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From farm to closet: How some brands are embracing regenerative production

By Don-Alvin Adegeest

Apr 30, 2021

Fashion

Image credit: Farming via Pexels

When luxury companies began buying factories to keep artisan skills alive, it was a passive move into sustainability. It was also a way to stifle competition, where brands have priority ownership over their supply chains.

Safeguarding craftsmanship

From a craftsmanship point of view, hand-made products hold their own unique value, and remain highly coveted in comparison to high volume conveyor belt production. Chanel, for example, has been investing heavily in its supply chain for decades, and last year bought out an Italian leather tannery and shoe factory to safeguard its future craftsmanship.

From farm to fashion

But now brands are going beyond the supply chain of artisan producers to bolster their businesses and are turning to raw materials. In addition to made-by-hand craftsmanship, a direct trajectory from farm to closet could soon be a reality as companies like Patagonia, Allbirds and Kering invest in agriculture.

What are the benefits of regenerative agriculture?

Regenerative agriculture improves soil health, primarily through practices that increase soil organic matter, barring pesticides and lowering CO2 emissions. Outfitter Patagonia has been a frontrunner, and in 2018 formed a coalition with Dr. Bronner’s and the Rodale Institute called the Regenerative Organic Alliance, a team dedicated to setting standards and certification for the practices of regenerative organic agriculture—the outcome of which is the Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC). The approach is not meant to overwrite existing organic standards but instead to help support farmers, ranchers, brands and nonprofits harness regenerative organic practices.

“Small and midsized farms around the world are suffering from a commodity-based model dominated by large agricultural interests that leverage everything against the farmers,” says Elizabeth Whitlow, executive director at the Regenerative Organic Alliance. “We’re going to change this by offering an alternative path to these farms with our newly launched ROC program.

Other brands are following suit. As Fast Company reports, “Timberland is building a regenerative rubber supply chain in Thailand, which will grow various tree species to mimic a natural forest ecosystem. It hopes to pilot this rubber in products in 2023 and eventually allow other brands to buy it. Allbirds announced that all of its wool will come from regenerative sources by 2025. Kering, which owns Gucci, Balenciaga, and other luxury brands, has launched a regenerative fund together with Conservation International. It plans to transform a million hectares of farmland that produce raw materials for fashion to use regenerative-agriculture methods in five years.”

Thus far regenerative farming and farm-to-fashion garments and accessories have remained niche, unable to be scaled to fuel the size of fast fashion companies.

Fibershed, a non-profit that develops regional fiber systems that build soil and protect the health of the earth’s biosphere says it is uniting farmers and scientists, doctorates and industry experts “to weigh in on a reformation in the way we farm, manufacture and interact with the textiles we wear on our second skin: trading extractive methods focused merely on profit, for circular and restorative practices to reinvent our textile economy.”

“The fashion industry is increasingly embracing the term regenerative. While fashion can weave in regenerative agriculture with a focus on carbon sequestration, we can’t secure a truly regenerative textile economy without worker welfare, social equity and policies that protect the biodiversity of our planet.”