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Sustainable fashion, and its broad definition, has been trending in the fashion industry for years now, fast becoming an industry buzzword that loosely applies to any cleaner, more eco-friendly practices used by fashion brands. Even with a sustainable mindset, such as purchasing fewer items, designing smaller and fewer collections, or elongating the shelf life of our wardrobe, the industry and its consumers are still caught in the same cycle of pollution that is impacting the earth.
The idea of sustainable fashion has lost its way in the industry, becoming nearly indefinable, and as a result, unattainable. This is where regenerative farming, the process of enhancing and nurturing the environments where crops are grown, comes into play. This enhanced cycle of regeneration is why brands such as Christy Dawn and Patagonia are making substantive headway in clean fashion.
The fashion industry has been traditionally notorious for its detrimental impact on the earth, and its recent focus on regenerative farming is hopefully a giant step in the right direction. As noted by Samata Pattinson, CEO of Red Carpet Green Dress, regenerative farming isn’t a new concept. The process has been woven into Indigenous and farming communities for decades. So, how does it work?
Meet the Expert
Samata Pattinson is a fashion entrepreneur and CEO of Red Carpet Green Dress, an organization which works to raise awareness about sustainable and ethical practices in the fashion industry.
What Is Regenerative Farming?
Regenerative farming is a more holistic approach to working with nature, starting with an understanding of how the crops are planted into the ground. Instead of a single file, linear planting of the same crop, regenerative farming mixes different crops together in the same field to help each of them flourish and grow. Cover crops are planted throughout the field, acting as the soil's protection against the sun so it can remain cool, and as a result, more absorbent. Through the process of photosynthesis, cover crops naturally capture the carbon emissions from the atmosphere, absorbing it in the roots, which feed the soil and retain water for greater plant growth. This natural process ensures that carbon emissions are drawn back towards the earth and the nutrient-dense soil as opposed to the atmosphere, slowing the increase in the earth’s temperature. By allowing nature to run its course in this process, it is helping to correct the mistakes the fashion industry has made over decades.
While sustainability targets the garment-making cycle, regenerative farming targets the process before that cycle begins. “Regenerative farming is a great way to not only minimize our negative impacts but restore and regenerate entire ecosystems," Pattinson explains. "But if we exist in a business-as-usual way of thinking, we are still taking and using way more than we should be, and this will not allow for proper regeneration.”
Patagonia started their regenerative farming process back in 2017, starting out with 165 farmers and 420 acres and growing to over 2,260 farmers and 5,248 acres in 2021. Similarly, Kering has established the Regenerative Fund for Nature, while The Conservation International provides grants to farmers in over 15 countries, focusing on the four main materials used in luxury fashion: leather, cashmere, wool, and cotton. These efforts are necessary in changing the clean fashion landscape, says Pattinson, adding that “the tendency to focus on the environmental impact of regenerative agriculture can sometimes mean we fail to focus on the social importance of championing for ethical treatment of the farmers.”
What Do Consumers Expect?
“We are moving towards the space of metrics, and I think citizens will start being able to see real facts and figures about the decisions brands have made and how these literally translate into the impact on regenerative resources," says Pattinson.
Some retailers have started to offer more transparency when it comes to their definitions of sustainability. In 2019, U.K.-based luxury retailer Browns partnered with Good on You, the leading resource in fashion that rates brands based on ethical and sustainable practices, to develop its Conscious Edit. Browns' lists the criteria a product must meet in order to qualify for its Conscious Edit, including use of conscious materials and processes.
"In a time when science-based targets are a talking point, consumers will start seeing quantifiable values to brands' progress toward certain targets, including greenhouse gas emission, land use, water consumption, and water pollution," says Pattinson. "All of these things impact regenerative agriculture."
Of course, there is a steep road ahead in terms of regenerative farming and agriculture, and it will require the efforts of the entire fashion industry to not only lead the conversation but make permanent, substantial changes. Transparency, collaboration, and equality will ensure that the path of regeneration is a successful one.