Morgan Kurz is a 28-year-old artist and mountain biker who runs a one-woman shop currently based in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where she handmakes mountain bike clothing from wool, hemp, and other natural fibers. I met Morgan at the Trans-Cascadia enduro race last fall, where she trooped through the course wearing clothes she'd made herself every day, stopping from time to time to point out a plant, type of lichen, or other piece of the natural world that could be used medicinally, or - more relevantly - for dyeing fabrics.
Originally from Michigan, Morgan grew up riding horses and snowboarding competitively, and she chased her competitive side out west when she was 17, living in Wyoming, California, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado over the next decade or so. Eventually, competition fell by the wayside and she pursued her sports mainly for fun, picking up mountain biking along the way when she met her boyfriend, Jesse. She's done a variety of seasonal jobs, lived seasonally in a '98 Vanagon for five years, and much more, most recently starting her clothing brand, Seam of Life.
I'm always intrigued to see someone doing their own thing, and maybe even more so when that someone is busting out miles with a relentless smile and looking more fashionable than the rest of us. Curious to know more about her clothing projects, I caught up with Morgan with some questions. And, I had the chance to try some of her clothing pieces for myself.
Morgan at work.
Who are you as a person?
I am an artist, an athlete, and an activist for our Earth and environment.
How did you start Seam of Life?
I tore my ACL snowboarding in January of 2018 when I was living in Bend, OR and I had full reconstructive surgery in February. Seam Of Life was originally started as "Morganic Handmade" just after my ACL surgery. Since I didn't have the physical ability to do so many things I was used to like snowboarding, mountain biking, and horseback riding..I started sewing projects to keep my mind busy while I healed my physical body. I started out making hemp hoodies with upcycled Pendleton wool and hemp visor headbands. At first it was something to just keep me busy and then friends wanted to start buying stuff.
What is your background with materials / sewing / making things?
I have always been an athlete, but not always an artist. Growing up my mother had a handmade jewelry business she ran from home, and I remember making jewelry with her as a child. I always loved doing various art projects with her, and art class in school - but never really had a creative outlet that I really vibed with until I started sewing. I started sewing in 2016 when I was living in my VW bus in Nevada City, CA. I was in between seasonal work and a friend who ran a handmade clothing business asked if I wanted to learn how to sew because she needed help. There I learned the basic fundamentals of garment construction and natural dyeing. I was an apprentice for a year working in Nevada City, and the natural progression of life led me a separate way. What started as work soon turned into a passion. I never planned to start my own clothing business after learning to sew and working for someone else, but it's become something that I really love to do. Colors and textures are very therapeutic and I love working with fibers to create wearable art.
What's your background with biking?
I grew up riding bikes as a child, but not ever seriously. My brother and I would ride these trails that connected our neighborhood to another nearby neighborhood that went around a lake, but not much other than for random adventures. I worked for the Wyoming Conservation Corps in the summer of 2012 and the majority of the projects my crew was responsible for was building and maintaining IMBA trails throughout the state of Wyoming. At the end of one of our projects in Curt Gowdy State Park near Laramie, the UW outdoor program let our crew take out a fleet of rental mountain bikes out to ride the trails we had just worked on. Thanks to my boyfriend Jesse, I am now as obsessed with mountain biking as he is. I started really mountain biking shortly after meeting him. I got my first bike in 2013 - it was an orange Santa Cruz Juliana. So I've been mountain biking for about 8 years. I was off the bike for about a year after my knee surgery because I was in between bikes (trying to save up for a new one) but putting the work in on a trainer while I rehabbed my knee. It wasn't until then that I decided I wanted to race bikes and be on a competitive level once again. My knee surgery has inspired me to race my bike, push my body harder, and strive to be stronger everyday - so I can continue to do all the things I love so much that ask a lot from my body. After watching my boyfriend race cross country every week when we lived in Steamboat in 2014, I decided that the whole racing thing probably wasn't my cup of tea. Little did I know I'd be hooked on enduro racing!
Why clothes? And why handmade natural clothes?
Growing up I was a total tomboy, I never considered or cared about what I wore until maybe junior year of high school. I discovered hemp fabric and fell in love with how durable and eco-friendly it was. I started buying hemp clothes from this rad store my mom would take me to called Planet First, which was the first time I found clothes that I actually liked - not just the way they looked but how they felt and made me feel. I always thought everything looked the same and everyone had the same stuff - which is boring! That's where my love for hemp/natural fibers was born. The desire to make my own clothing comes from not being able to find things I like, or that fit me right, and not wanting to just look the same as other people. I want to wear things that are unique, comfortable, durable and functional - and my designs reflect that. Clothing is far more than a basic necessity - it's also a way to express yourself. Colors and fabrics make you (and others) feel a certain way. I was told once that "poor people can't afford to buy cheap things" - and that totally stuck with me. Instead of buying the cheapest stuff, that's just going to wear out/break and bind you to buying even more in the long run…then end up in a landfill shortly after - people need to consider the big picture and long term effect of the clothing they choose to buy.
Alicia's take on two jerseys:
I had the chance to try a long-sleeve jersey, a 3/4-sleeve one, a racerback tank top, a neck warmer, and a headband. All the products were made from various styles and weights of merino wool, with a polyester blend mushroom-patterned sleeve on one jersey being the only exception.
What initially surprised me was just how soft all the clothing was. Wool is sometimes known for being itchy, and while I've certainly worn wool garments that manage to avoid the itchiness, it's a possibility that's in the back of my mind whenever I try a new wool product.
The long-sleeve jersey is fitted like a typical base layer and is easy to fit under jackets or other layers. In size medium, the sleeves are plenty long (great for my long limbs, but something to be aware of for shorter folks), and the neckline is high, offering protection from both the cold and the sun.
The 3/4-sleeve jersey has a much looser fit, a bit more like a traditional bike jersey, which makes sense with the laid-back hand-dyed look and mushroom sleeve. The mushroom sleeve, for its part, is ridiculously soft and, in my opinion, looks great.
Looking more closely at the seams, there are several types of stitching that seem well-thought-out and well-executed to keep the jersey strong in the right places without overdoing the material use. Through a few months of wearing each of these jerseys regularly, there's no visible wear and tear, and the naturally antimicrobial fabric hasn't picked up any weird smells the way synthetic fabrics sometimes do.
As for drawbacks, I don't have any true flaws that I can point to, only personal preference things to note. These jerseys are undeniably well-made, and the prices match those of some non-handmade jerseys. All the colors are unique thanks to the hand-dyeing process, so anyone who wants a very specific, very consistent color is out of luck. However, Morgan is willing to re-dye any items that fade or are stained after purchase. Other points - the neckline is higher than some might like on the long-sleeve jersey, and that's definitely noticeable when wearing it. It doesn't bother me at all, but it might bother some people with shorter or wider necks, or those particularly sensitive to their collar height. Sizing also varies a bit across all the items, since they're each made to have a different fit: the 3/4-sleeve jersey is loose, the long-sleeve one is snug, and the tank top falls in the middle, all in size medium.
I stand behind natural fibers like hemp and merino wool, because they are biodegradable and will break down when they do eventually go back to the Earth - which is inevitable. I also have really sensitive skin and most synthetic fibers (plastics) give me rashes and irritate my skin when I sweat. The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world - just after the oil industry. By supporting low quality, fast fashion from big brand name companies, people are not only contributing to the pollution in our Earth's landfills, but they are also helping to exploit women and children around the globe. Women make up the majority of the garment production workforce. Working environments in foreign countries for these women include hazardous working conditions, long hours and extremely low wages - even forced and child labor. By supporting small batch, handmade and local products - you can help support living wages, quality production and sustainable work environments. Fast fashion is made cheaply and is NOT built to last. More than 10 million tons of clothing end up in landfills each year. Most clothing is made from synthetic fibers (plastic) that will never decompose or go away. Synthetic fibers also release microplastics back to the Earth with every wash. You also absorb whatever material you are wearing against your skin when you sweat - our skin is our biggest organ - and when you wear synthetic fibers, you are actually absorbing plastic into your body even if you don’t realize it.
Morgan's dyeing process uses plant-based colors and results in one-of-a-kind clothing pieces.
Tell me about the process of making something like a jersey, from starting the design to the finished product.
I proudly source ZQ certified deadstock merino wool fabric from New Zealand. ZQ certified merino wool is the global standard of sustainable wool. ZQ certified sheep graze in free range style farms and growers are held to the highest standards for animal quality of life. ZQ merino is the only wool that’s sourceable from grower to garment. Not all wool is created equal - ZQ certification also means NO mulesing and NO live international transport. Mulesing is a procedure that actually removes portions of the sheep's skin and is unfortunately a common practice. Deadstock fabrics are leftovers from large companies that either over ordered, or manufacturers that overproduced - I utilize large companies' leftovers that would otherwise be put into a landfill or incinerator.
While Morgan buys some of her fabrics pre-dyed, she starts mainly with raw material and colors each piece to be truly one-of-a-kind.
The hemp fabric I source is a certified organic cotton/hemp fabric blend. I use some pre-dyed fabric blends (black and grey) and hand dye all the colored fabric naturally with plants. I start with raw (undyed) white fabric yardage, and it basically comes in giant sheets or rolls. Most of my designs are based on necessity - what I need and want to wear. Usually I start with old clothing pieces that I've had from companies that are no longer around - if I have something I like, I will use that as kind of a template to draft a similar design with pattern paper and make slight adjustments, tweak things as necessary, and slightly alter it depending on what exactly I want. Once I dial in the pattern, which sometimes takes three or four drafts of something, I transfer that dialed pattern to paper and file it. Some garments I cut and sew before going into the dye baths, but some fabric I dye raw yardage first, then cut and sew - it just depends on the specific fabric blend. Once I have my fabric cut or sewn, I weigh each piece of fabric so I know exactly how much mordant and dye plants/extracts I should use, or at least start with.
The first step in the natural dye process is to scour the fabric, basically wash the fabric of anything left over from the fabric production. The next step is to mordant - the fabric is mordanted and cooked with natural minerals - this is a crucial step to bond the plant dyes to the fibers. Fabric is then cooked with raw plant material or extracts of the highest quality available. I cook fabric in various-sized restaurant-grade stock pots that I only use for natural dyes. Different plants require different temperatures and cooking times to achieve certain hues, and some colors require multiple dye baths over multiple days. After the fabric is dyed, I oxidize the fibers by hanging them on a line before rinsing them. Then I rinse the fabric by hand with a hose and the excess rinse water is either used to water plants in our yard, or it goes back into the dye vat to be recycled. I don't dump my dye vats - they are all revived and reused - true living color. I store them in five gallon buckets with lids or large muck tub buckets. Once my fabric is dyed, rinsed, and dried, I inspect it for any holes or wear that might have happened during the dye process. Then I either finish sewing it or cut, sew, finish. I use a Juki four-thread overlock serger for garment seams and Juki cover-stitch to finish the edges, then sew a tag on with my regular straight stitch Singer sewing machine. My tags are made from a cork fabric that's leather-like in appearance but plant-based.
Who are your products for?
I make products for everyone! Most of my designs are unisex - but some designs are tailored to a more specific body type. I naturally make more women's specific stuff simply because I am a woman, but am trying to offer more men's and unisex options. Though a lot of my designs are based around what I like to wear biking, my clothing is designed for any outdoor activity, or anyone who simply cares about the Earth and the clothes they choose to buy. My products are versatile and functional, and they are made to be worn from the trail to the town.
Alicia's take on two off-the-bike garments:
While I prefer to ride with sleeves, the tank top has become one of my go-to off-the-bike shirts, something I reach for multiple times each week whether I'm doing something active or not. I really, really like the two different fabrics used: both merino, but two different weaves. The racerback panel is almost lace-like, made of what Morgan calls "air vent" merino, and the front is a tightly knit gray merino. Both are equally soft and stretchy, and it's easy to work the shirt into a wide range of outfits.
The neck warmer is another multifunctional piece, working as a headband for this particular photoshoot, but serving mainly as a face cover to keep the sun off my face when paragliding. Lightweight and maybe just slightly sturdier than most neck gaitors of this style, it's one that I expect to keep in the rotation through all the seasons. Plus, I think it works decently as a thick headband. With tiny perforations, it's easy to breathe through, but does a fair job of keeping the wind and sun away.
I feel ready to take on the world, or at least the farmer's market.
What are the unique challenges of running a homegrown company like Seam of Life?
The biggest challenge is being an artist - not a brand. My small business is very grassroots and funded by myself. I live paycheck to paycheck and work a full time job as a server at a brewery and Seam Of Life is my part time passion project. I really hope to make it my full time job and work for myself instead of work for other people one day. I don’t have investors or partners or business loans. I’m not able to get wholesale prices on fabric because I can’t even order the “minimum” quantities required to get wholesale pricing - because of funds and physical studio space. Working from home with my growing small business is a challenge, because I live in a small space with a significant other and my sewing “studio” is really corner of our living room, hah. I am also one person doing everything - from cutting, sewing, dyeing fabric, sourcing new fabric, testing new fabric/designs, taking photos, making website listings, packing and shipping orders, and vending events. I enjoy doing it all because I am able to maintain my small batch, high quality production, but know that I could get more done and grow if I had a business partner or was able to pay an assistant to help. Another big challenge is taking photos for my website - accurately displaying and representing the creations I work so hard to make - especially because you can’t feel a fiber through a photo. The natural dyes look different in different lighting and the colors almost shift from artificial lighting to natural light. I shouldn’t say I do everything on my own - because my boyfriend Jesse helps me a lot with taking photos, testing mens designs, and even vending events like the Sturdy Dirty Enduro - he even worked my booth so I could race last year!
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of coming back from my ACL surgery stronger than I was before. My knee injury has inspired and motivated me to strive to be strong and stay strong, both physically and mentally. I am also really proud of myself for just making it through Trans-Cascadia 2021 - I had only dreamed about doing some epic event like that. Since I won an entry into the race, I hadn’t been training and didn’t plan to do anything a big as Trans-Cascadia anytime soon. I had less than one week to pack and button up details. Physically I was not 100% going to that event - but couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I was about a month off a concussion from a bike crash, then had another gnarly crash onto my shoulder just two weeks prior. I knew going into the race that I might not even make it through the whole four days, but wanted to push my mental and physical strength to see if I could. My goal was to just finish and I am so proud I was able to listen to and take care of my body to accomplish that. It was truly a rewarding experience and I learned so much.
How have your projects evolved since you started making clothing?
My projects have evolved quite a bit, I used to only make hemp clothing. Now I mostly make merino wool apparel - mostly because I spend more time on my bike than I ever have and merino is hands down the best technical fiber. Merino wool is key for active comfort with its quick dry properties combined with its high warmth to weight ratio. Merino wool is naturally anti-microbial and anti-fungal - meaning it doesn’t get as stinky as synthetic fabrics or need to be washed as often - it’s moisture wicking, quick dry, and merino wool even still insulates you when it’s wet! I still love to wear and work with hemp because it's the strongest natural fiber and holds up extremely well over time, but there's been a higher demand for merino wool options. I recently started to combine printed patterned fabric in combination with the natural fibers and natural dyes. I am also starting to make some more technical pieces with more technical fabrics, like these new tech pants I’m working on made from an ultra light DWR four way stretch waterproof breathable fabric. As much as I hate plastic and believe we should not depend on synthetics, or overproduce and abuse them like the majority of clothing companies do - I do believe there is a time and place for some synthetic fibers.
A longtime Pacific Northwest resident until recently, Morgan has now moved to Colorado and is revamping her clothing business in the Rocky Mountains. While currently mostly a passion project, she hopes to grow the business and eventually create unique clothes full-time, enjoying some enduro racing and presence at various bike events along the way. Find Morgan's creations online at seamoflife.com.