World Environment Day 2021: Regenerative Agriculture and Fashion

By Constance Beswick

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This year, World Environment Day comes with an urgent message: ‘REIMAGINE. RECREATE. RESTORE.’ Continued unsustainable practices and the destruction of our planet’s ecosystems not only present a great threat towards biodiversity but also to the future survival of our planet’s natural carbon sinks.

The apparel producing industry has long been practicing exploitative forms of agriculture in order to keep up with the natural plant and animal fibre demand for fashion goods. Therefore, this year’s messaging highlights the importance of near-term industry action in relation to better farming practices and the introduction of more regenerative forms of agriculture necessary to pave the way for more resilient ecosystems.

WHAT IS REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE?

Coined in the 1980s, Regeneration International describe regenerative agriculture as farming and grazing practices that, “reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity.”(1)

There is not currently a common industry definition of regenerative agriculture, however the practice generally entails methods including foregoing pesticides and certain fertilisers, increasing crop rotation, diversity and biodiversity, composting, tilling, managing livestock grazing, integration of livestock, soil disturbance and the introduction of cover crops to act as natural carbon sequesters.(2)

As a result of over-farming, development and other factors, soil capacity is rapidly declining, with some experts predicting fewer than 60 harvests remaining. Soils are host to a quarter of our earth’s biodiversity and if we continue to degrade the soil at the current rate, the world will run out of topsoil in 60 years. (3)

Read more about biodiversity in our article HERE.

Regenerative agriculture presents just one system-based solution to promote the recovery and future resilience of our planet’s ecosystems by omitting the use of synthetic chemicals and replenishing soil health. It is also a system which values crops as carbon sequesters, according to research, if we were to make a complete switch to regenerative organic agriculture, we could sequester more carbon than is currently emitted.(4)

It is no secret that every garment produced has a ripple effect on the environment, and fashion is in many cases, a product of agriculture, making the industry directly accountable for the resulting soil degradation and biodiversity loss. Natural fibres used for textiles in the fashion industry, whether animal or plant based, are all grown or raised on land, if the land is part of a regenerative system, the subsequent fibre is regenerative.

As outlined in our Fashion CEO Agenda 2021, the material mix is one of the biggest drivers of a fashion brand’s environmental footprint and comes with implications for climate change, waste and biodiversity(5). While significant progress has been made within natural fibre production practices largely driven through the introduction of material standards, these fibres still pose challenges and trade-offs that need to be acknowledged and resolved.

Going forward, industry leaders are encouraged to switch to lower impact materials and consider the integration of regenerative agricultural practices within their supply chains in order to achieve this. A shift towards a more regenerative agricultural system has the potential to create new job opportunities, upskilling and new ways of working. However, it is urged that those who are exploring the potential of regenerative agriculture are respectful towards local indigenous agricultural practices, and account for their work accordingly. (6)

Download the Fashion CEO Agenda 2021 HERE.

REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE IN PRACTICE

Our Strategic Partner, Kering, is one industry player that is driving progress in the field of regenerative agriculture. Speaking at CFS+ 2020, Katrina Ole-MoiYoi, Sustainble Sourcing Specialist at Kering and Chantsallkham Jamsranjav, South Gobi Cashmere Project Manager at the Wildlife Conservation Socierty discussed regenerative materials for fashion and why focusing upon raw materials is so critical for Kering.

Watch the full video on Regenerative Materials for Fashion HERE.

More recently, Kering have launched a Regenerative Fund for Nature alongside Conservation International. Over the next five years, the initiative will drive the shift from conventional farming practices to regenerative methods for 1,000,000 hectares of crop and rangelands by providing grants to farming groups, project developers, NGOs, and other stakeholders with ambitions to scale regenerative practices.(7)

Read more about The Fund HERE.

REFERENCES

(1) Regeneration International (2017). What is Regenerative Agriculture?

(2) Earth Day (n.d.).  Regenerative Agriculture.

(3) FAO (n.d.). Keeping soils alive and healthy is key to sustain life on our planet.

(4) Rodale Institute (2020). Regenerative Agriculture and the Soil Carbon Solution.

(5) Global Fashion Agenda (2021). Fashion CEO Agenda 2021.

(6) Financial Times (2021). The New Buzzword in Fashion.

(7)Kering (2021). Kering and Conservation International launch Regenerative Fund for Nature.

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