From costume designer to entrepreneur, Heidi Barr is not only bringing more eco-friendly solutions to your kitchen, but supporting farmers that are trying to revive crops such as flax in America. Her neutral offerings are designed to fit into any home, and her passion for agriculture, nature, and all things beauty shines through in this small women-led team she’s cultivated in the past decade.
Barr spent much of her career as a costume designer crafting costumes out of synthetic fabrics. They were not recyclable, and definitely not biodegradable. As time wore on, it dawned on her that this was not fitting in with her own personal ethos of living more sustainably.
So she set out to be an entrepreneur — and a self-funded one. She juggled two jobs till she could create a strong market for Kitchen Garden Textiles.
It started with napkins: simple linen napkins that could also be rented out to restaurants. “Food is fabric. And chefs understood that,” Barr says.
From there, she expanded the line into practical items such as coffee filters, reusable tea bags, produce bags, and aprons. (Her fridge is full of her reusable fabric bags, no plastic, she says. “But it didn’t happen overnight. It takes time to go completely plastic-free.”)
A woman-run cut-and-sew facility nearby helps Barr produce the items. The linen comes from Lithuania. “I couldn’t get it all locally because we’ve lost that infrastructure. But this is a country that respects guidelines for organic and has labor standards, so that gave me reassurance.”
Being a passionate gardener, she decided to give back to local farms through her business. So a percentage of sales have always gone to local farms. “Some years, I’m helping them. Other years, it’s like they’re supporting me,” she says, referring to the joy she gets from interacting with these farmers.
In 2020, she met one such farmer, Emma De Long. The two were like peas in a pod, she says, when it came to agriculture. De Long was interested in Barr’s approach to fibers; thus, they decided to work together towards the idea of Pennsylvania-grown flax. Flax, Barr explains, is a great crop for regenerative agriculture. It doesn’t require a lot of water or chemical inputs, and is easy to grow. Plus it has a 100-day growth cycle. That means it can fit into rotational crop calendar (a big component of regenerative agriculture). “If diversifying agriculture is part of the answer to climate change, flax fits that bill,” she says.
Barr’s also identified a spinner in Connecticut who is willing to spin the flax for her. Though the first iterations of this fabric will be pricey because the supply chain for flax is largely missing in the US, she hopes it’ll revive interest in the crop and the material.
“It’s in its early stages, but it would be nice to grow something here locally, and rebuild some of that history we lost in America,” says Barr.
These personal relationships define Barr’s approach to business and lifestyle geared around sustainability, she says. “Sustainability is about ideas and relationships. In the kitchen, for example, I love knowing the people who grew my food, baked my bread, and even the potters who made the plates and bowls I use. Sustainability is an old way of living that generations before us did regularly. We got away from it and it’s time to revisit it.”
In terms of building a business, she’s got the same slow-fired outlook. It’s taken her ten years (and a difficult pandemic year of lots of “zoom” marketing) to sustain her business. But she compares building a business to gardening: something that requires regular care, and if you push plants to grow too quickly (or in the wrong season), they’ll bolt. “It’s all about slow growth— in nature and in business.”