Celebrating modern heroes: Sally Vreseis Fox
In a world where artificial and chemically processed products are too often valued over natural, it’s important to celebrate the heroes of biodiversity and environmentally friendly farming and manufacturing.
One of my heroes of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries is Sally Vreseis Fox, president of Natural Cotton Colours, Inc. Sally developed a naturally occurring colored cotton, once considered an annoying genetic throwback by modern American cotton farmers, into commercially useful, naturally colored and organically grown cotton fiber.
I first read about Sally during the 1990’s, when she fought an uphill battle, partly because commercial cotton farmers in California resisted her efforts, fearing their fields would be contaminated by her colored cotton. My interest in her cotton has been reinvigorated by a recent search for organic products, as well as a lifelong love of needlework. These two interests have converged in my recent desire to learn handspinning.
Sally encountered the natural deviation in cotton color as a former Peace Corps volunteer with a master of science degree in pest management—who also happened to be a handspinner—when she was hired to develop a pest-resistant strain of cotton. While visiting cotton farms, Sally learned about brown cotton, which American commercial farmers considered of little value, in spite of its natural insect resistance, because of its short staple and resulting unsuitability for commercial textile production. (Staple refers to the length and strength of fibers.)
Sally became fascinated with the naturally occurring color and eventually succeeded in breeding colored cotton with long fibers strong enough for commercial textile mills. The cotton grows in subtle colors, in a range from golden pale brown to reddish brown and avocado green, and the colors tend to deepen with initial laundering, rather than fading as naturally dyed fiber does. The occurence of color in these fibers means they can be used to produce colored textiles without the use of commercial dyes, considerably reducing the harsh chemicals typically required in the production of textiles. Sally holds patents for some of her developments. Two of her Fox Fibre® strains—Coyote and Buffalo—are naturally fire resistant.
Her organically grown FoxFibre® cotton is now widely available to handspinners, knitters, weavers, and sewing enthusiasts through Vreseis Ltd., as well as to commercial manufacturers.
Sally doesn’t claim to be the first to realize the value of colored cotton, which has been cultivated in South America, India, Egypt and elsewhere for millenia, both for animal food and handspun fiber. It’s Sally Fox’s persistence in the face of conventional commercial farming practices and pressures, and her care for the environment, that constitutes a heroic story unique in our North American culture of chemically-intense production over natural. She has helped enhance a new culture of organics in our modern world through her creativity, courage and innovation.
More information about Sally Vreseis Fox and organic cotton in general: