The effects of producing fashion is devastating the earth that we live in. That’s no secret. It’s also common knowledge that while sustainably-made clothing is better than regular-fare production, it’s not doing enough to migitate the longstanding damage already done by past manufacturing practices.
“The word sustainable is like a dinosaur now,” says Aras Baskauskas, the CEO of Los Angeles label Christy Dawn. “What are we trying to sustain—the fires, the tornadoes, the mass extinction? We don’t need to be sustainable, we need to be regenerative.”
In recent months, the term “regenerative agriculture” has seen more interest amongst brands who see its potential in rolling back some of the climate damage done by fashion. Here’s your crash course on what it is, and who’s employing it into their manufacturing cycles.
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
In essence, regenerative agriculture seeks to literally implement corrective changes at the roots of the garment manufacturing. Rather than focusing on the production chain, regenerative agriculture is looking at the land’s health and what it needs to help it heal, before it can be turned into land for crops.
Specifically, this practice focuses on soil health. Just like how our digestive systems rely on a complicated system of organisms to keep us healthy, having good soil involves ensuring that it has a thriving ecosystem of microorganisms. Through regenerative agriculture, they are nurtured back into the environment, creating healthier soil.
How is it different from sustainable production?
The main difference between regenerative agriculture and sustainable production such as ethically-sourced cotton is that the latter believes that the environment is still at a level where the efforts are showing positive effects and should be maintained.
Regenerative agriculture, on the other hand, stems from the belief that Mother Nature has so much damage done to her, that one needs to reverse the effects before any maintenance can be done. Where sustainability is preventative, regenerative agriculture actively seeks to first bring the soil back to a neutral state.
How is it being implemented?
There are many methods used in regenerative agriculture, and it all depends on what the soil needs and what the company wants to achieve. Some common methods include switching out chemical fertilisers in favour of compost waste, planting windbreaks to decrease soil erosion, and mixing up different crops that are strategically chosen and placed to ensure optimal growth.
Who’s using it now?
There are several indie labels who have employed regenerative materials into their designs, including regenerative wool and cotton, but global brands are paying more attention as well. Some recognisable names include Patagonia, Timberland and Kering Group.
As Patagonia’s CEO Rose Marcario said, “agriculture really represents the best chance that we have of mitigating and ending the climate crisis.” Patagonia is one of the few companies who have begun incorporating regenerative agriculture into their supply chains by incorporating regenerated cotton and hemp grown through these methods into their product lines.
This comes after a 2018 announcement from the Kering Group revealing that they are working with regenerative agriculture experts The Savory Institute to use the institute’s pioneering methodology, Ecological Outcome VerificationTM (EOVTM), to monitor overall land health in the production of regenerated cashmere and wool.
The organisation will also help Kering identify new agricultural farms that can provide ethical materials. In late May 2020, Timberland has also announced that they are also taking steps to build a regenerative leather supply chain.
While all methods of earth-conscious production are worthy of praise, regenerative agriculture is going to change the fabric of fashion in the long run.