The second I learned about Sky Like Snow I knew I had to feature the company here on Life+Style+Justice! Owner Hannah and I worked together on this sponsored post, I hope you find it informative and inspiring!
In the years I've spent covering ethical fashion in this space, I've come to terms with the fact that most products from ethical companies aren't "completely ethical", whatever that might mean to you and your particular value set. For instance: you might buy an organic cotton top that has plastic buttons on it that were manufactured in a factory that doesn't meet the standards for fair labor that the shirt's actual production does. Or you might buy yoga leggings that are made in the USA from recycled water bottles... but they are definitely synthetic and will ultimately send plastic microfibers washing out through your laundry machine into the environment.
To some extent, we conscious consumers have to settle with slightly-less-than-perfect offerings because it's incredibly difficult to control every tiny aspect of a product's supply chain and environmental impact. I've learned to look for companies that are genuinely doing the best that they can, and companies whose values match up well enough with my "non negotiables" list of ethics to be acceptable.
Today's feature focuses on one ethical brand that is pretty much a "perfect" ethical brand, in my book. The beautiful artisan knit hats sold through Sky Like Snow are made with so much careful thought and consideration of ethics- from the selection of the fibres to the dying process to the knitting and packaging. I'll let the artist behind these little works of art, Hannah, tell you more about it in her own words through this mini-interview I had the pleasure of conducting with her:
How did you become interested in textile design and knitwear manufacturing?
I think it is in my genes! My parents raised sheep when I was growing up in Vermont and my mom is a weaver. I learned to weave and knit before I was 10 and have knit several hats a year for friends and family ever since then. It was always a hobby until I got my hands on a knitting machine about 4 years ago and started to experiment with making hats with very fine yarn. I arrived at the “process-patterned” method through wanting to go beyond the grid-based patterning that is usually available to knitwear design. Creating these organic patterns is a very different design effort than mapping out stitches on graph paper. For years, I suppressed my interest in fashion, telling myself it was frivolous and to “girly” for my tough, smart, image; but I’ve relaxed a lot and now embrace my love for beautiful clothing and accessories and hope I can add something to the marketplace.
Walk us through the process of making each individual hat! Where do your supplies come from, and how have you tied ethics into each step?
There are so many steps!
- For the yarn, I begin by visiting farms and fiber shows to purchase high-quality raw wool and alpaca fleeces. I bring the raw fiber to a couple of different small fiber mills who custom process and spin it for me. The ethics in the yarn is that it comes from well raised animals who have names and personalities and it supports local farming and fiber processing businesses.
- Making the dyes begins with growing the plants in my gardens or foraging stuffs from the woods around me. I harvest leaves, flowers, mushrooms, lichen, bark and roots that produce dye and I dry them to use throughout the year. I am very conscious of being an ethical forager, leaving plenty of every plant where it is growing so that it will reproduce and be a sustainable source for me and any other part of the ecosystem that depends on it. Of course the dyes are all natural and not harmful to people or the environment.
- When I am ready to make an edition of hats, I usually sketch a design in my notebook using colored pencils. There are basically two different overall methods I use for patterning the hats: With indigo, which cannot be painted onto the yarn, I make an organic fermentation vat and use a physical resist method to create the patterns. For all the other dyes I begin by extracting the colors I want from the plant materials, which usually involves soaking and steeping in water over the course of two days. While the dye is being made, I wind and prep the skeins of yarn. The skeins hold the key to how the hat pattern will develop, so I pay attention to changing the tension as I wind them so that zigzags or spirals will develop when the yarn is knit. Also important is keeping each wrap of the skein in order so that I can stretch them out for painting. I paint on the stretched skeins, with the extracted dyes, using stencils, and then I steam the yarn to set the dyes.
- Once it is washed and dried it’s finally time to knit! The knitting goes pretty quickly, about an hour and a half per hat. Then there is finishing, washing (again!), drying and ironing before they are ready to be called DONE.
Besides from the efforts taken in each step, I also think it is personally ethical to allow myself follow this creative path after being disillusioned by a corporate career. I want more people to find a way to sustainably make art and add beauty to the world!
Your work is very "local"- with your wool and dyes sourced close by. Why is that important to you?
Local is where my heart is most alive. I have a deep appreciation for my fellow Vermonters and for the farms and mountains here. I am energized by every minute spent face-to-face with a neighbor or taking in the scents and light of the woods. The sentiment of “act local, think global” is very real for me. I have lived and worked around the world and seen a lot of beauty and destitution, but have not felt connected with a community until returning home four years ago. There is so much craziness everywhere, but if the world is made up of individual, caring, self-sustaining communities, interconnected by personal relationships, I can have hope for a beautiful future. There is no denying that we live in a time of globalism and need to address the environmental costs and social justice of larger scale global production. For me, the small, local approach just makes sense and is something I can personally do to model my ideals. This holiday season I am also donating 20% of certain hat sales to local nonprofits who are thinking globally in environmental education, refugee resettlement and human rights. That donation information is on my website.
Your work is very much inspired by nature. Does the closeness you feel to nature inspire you to be earth-friendly in your process? How so?
Yes, being earth-friendly is a way of life and work for me. I could not honestly express my love for the natural world in my art if the process did any harm. It also goes the other way: learning about wild dye materials has opened my eyes to many more details in the landscape I live in. I know much more about the ecology, plant communities and seasonal changes than I ever did when I was just in the woods recreationally. I also see new organic patterns and gain new inspiration the more time I spend out foraging. I am really in love with the idea that dyes can paint their own landscapes and yarn can knit its own story. I am here to bring them together and add a bit of order and direction.
What is wrapped up in the price of each hat? What are people paying for when they buy one?
Like most products, the prices are based on time and the cost of materials. The cost of the yarn is higher than most I could purchase commercially, but the quality is top-notch and purchasing it is supporting the local farmers and small mill owners. While much of my dye materials are “free,” they are time-consuming to transform from their natural states into usable dyes. The hats are all one-of-a-kind pieces of art that I create alone, doing all of the planning, making, marketing and sales. Each hat is about 8 hours of work from start to finish. It’s a dream for me to continue to make them and be able to pay the mortgage on my humble .8 acre of land, studio and little old house.
I had the pleasure of test driving the indigo fade hat from Sky Like Snow while I was shooting photos for this post. It's the perfect weight- heavy enough to hold it's shape well, but not "chunky". The naturally dyed colors are even prettier in person!
The thing that I noticed most about the hat as I wore it is that it regulates temperature beautifully. It's definitely an "heirloom" item that will stay in your closet for many years, always "good as new", because it's sturdily constructed and made of natural materials that will stand up to the test of time.
Make sure to follow Hannah on instagram for pretty photos of Vermont beauty and a behind the scenes look at her artistic process!