the best season for that and what you do with the fiber afterward?
Kacie: I like to shear my herd a week or so after the frost date. That way it is still cool enough to prevent them from overheating, but not so cold that they are shivering at night. This will also allow them to fully grow out their fiber before the first frost in Autumn and keep them warm all winter. Once the fiber is shorn, I hand process it by skirting, carding, spinning, dyeing, and weaving it into various end products.
In your process of running the farm have there been certain connections along the way that have helped you grow, connect and build your farm to the best of your ability?
Kacie: Absolutely. Folks who raise fiber animals are some of the most generous, open, kindhearted people I’ve ever met. There are several fellow female farmers in particular that have been incredibly supportive in everything from sponsoring my ticket to a shearing workshop to answering all my newbie questions about animal care, pasture management, etc.
When I moved to Tracy City I also hit the neighbor jackpot. I am surrounded by an incredible community of folks who look out for me and the farm. I couldn’t make this happen without their support.
Have there been any challenges in running the farm or fiber processing that feel like an impossible task to achieve sustainably or financially?
Kacie: Hand processing, as you know, is incredibly slow and labor intensive. The majority of the population doesn’t find value in hand-spun yarn nor do they have the disposable income to afford such items, so I have had to be creative in other ways to support myself and the farm. Workshops, Farm tours, Photography, and other teaching opportunities are a huge portion of my business and allow me to continue to do work I am passionate about.
What's your take on farm to fashion, do you think we will see the same cross-over as the food or beauty industries?
Kacie: As with most new things, the early adopters of Farm to Fashion are going to have to be the ones with the disposable income to do so. I see it slowly taking form, but am concerned with the potential “greenwashing” that comes alongside it.
Transparency within the fashion industry just isn’t as clear-cut as it seems to be with the organic food movement, as there are so many working parts. I am hopeful for the future, but also realistic that there is going to have to be a pretty huge paradigm shift on the part of consumers before we see any major improvements.
There are many designers and customers out there eager to be more involved in the sustainable fashion movement, is there a good place to start?
Kacie: For customers - research your favorite brands; how much information can you find about where the garment was made, who was making it, what type of working conditions + pay are offered? Folks will be shocked at how little / vague the information is. Make, Mend, Thrift, Swap, Borrow + Barter before buying new.
For designers - we’re here to solve problems, not create them. Use this as an opportunity to refine your materials and processes to ones that are local and sustainable. Challenge yourself to work within parameters that support your local fiber shed - the farmers, mills, makers, and shops who are the heartbeat of your local economy. Make gorgeous things from these local collaborations and celebrate all the folks who helped make it happen every step of the way.
If you had one wish or goal what would you like to see happen in the industry?
Kacie: More vertically integrated systems and 100% transparency within each step.
If you could use a time machine to go back 15 years what piece of advice would you give yourself?
Kacie: Just because someone has a degree in a particular subject does not make them a master. The real experience starts outside the classroom when self-exploration takes hold and doubt slips into the background.
Lastly, after a long day what is your favorite way to unwind?
Kacie: A slow stroll down by the creek with a beer in hand while in the company of a couple donkeys and my rescue dog, Freddy Krueger.
Taking a chance can be tough, but I hope this interview shows that sometimes it's worth the risk to live and learn! Check out the upcoming workshops at Fiber Farm.