Can Fashion Save the Planet? The Importance of Regenerative Fashion

By Ilaria Ravazzolo, GLOBUS correspondant

Inspired by Safia Minney’s talk entitled ‘Regenerative Fashion: Pathways in the Climate Emergency’, delivered at the TED Countdown event organised by TEDxWarwick and GLOBUS.

What does fashion have to do with climate change? How does fashion relate to ecosystems? What do we mean by ‘regenerative fashion’? Becoming more aware of how we humans harm the environment means asking lots of questions. For many, the link between fashion and the environment might not be immediately apparent, but it is certainly not to be ignored if we want to solve the climate crisis. 

The term ‘regenerative fashion’ is closely linked to regenerative agriculture. According to Regeneration International, the term regenerative agriculture ‘describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity’. It focuses on having a positive impact on ecosystems rather than just having less of a (bad) impact on them. These regenerative farming practices help restore the balance in the soil’s carbon content by sequestering carbon into the soil from the atmosphere. Shifting to regenerative agriculture globally can slow climate change, nurture biodiversity, improve yields and nutrition along with many more (positive) impacts. 

So, what does this have to do with fashion? The fashion industry is not only one of the world’s largest and most polluting industries, it also uses great quantities of natural fibres. These can be plant-based, animal-based or grown on farms and are largely used in the production of clothing, shoes and accessories. Therefore, if the production of these fibres is regenerative, the fibres themselves become regenerative. With regenerative fibres, the fashion industry would generate less pollution, and make a first step towards a more circular economy. The British social entrepreneur and author Safia Minney argues that ‘we need to slow down fashion to allow ecosystems to regenerate’. According to her, there has to be a shift in the fashion industry, which includes shifting to low-impact and regenerative natural materials.  

How can we know whether a fibre is regenerative? SomeNGOs, such as the Californian organisation Fibershed, are building regenerative fibre systems with the aid of education, research, events and partnerships. Fibershed has also created a verification programme which supports farmers in implementing carbon farming and reassures consumers that a fibre is regenerative using the Climate BeneficialTM label. As global awareness of the climate crisis increases, more organisations and certifications are emerging to help consumers, designers and manufacturers lower their carbon footprint. Here are some of them:  

Regenerative Organic Certified 

Regenerative Organic CertifiedTM is a certification by the Regenerative Organic Alliance (ROA) applied to food, textiles and personal care ingredients which ensures that the products ‘meet the highest standards in the world for soil health, animal welfare and farmworker fairness’. The ROA aims to increase the adoption of organic practices on farms globally to ‘create long-term solutions to the climate crisis, factory farming, and fractured rural economies’. 

Cradle to Cradle 

The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute created the Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM Products Programme, which sets global standards for safe, circular and responsibly made products. This helps designers, brands and manufacturers make use of ‘the world’s most advanced science-based measures for material health, product circularity, renewable energy and climate, water and soil stewardship, and social fairness’.  

Better Cotton Initiative 

The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) aims to ‘help cotton communities survive and thrive, while protecting and restoring the environment’. The initiative launched the Better Cotton Platform – an online tracking system enabling members to record transactions of Better Cotton Claims Units throughout the supply chain. Their mission is to support the emergence of a new generation of cotton farming communities, which are able to ‘make a decent living, have a strong voice in the supply chain and meet growing consumer demand for more sustainable cotton’. 

Soil Association 

The Soil Association is a UK-based charity which campaigns for humane, healthy and sustainable food, farming and land use. They are also ‘the country’s lead organic certifier offering a huge range of organic and sustainable certification schemes across food, farming, catering, beauty and wellbeing, fashion and textiles and forestry’. Among others, they certify the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and the Organic Content Standard (OCS). 

ECOCERT 

The ECOCERT Group, founded in 1989 in Switzerland, runs international inspection and certification schemes. They assist stakeholders in ‘the implementation and promotion of sustainable practices through certification, consulting and training services’. Some of the certificates they award include the Organic Agriculture Europe and the Organic and Ecological Textiles certification. Their aim is to ‘enable production processes that respect the environment’. 

Forest Stewardship Council 

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a pioneer in forest certification. Their expertise (enhanced by bringing together experts from environmental, economics and social disciplines) is used to promote a responsible management of forests around the world. They have launched the Fashion Forever Green Pact, which aims to ‘promote responsible sourcing of renewable fibre among global brands’. It calls for fashion and textile companies to reduce their impact on deforestation and biodiversity loss. 

NSF International 

The global independent organisation NSF International is supporting sustainability strategies in many industries through certifications such as the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), which focuses on social accountability, animal welfare and land management practices, and the Content Claim Standard (CCS), which verifies the traceability and content claims of particular materials. They provide ‘certification, testing and auditing to public health standards in all key industries and sectors worldwide’.  

To transition to a more regenerative fashion industry more regenerative entails consumers, manufacturers and designers paying more attention to certifications. What is more, Minney emphasises the importance for fashion businesses to build ‘real partnerships’ with their suppliers and understand the obstacles they face in switching to more sustainable practices. Modern buying practices ‘tend to require incredible exploitation’, which means that fashion businesses need to change their whole business model in order to be truly regenerative. Partnerships with suppliers will help achieve this. As Minney argues, ‘when you start looking at your supply chain and how to deliver change within it […] you can really get under the hood of what the possibilities of change are’.  

Header image by Artificial Photography via Unsplash 

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