Among the words cropping up for the evolving orientation of the fashion industry are “circular,” “regenerative,” “ethical” and so on as key to a sustainable future.
The irony is regenerative agriculture has long been demonstrated by indigenous communities, but today that knowledge is further disseminated by nonprofits such as the Rodale Institute, Fibershed and Sustainable Brooklyn, among others, in partnership with brands of any size, including VF Corp.-owned Timberland and Los Angeles-based label Christy Dawn.
“There has been a focus on ‘who made my clothes?’ and that is an important question,” said Christy Baskauskas, designer and founder of Christy Dawn, adding “a no less important question is: ‘Who grew my clothes?”’
After a conversation with Rebecca Burgess, the executive director of Fibershed, a California-based nonprofit linking brands with regional and regenerative fiber systems, the brand found a serendipitous match with the Oshadi textile company in Southern India.
Partnering with Oshadi, Christy Dawn will help transition the 50-year-old conventionally farmed land to organic cotton over the course of three years.
“When I asked Eshwari, the matriarch of the family who has been living and working with this land for 50 years, what differences she had noticed using regenerative practices, she said: ‘We are happy. We used to get sores on our legs when we farmed with conventional pesticides and chemical fertilizers, now we are healthy,”’ recounted Baskauskas.
Although the brand is starting at a mere 4 acres this year, yielding approximately 1,000 cotton dresses, the response along their fibershed has allowed Christy Dawn to commit to 50 acres next year.
While deadstock fabrics were always inherent to the brand, its segue into the “farm-to-closet” initiative is bolstered with the use of vegetable dyes and GOTS-certified organic dyes. The farm will be irrigated and rain-fed, intercropping not just cotton but mung bean.
Earlier in April, Aras Baskauskas, chief executive officer of the brand, spoke to WWD about the struggles of the present health crisis. He affirmed the brand would not ditch its regenerative projects.
With sinking discretionary demand, the brand pivoted to producing nonmedical-grade face masks of deadstock cotton, to yield 5,000 masks per week. Masks will be for sale, with a one-for-one donation to frontline essential workers.
While Christy Dawn’s efforts show the potential for any brand to pursue regenerative fibersheds — as indexes like The Sustainable Cotton Ranking have outlined — uptake in “sustainable cotton” still has a lot of room for improvement.
“Caring’s not enough,” said Colleen Vien, sustainability director of Timberland, to WWD while reflecting on what the future of fashion holds.
In October, Timberland announced a pilot partnership with Other Half Processing to source, aggregate and trace regenerative ranches linking them with the brand’s large-scale tannery partners to build out a responsible leather supply chain. The traceable and regenerative, or rather “Earth Approved,” leather will be used for part of its footwear and accessories collections for fall 2020.
And despite the coronavirus pandemic, it’s not on hold, either.
Current projects are on track, including the Earth Approved collection launch, with Timberland setting sights on scaling regenerative leather sourcing in the U.S. as well as outside the country.
Regeneratively grazed cattle allow for rest and regrowth of grasses, leading to better food for livestock and healthier soil that in turn reduces carbon emissions. It’s a thinking that guides centers such as the Stone Barns Center in upstate New York or Sustainable Brooklyn, cofounded by Dominique Drakeford (also a Timberland ambassador).
“By spring 2021, we’ll have increased the amount of regenerative leather Timberland sourced by approximately 400 percent with plans to rapidly scale it over time,” said Vien. By 2025, Timberland expects to source 30 percent of its leather from regenerative sources.
Project Drawdown, a nonprofit that seeks to help the world reach “drawdown” — the point when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere begin to decline — finds regenerative agriculture beneficial to one’s bottom line, too.
It could provide $2.3 trillion to $3.5 trillion in lifetime operational cost savings and lifetime net profit gain of $135 billion to $206 billion on an investment of $79 billion to $116 billion, according to the group. Not to mention that carbon is put back into the soil at 25 to 60 tons of carbon per acre, instead of into the atmosphere.
As Vien informed, “regenerative agriculture has a positive impact at both small and large landscape-scale systems,” so brands of any size can have “a net positive effect on both people and planet.”
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