Theory for Good

Becoming Linen

From French flax fields to our New York atelier, discover the journey of our sustainably crafted Good Linen.

At Theory we believe that the process of making clothes is just as important as the finished garment. In celebration of Earth Month, we’re exploring the creation of our signature Good Linen. From the five farms in Normandy where our preferred linen fiber is grown to the mill in Prato, Italy where it’s woven into fabric, sustainability is embedded into every step. Fully traceable back to its source, this versatile, refined fabric embodies our commitment to reach 100% traceability on our signature fabrics by 2025.

Discover the latest linen collection.

Part 1.

How natural linen fibers emerge from the flax plant.

The fashion industry is deeply connected to agriculture. While blazers and dresses crafted with natural fibers don’t grow on vines like the heirloom tomatoes at your local grocery store, they’re nevertheless rooted in farmland. Too often, their natural origins are obscured by complicated supply chains. Despite all of this, every wool sweater begins as fleece on sheep at pasture; every T-shirt begins as a wisp of cotton in a sunsoaked field; every linen shirt begins as a stalk of flax. Delving into the origin story of our clothes inspires greater appreciation for them. It serves as a reminder that more passion and know-how go into our collections than meets the eye.

As spring sets in, we’re retracing the steps of how the humble flax seed becomes the lithe, refined fiber used in our signature Good Linen. Sourced from five farms in the Normandy region of France, the fibers used in our Spring 2024 collection continue centuries-old farming traditions with inherently sustainable practices. Among them, consuming very little water by relying on rain instead of irrigation specifically for flax and putting every part of the plant to use post-harvest. 

From sowing the seeds to separating the fibers from their stem, learn more about the flax cultivation process from start to finish.

Part 2.

Tracing the flax fibers in our Good Linen to the five farms in Normandy where their journey begins.

Raw materials have an immense environmental impact in the supply chain. From the use of water to ethical land management, farming has ecological and social ripple effects. Understanding where garments originate is foundational to building sustainability into their creation, but often complex supply chains obscure this information. This is why traceability is at the forefront of Theory’s sustainability efforts. With this commitment in mind, we've traced the flax fibers used in our exclusive Good Linen back to five family-run farms in the Normandy region of France. 

These farms are united by Etablissements Devoldere, a trading division of the farmers’ and scutchers’ cooperative Linen Partners Group led by Marc Devoldere, his nephew Xavier, and his son Julien. In their experience, farmers are more than producers, they’re stewards of the land. A sensitive crop with a short growing season, flax requires a watchful eye and nurturing touch, one that the farmers represented by Linen Partners Group continue to preserve. The safeguarding of know-how also extends to the scutchers represented by the family. Many of them work at Vert Galant, a scutching mill established by farmers in 1964 where Xavier and Julien’s grandfather Gilbert bought flax fibers as a textile industry broker. With strong community ties, the family is integral to a culture that’s made France a world leader in flax fiber production. 

From their office in Bailleul, the trio discusses their generational connection to the flax industry, community building, and navigating challenges.

What made you join the flax industry?

XAVIER: This is generational work. It's something that you’re born into. My grandfather and great grandfather were in the flax industry 80 years back. It’s that way for most farmers. If their father planted flax there’s a 90% chance that they will continue to keep sowing flax. 

JULIEN: There have been a lot of changes since their time. When my grandfather was in the flax industry, they scutched the flax by hand. Now, we have machines, but our flax is still the best in the world since we have the best climate to grow it. That’s why people continue to stay in the flax industry here generation after generation. They’re proud of it. 

That must come with a lot of know-how and passion.

MARC: Yes, our farmers are very knowledgeable. For example, they know if there was too much rain in a given month, it's not the right time to plant the flax. You also have to love the flax. It grows quickly within a 100-day period, sometimes several centimeters a day, so the farmers have to check on it frequently. You have to take the right steps at the right time in order to get a good harvest. You have to be vigilant. 

Can you tell us about the relationship between farmers and scutchers?

XAVIER: The farmers and the scutchers have an important relationship. When the seeds are sown, they’re out in the fields, hands in the ground making sure the soil is good. Of course, farmers use soil tests and other metrics to measure the health of the land, but instincts are everything. The more people that are involved, the more information there is to work with. The farmer can ask, “What do you think? Is this the right decision?” 

So the process centers on community… 

XAVIER: Yes, especially during the harvesting period. You have a really short time to harvest flax because you’re always scared that the weather may change. Today it's nice out, but in three days it might rain.

Harvesting happens day and night for two to three weeks. When it’s over, people are exhausted. They sit in the fields, drink some beers, make sandwiches, listen to music, and watch the stars. It’s a moment for everyone to come together and bond over shared problems and successes. 

Can you tell us about how this community has grown since your grandfather’s time?

XAVIER: Vert Galant, one of our biggest scutching mills, started in 1964 and processed flax fibers from 220 hectares of land. There were a few farmers who wanted to have better scutching facilities, so they made a cooperative. They now use nearly 6,000 hectares of land for flax. Because of operations like this Normandy is at the top level of global flax production. Upper Normandy alone provides 50% of the world's supply of high-quality linen fibers. 

What current challenges are your farms and Vert Galant facing?

JULIEN: In May and June we had very little rain so the fibers were very short. It’s difficult for the spinning mill to spin a yarn using short fibers. Thankfully, the scutchers and the yarn suppliers have the know-how to mix these fibers with longer ones to create a great yarn. For example, Vert Galant needs two years to scutch one crop, so they always have the fibers of other years which they can mix in and use to adapt to a bad crop. 

This is another way that flax is zero waste. The straw that’s removed during the scutching process can be used in gardens to keep the soil wet. The stem is used for wooden panels and furniture. Flax can be applied to so many things. 

Part 3.

From the fabric mill in Italy to our in-house atelier in Manhattan, discover how Good Linen is sustainably woven and fashioned into considered silhouettes.

Woven exclusively for Theory by the Marini & Cecconi Mill for 25 years, the inception of our Good Linen happened in an unlikely setting. “I was skiing one day in the early 90s and wearing a pair of stretch ski trousers,” the mill’s owner Riccardo Marini recalls. “I wanted to achieve that same comfort in a linen fabric we were producing at the time.” Riccardo’s lightbulb moment took a great deal of trials, tribulation, and technical expertise to achieve. “We really had to push ourselves to think outside of the box. It was not easy to add a performance aspect to a fabric known for being stiff.” 

Renowned for its rich textile heritage and artisanal techniques since ancient times, the Tuscan mill’s hometown of Prato evolved into a center for innovation in the 90s. Established by Riccardo’s father Mario Marini and his business partner Enzo Cecconi in 1945, this family-owned and operated mill has always adapted to the times. Crafted with a unique blend of fine linen yarns, viscose made with industrial waste cotton fibers, and 100% recycled elastane, the elegant stretch fabric found a home at a newly established Theory, where the mission was to fuse refinement with agility for a modern customer. 

Progress didn’t stop there. The mill’s parent company Marini Industrie became one of the first signatories of Greenpeace’s Detox Program geared towards removing hazardous chemicals from the production process. Today, 50% of the water used in the mill’s production process is recycled through a special water purification system in Prato called GIDA. The company’s offices also use a photovoltaic system which converts thermal energy into electricity via solar panels. 

Although innovation is the mill’s future, time-honored expertise are embedded in its foundation. “The top-tier flax fibers we use to make Good Linen are long and clean,” Riccardo reveals, sharing the depth of his sourcing acumen. “The lack of lint on these fibers allows for brilliant color absorption while using less dye. Plus, these fibers are cultivated and harvested in the most sustainable and least environmentally impactful manner possible.” 

For Paolo Mascii, Theory’s fabric technician of 10 years, this knowledge makes for fruitful conversation. “The relationship between Theory and the Marini family is really collaborative,” the Prato native says, noting that he and his team look forward to their mill visits. “We discuss everything from yarns and weaving processes to finishing techniques with Riccardo and his son Francesco. It’s an important part of delivering a perfect fabric for our customers.”

Once it’s woven, Good Linen arrives at our Atelier and Innovation Center in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. “We created this space so that our design team has the opportunity to test out ideas,” Wendy Waugh, Theory’s Senior Vice President of Sustainability explains. Working directly with pattern makers and sewers, the design team brings the initial prototypes of our garments to life. “Because of the way this fabric is crafted, you can make absolutely every kind of style out of it: pants, dresses, shirts, jackets, outerwear—anything.” Preferred for its excellent stretch and recovery, Good Linen is loved for much more than its polished look. “I can move in my Good Linen clothes. I don’t feel restricted, and I know I look great,” Wendy adds. “It really gives the wearer a sense of confidence.”

The Women’s Linen Edit

The Men’s Linen Edit