Is regenerative agriculture good for sustainable fashion?

Nowadays, you might notice that more brands than ever before are flouting “sustainable”, “organic” or “natural” fabrics in their product line, but clothes can be easily washed green. A recent study by the Changing Markets Foundation, a company campaigning for the circular economy, found that more than half of the environmental claims made by fashion giants like Zara, H&M and Uniqlo were “unfounded”. Even brands that tout their durability, like Reformation and Levi’s, fell into the “could do better” category when it comes to the use of fossil fuel based textiles like polyester.

Today, a new kind of sustainable fashion has hit the headlines, this time focusing on how fabrics are grown. Recent brands including Eileen Fisher, Stella McCartney, Christy Dawn and Kering Luxury Group, which contains high-end brands like Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen, have ventured into the realm of regenerative agriculture to promote a more sustainable fashion experience. .

Regenerative agriculture can be defined as agricultural practices that restore soil biodiversity, which among other benefits, promotes natural carbon storage. A study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine estimates that in the United States, regenerative agriculture could sequester 250 million tonnes of carbon—A piece equal to about four percent of the country’s total emissions.

“It’s a holistic method of working with an ecosystem and creating mutually beneficial connections,” says Mairin Wilson, head of regenerative practices at dressmaker Christy Dawn. “It uses no chemical inputs, infuses the soil with nutrients using compost and fertilizer, uses little or no plowing, introduces biodiversity with cover crops, pollinators and traps, and ensures that all farmers receive a living wage. Better yet, regenerative agriculture absorbs more carbon than it releases, making it a solution to climate change.

[Related: Bamboo fabric is less sustainable than you think.]

Exact practices may vary from brand to brand. For the Kering group, for example, the objective is to transform over two million acres of land in Argentina, France, Spain, Mongolia, South Africa and India in a regenerative agricultural space for leather, cotton, wool and cashmere. For the smaller, California-based Christy Dawn, that means putting some of the power in the hands of consumers by allowing them buy in regenerative agriculture in southern India which will be used for cotton cultivation. At the end of the annual harvest, they will be able to purchase a dress spun from the fibers of the land they have invested in and potentially profit from the rest of the crops.

“With this type of connection, the goal is to provide a more environmentally friendly and socially responsible product for consumers,” said Huantian Cao, co-director of the sustainable clothing initiative at the University of Delaware. , when asked about the Christy Dawn Project. “It’s very innovative, and I think it’s a good idea.”

The idea connects the three components of sustainable fashion: people, brands and solutions, explains François Souchet, global head of sustainability and impact at the fashion and lifestyle consultancy BPCM. “I think this type of thinking is evolutionary,” he adds. And while the Christy Dawn Project is small (it currently covers 40 acres and 28,000 pounds of organic cotton), other clothing brands have been able to expand their initiatives significantly in just a few short years. Patagonia regenerative cotton project, for example, started in 2018 with 165 farmers on 420 acres in India and now has up to 2,260 farmers on 5,248 acres.

[Related: Thrift shopping is an environmental and ethical trap.]

Yet there are experts who are not completely sold. Theresa Lieb, Food Systems Analyst at GreenBiz Group, written in a blog post that while regenerative agriculture for fashion could be of benefit to the planet, the dilemma of constantly buying new things is an issue that needs to be urgently addressed. Almost 70 new clothes are bought on average each year by American consumers, and some 85 percent of textiles disposed ofs are simply dumped or burned. It’s not just about making a better product, Lieb argues, it’s about creating fewer, better, and more durable clothes that won’t end up in the landfill. She also notes the importance of prioritizing everyday necessities like food, fuel and fiber in agriculture, especially as agriculture and development grow. more and more endangered species.

“It is better to conserve the land than to cultivate it regeneratively,” she writes.

This gives consumers two options to control their clothing buying habits. First, they can spend their money in places that are looking for ways to be more sustainable with on-the-ground projects like regenerative agriculture, and making sure these products are of high quality and sustainable. And second, they can buy less. Thank you in advance to all the outfit repeaters.


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