5 Tips For Sourcing Ethical Textiles With Mira Blackman

by Rebekah Carey

We are thrilled to be speaking to Mira Blackman about how to source ethical textiles today. Mira is an Oakland-based maker and designer who specializes in making one-of-a-kind pieces created from heritage, handmade, and all-natural textiles. Textiles are something that can completely makeover a space– throw one over a couch and you instantly have a focal point. Textiles on your bed can remind you of a beloved trip you took, and in general, textiles around the house can brighten and distinguish an otherwise bland room. That said, all textiles are not created equal. Thankfully, Mira is here to tell us all about how to find ethical textiles and what to avoid. With Mira’s tips, hopefully you’ll feel empowered to discover your own special pieces and confident that you’ve sourced them in the best way possible. –Rebekah

Photography by Mira Blackman

1. If you need more motivation to see the world: “Travel! Traveling is one of the best ways to buy ethical textiles. It gives you the opportunity to see the place that inspired the fabric, meet the people who made it, and buy it directly from them or their family! If you don’t count your ticket there, it makes it more affordable because you’re cutting out the middle man and buying directly from the artisans,” Mira advises.

2. Prints are not without meaning: “Buy the real stuff. Ethnic prints are super cute, but they can be a major rip off. Those cute patterns have real meanings to the indigenous people who originally designed them. When big brands make prints of their fabrics, the original designers receive no credit and no royalties,” Mira explains.  “All around the world there are still people hand weaving and dyeing their own textiles – sometimes in the same way their grandparents did it. When you’re buying fabrics, buy handwoven, hand dyed or hand printed. That way you can ensure artisans are at least getting paid to make their fabrics.”

3. Buy local: “There are tons of small scale textile makers all around the world. Fibershed is a great resource for finding local textiles in the US and Europe. In the Bay Area, we have Sally Fox growing organic cotton right in our backyards. It may be a bit more expensive, but it’s worth every penny,” Mira shares.

4. When in doubt, ask: “Ask questions,” Mira directs. “Most people selling ethical products pride themselves on knowing their story. Ask where the fabric is from, how it’s made, if it’s all natural, certified fair trade or organic. Maybe it isn’t certified fair trade, but the conditions are still fair. You won’t know until you ask.”

5.  You don’t have to get it new: “Buy used and vintage. The most ethical thing we can do is to buy less new stuff, “Mira suggests. “The world is already full of beautiful things that will just go to waste if we don’t use them.  So get thrifting!”

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  • One of my favorite memories from my trip to Guatemala a few years ago was digging through the piles of second-hand huipils (tunics) at a market to find the hidden gems! All of these tips are great – thanks for sharing!

  • Thank you for the tips! I have collected ethnic fabric for many years! You have given me some good ideas!

  • “All textiles aren’t created equal”. If you buying from brands, definitely check if the product is FairTrade certified and check the story behind the product. Great Post!
    Sukanta from Syona Home

  • Thanks for the great tips, Mira! I’m also very excited to learn more about your company. :-)

    I love to sew and collect textiles from my travels, which is a delight and admittedly also a privilege. I always seek out fabrics that are locally produced under good conditions and sold at a fair price, and all of this preferably by women. However, I’ve found it to be a challenge due to how globalized the textile industries have become: even in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire and Santiago, Chile were most of the fabrics sold by street vendors made abroad under unclear conditions. You know all of this so well and the complex reasons why. I’ve been learning a lot over the years: I wish the general public knew more other than simply decrying the “made in China” label, for example, and that there were more fair and affordable options available to the average consumer in mainstream shops in the US and beyond.

    • Thanks so much for reading! You’re right about the complexity. It definitely takes dedication to source the good stuff. It seems like the cheap imitations make it into every market which makes education so important!

  • This article is everything! It’s basically my life’s work. My husband and I traveled through Central Java, Indonesia for two years making connections with weavers and batik artists so we could start our textile business. Bringing these ethically made fabrics to the US is so rewarding because it’s a unique product for our customer and each sale is helping someone across the world build their business and support their family. I love being a part of this exchange!


  • Speaking of textiles…since one of these rugs is out of my price range, I’ve been researching making my own rug with a moroccan flair. Maybe a boucherouite-ish design? I’d love love love to see a DIY for this! Would it be latch hook? I’m trying to figure it out, and I can’t find ANYTHING on the internet. I know design sponge loves their diy’s (hint). A little help???