April Community Member Spotlight: Mary Ewell
The average American contributes 80lbs of clothing and textiles to the waste stream each year, and often does so without giving it much thought. One community member is set to change that; while inspiring, empowering, and educating our rural community and beyond!
Mary Ewell of Spofford, NH grew up from humble beginnings in the DC Metro Area. Throughout her childhood and into her adult life, she always had an interest in fashion. She deeply cared about this passion, and from an early age, saw fashion as an avenue to create one’s look and identity.
Following high school, she worked at several retail stores, including a department store, furthering her connection and interest in the fashion world. As she worked hard and excelled in her role, her manager at the time encouraged her to consider going back to college. Ewell notes that unbeknownst to her manager, this encouragement transformed her life.
In college, Ewell began to drift away from her sense of fashion, pursuing a degree in physics. Later becoming a professor at George Mason University, she remembers the moment her passion was re-discovered. During a period when the physics department was seeking additional outreach into the community for STEM, she began to seek out dressing more fashionably and professionally.
After 22 years as a professor, Ewell and her husband relocated to the Monadnock Region in 2017. Ewell transitioned to lead programs for the Monadnock Sustainability Hub. In her role with the Monadnock Sustainability Hub, she connected and engaged local climate activists and nonprofits in the region through outreach and events. One event was the Radically Rural Summit. Radically Rural is an annual summit held in Keene, NH and virtually, which aims to build sustainability and success for rural life and places by building a network that connects people to each other and to new ideas.
Ewell worked on the Clean Energy track, and upon stepping down from her role with the Monadnock Sustainability Hub in 2020, she was asked to help with the first remote Radically Rural in the midst of the pandemic. During the summit, Ewell sat in on the Land & Community Track, led by the Cheshire County Conservation District (CCCD) for the past six years.
In 2020, CCCD organized a session focused on local fibersheds, and hosted speaker Rebecca Burgess, Executive Director of Fibershed and the bestselling author of several books, including Fibershed: Growing a Movement of Farmers, Fashion Activists, and Makers for a New Textile.
“Fibershed” a term coined by Burgess, is a play on words from the term “watershed”, the geographic region where streams, rivers, and estuaries drain into a larger body of water. “Fibershed” is a geographic region where the network of fiber meets and connects farmers, fiber, producers, processors, local businesses, and the consumer.
Ewell sees this conference session as another life changing moment. As she sat in the session, it was as if a switch turned on and illuminated a new path. Ewell notes,
“I think that there are times in your life where something just happens, and a switch just turned on in my life, and I said how can I marry this passion for moving towards climate change and good practices of the soil, and my love for fashion?”.
Ewell describes herself as someone who jumps in on new opportunities and adventures, even if she is not fully immersed in the subject area. She cites her spur of the moment registration for an Ironman triathlon several years back, a 17-hour race of swimming, biking, and running. Ewell signed up and successfully completed the triathlon, not letting any fears or a lack of training for seasons stand in her way.
As Ewell sat watching the virtual Fibershed session, it was truly an aha moment, she notes thinking, “Here I work to adopt clean energy, and yet a huge polluter and CO2 producer is in exactly this industry that I like, and how am I going to change that?”.
This new path would merge Ewell’s passion for the environment, climate change action, and fashion. It was from this session that Locally Dressed was born. Locally Dressed began as a personal challenge for Ewell to buy less, produce less fabric waste, and to wear locally made fiber. Ewell purchases new clothing exclusively from local fiber and clothing producers in a 150-mile radius of the Monadnock Region.
With little background knowledge on fashion sustainability or local fibersheds, she excitedly took this new challenge on, taking three months to familiarize herself with the local fiber world before launching her idea.
Locally Dressed’s goal was to initially serve as a blog, to transparently share Ewell’s journey. Apart from its personal mission, Locally Dressed has expanded to serve as a resource for connecting the community to local fiber producers and resources. Ewell shares that when she explains her work, she compares it to the locavore movement for clothes. The locavore movement aims to encourage community members to support local food, and in turn, support our health, environment, and local economy.
Ewell further explains Locally Dressed’s mission,
“It’s also re-connecting with all of your roots. It’s a process of slowing down, but in that slowing down, also thinking about how this [your clothing] was made, and asking was this on an animal or was this grown in a field? I would like to bring back that thought process, that as we wear the garment that we are continually connecting ourselves to the land that we live on, and the other species or plants that live around us.”
Ewell acknowledges that there are barriers to wearing fully locally produced clothing and fibers, she knows that this can be a daunting task. Ewell notes that the price point is higher because it is a different process than fast-fashion, which are the type of clothes one would typically purchase at a department or chain store. Fiber is grown through a plant or sheared from an animal, and then processed through a local mill, designed, and then sold. It is a very different process, but it is local and supports local producers, artisans, and businesses. Ewell shares,
“This is one way to invest and keep everything rural, while realizing that the price point is higher, and maybe a person can only buy one garment a year, maybe one every few years, but they are changing the way they are looking at clothing, or maybe making a commitment to buying less.”
Investing in locally produced clothing is an investment in your community but is also intrinsically special and unique. Ewell notes, “If you are purchasing something that someone made, you are purchasing a piece of art.”
Ewell encourages community members to take initial steps on this journey by re-thinking new purchases and considering whether an item can be mended instead. Ewell also encourages people to shop at local secondhand clothing stores, and to start thinking about how they care for the current clothes that they own. When it is time to throw out an article of clothing, consider utilizing it for rags or patches to mend other salvageable clothing.
Ewell notes that mending provides an opportunity to individualize your clothing and provides an opportunity to make your own art! Mending clothing can be a fulfilling accomplishment, while benefiting your wallet and the planet!
Ewell explains that at its core, Locally Dressed is not a business, it is a mission to bring people together and make an impact collaboratively. Locally Dressed continues to expand its work engaging the Monadnock Region and beyond, in supporting our local fibersheds by hosting a series of upcoming workshops, events, and clothing swaps. Ewell notes that this is just the beginning, as Locally Dressed will continue to expand event opportunities, with the hopes of soon bringing on a staff member to assist in social media outreach.
Ewell is partnering with other local organizations to hold an event on May 22nd to further the discussion of local fiber and community. Learn more here! If you are interested in getting involved, learning more, or are a local producer wanting to be listed on Locally Dressed contact Mary at the contact form on https://www.locallydressed.com/