Sally Fox from Foxfibre®️Colorganic®️

Sally Fox from Foxfibre®️Colorganic®️

Sally, thank you so much for taking time to chat. You’re such an inspiration to me and you’re one of the few people in the domestic textile industry who took time to talk and meet with me when I was first starting my business. I still have working relationships with you and the others who did so, and appreciate you so much. Most of the photos here are from my 2015 visit to Sally's farm.


A little while back, you started posting about the story of your work on Instagram. I encourage everyone to go back in her feed and read them. Did you ever finish your story? 

Not yet - I had to stop when I got to the part about the textile industry falling apart- and my business going down with it. After visiting Japan and my customer and their customers there and telling the rest of the story many, many times, I am now getting ready to write it up and share it. So, stay tuned!

UPDATE! Sally has a new instagram account where she's telling her story, here.


For those who don’t know you and your work, let me do a little intro. There’s so much to you as a person and your work but I’ll try to summarize for people. Sally Fox is a pioneer in organic cotton growing and breeding. She was on the front line, pushing for organic cotton to be grown, certified and appreciated in the late 80’s, early 90’s and I believe you were the first certified organic cotton farm, is that correct? 

The farm that I eventually was able to buy was among the first certified organic farms in CA. Before I had my own farm- like so many who start out- I simply leased land and on these lands I figured out how to scale organic gardening of the breeding plots (a few acres composed of hundreds to thousands of smaller plots with different seed lines growing out) to organic farming of cotton at scale. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and my entry into the concepts of organic were via gardening. While employed in agriculture in the Integrated Pest Management field (that is the sciences involved in reducing and or eliminating pesticide misuse), I was the first to organize contracts with spinning mills on behalf of the first certified organic cotton producers in the US. I helped develop both the methods of farming cotton organically in the irrigated western US, along with the organic standards for textiles- the first in the world- recognized by IFOAM at their first organic cotton meeting in 1993. IFOAM stands for : International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements and remains crucial in synchronizing organic standards worldwide.


Sally began her career as an entomologist and would advise farms on how to limit pesticide use. She wanted cotton to be grown organically, just as food was. Through her work, Sally found an ancient breed of cotton that had traditionally been grown by indigenous cultures around the world. It grows in naturally colored tones of brown and green and this cotton could also grow more easily without pesticides. The down side was that the cotton fiber was very short which is considered lower quality and made it difficult to spin into yarns that were acceptable for industrial use. So, Sally started breeding these cottons, choosing them for their color and fiber lengths, breeding them together and year after year, she improved the quality of fiber. This incredible life’s work results in the most beautiful and soft yarns and fabrics. She set an example of how to grow cotton organically and how to spin cotton yarns in new ways to highlight the qualities of her fiber.

You recently told me that in Japan, they refer to your cottons as “Tea Cotton”. I love this description, it so beautifully describes the colors and hints at the soft earthiness to your cottons. Are you still amazed by these colors year after year? 

Absolutely amazed by them- more so every year. My dream is to be able to keep company with these cottons for as long as I can move. 


Your story exemplifies the tragic fall of the US textile industry. You were growing as a business and working with several domestic mills and brands when most of the domestic manufacturing moved overseas. From your experience, what was the nail in the coffin? What finally led everyone to go overseas instead of producing domestically? Was it all for cost? 

First of all, the mills did not move overseas. The big brands stopped buying from the mills in the parts of the world who cleaned up their textile wastes. And had worker standards. This then led to every single one of the 38 spinning mills that I was producing my cottons for to go out of business within a few years. The message from the big brands was this: you mills who are in places where you are obligated to be honest businesses, paying your workers fairly, providing safe working environments, and cleaning up any textiles wastes (the cost of dying a pound of cotton back then might have been ~$1/lb, the cost of cleaning the dye waste ~$3/lb) have no place in our system. Still today, dye wastes are dumped into the waterways of the countries where the big brands demand such price concessions that mills cannot afford the costs of clean up. It remains a terrible injustice. At last textile products certified by GOTS have dyes cleaned up. But anything produced in the US, Japan, or the EU have worker standards and dye waste clean up. And have had them since the 1980’s. And these very standards are why the brands dumped them and put all these mills out of business.

Where do you think the domestic textile industry is headed now? Sometimes I think there’s a resurgence coming but other times I think it’s an impossible feat to bring it back. It’s been so long that it feels like a lot of the skill we once had in this country is lost.

This I do not know. I hope that it is revivable. But yes, so much is lost. And the business environment is so different. We have an entire generation of buyers who are used to being little dictators. Making endless demands. Not working collaboratively with their suppliers. It requires cooperation and respect and parking of ego’s at the door. It remains to be seen if this is possible. I keep hoping.


Being a woman and doing what you did in the 80’s and 90’s, pushing big Ag to do things differently, starting a textile business doing things differently than anyone had done before - these are industries that are not easy to convince to try something new, let alone from a woman who has a dream of doing something good for the planet. What was your biggest challenge in convincing people to accept organic farming or colored cotton?

You take me seriously, as do others within the craft world. But within the larger industry, the entire colored cotton thing is treated like a bad memory. There was a huge push by the larger players in the organic cotton world in the late 1990’s to dismiss anything to do with the textile processing component. And particularly people hated the colors brown and green and lots of jokes were made of my cottons in the greater industry. Even the fire resistance was reduced to ridicule. I was the blunt of so many jokes and my cotton was quarantined in Arizona and I had to move farms a second time. Leaving me camped out in a travel trailer on the farm that I tend now for many years.  It served the new organic cotton interests to focus on what was happening at the farm, rather than in the mills. So, in the beginning, when I started out, organic cotton meant no chemical treatments at all after the farming. Like organic processed food standards. Which is why I was working with IFOAM, along with all these mills in Japan, the US and the EU, where the organic food market was really developing. But when organic cotton production became primarily a product of India and China, where all the mills now were, all the marketing rhetoric became about primarily how the fiber was produced. Not how it was processed. 

Here is an example. At the Bremen International Cotton Conference last March a presentation of the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere at every single step of the processing chain was made. In this it was reported that about 4x’s as much carbon is involved in dyeing and finishing fabrics than any method of producing it. So while producing cotton organically is a better way to go, the real issues are involved in the manufacturing of the fibers into usable products. Which is why I believe that the decades that it took for the organic textile world to come up with enforceable standards regarding the processing of organic textiles - including the use of synthetic dyes and their clean up- was far too long. GOTS certified textiles do have meaning- someone has actually checked to make sure that there is no slave labor involved, or dyestuff dumping into waterways. But the US, European and Japanese mills that pioneered all of this with me have long been out of business. The mills that I work with now find it insulting when the inspectors from GOTS checks to see if they have slaves, or dump dye wastes into waterways- not allowed or done since the Clean Water Act in the late 70’s. There is a lot of hurt here, because the few mills that remain viable in the parts of the world where workers are payed as skilled, and dye wastes taken to toxic waste dumps, as required, are still competing in a world where the larger industry operated without adequate regulation.

What is the most important result of your work that came as a surprise?

The green cotton coming out of a cross between two brown cottons it was one plant out of ~2000 F2’s - that is the grandchildren, so to speak- of a cross pollination between two brown cottons that I began with.


You started this work in 1982, where would you like to see it go from here?

I wish that people would support my work. There remains no institutional support of my work, only via my mail order business and sales to Taishonoseki - the one spinning mill in the world that purchases the bales of cotton from me. Lots of new people are offering naturally colored cottons. These new groups all seem to have institutional support in some shape or form. But not any comes my way. It is discouraging and infuriating. If I focus on it, I don't get anywhere. I need to keep my blinders on and focus on these amazing cottons and the customers of mine who support me and my work through their purchases.


We have a very limited run of the Split Neck Shell and Wide Trouser in Sally's Ombre Plaid fabric. The intricate pattern of the weave showcases the beautiful variation of color in Sally's cottons - from warm light browns to washed out greens to ecru. The fabric is light weight with an incredibly soft hand-feel.

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