Note: this article will be regularly updated as we learn more.
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Imagine you’re having dinner at your favorite restaurant –whether that’s 5 star or a neighborhood gem– and you order your favorite meal and the server said “This now comes in a sauce. Which sauce would you like: red, tan, green or brown?” Your next question would be: What’s in the sauce? Because that would matter. Things you’d consider would be: How does it taste? Am I allergic to it? Perhaps, Is it organic? Produced in a way that doesn’t harm the earth? (That last one would be ideal, of course.)
But how often do we look at clothes and just pick out what we like by brand, style and color and stop there? (Stop to click on the Amazon affiliate link now that Conde Nast is in bed with Bezos)
For the most part, whether high fashion or fast fashion, brands don’t want us looking further than that. They don’t want us asking if the material is made from petroleum, bad for our skin or sheds plastic we can inhale. Nor do they want us to wonder if any chemicals were involved in the making of it that were then left to wash away in rivers elsewhere. Or if the workers who made them were treated fairly.
When you start to think about all of this it could make you give up shopping altogether or shrug your shoulders and think See? It’s not my fault. It’s just too damn difficult.
But you’re here, having discovered this article because you know there must be an alternative. And there is: more conscientiously produced fashion. And more specifically Regenerative Fashion.
What is regenerative fashion? If I had to guess (before I knew) I might think it is something high tech that helps you recover from workouts. While that would be amazing, it is NOT regenerative fashion. But trust me, regenerative fashion is just as cool. If not cooler.
Regenerative Fashion Starts with Regenerative Agriculture
To oversimplify it starts with the soil. “Regenerative Agriculture” describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.
Regenerative Agriculture Basics
Nonprofit group Textile Exchange has developed the Regenerative Agriculture Landscape Analysis. This was created specifically with the fashion industry in mind. It states:
- Regenerative agriculture can’t be defined in a single statement or set of practices.
It is contextual and nuanced, and instead calls for a fundamentally holistic systems approach that puts humans and ecosystems at its core.
- Programs should be rooted in justice, equity, and livelihoods.
Indigenous advocates call for an acknowledgement of the Indigenous roots of regenerative agriculture and of past and current racial injustice to underpin future work.
- Regenerative agriculture is about much more than increasing soil carbon levels.
While evolving soil science is calling into question exactly how long-term soil carbon sequestration works, holistic regenerative systems have documented interdependent co-benefits related to biodiversity, water availability and quality, climate resilience, and livelihoods too.
- A transition to regenerative agriculture is fundamental for the fashion and textile industry.
The long-term health of the sector will depend on how it is able to work with farmers to develop more resilient systems, and regenerative practices offer immense social and environmental benefits too.
What does farming have to do with fashion?
Regenerative Fashion are garments created from fibers from said farms. In other words, they are the complete opposite of petroleum based textiles that poisons our earth both in the production process and at the end of their use. In contrast clothing created from textiles from regenerative farms actually help heal the earth through the process. Note: be wary of greenwashing. Circularity, recycled nylon etc does not mean Regenerative. Remember it’s about how the fibers are grown, not how long a fabric stays in use. (which is also important)
Regenerative agriculture is about growing raw materials in alignment with natural systems and Indigenous practices. It’s a complete contrast to the extractive approach that has become the norm in recent yearsBeth Jensen, Climate+ Strategy Director, Textile Exchange.
So Should We Only Buy “Regenerative Fashion”?
Ummm not exactly. Because while there is a lot that’s right about it, it’s a complex subject. In an article by Whitney Bauck in the Financial Times she wrote,
“Even as some segments of the agricultural sector are worried about the greenwashing or dilution of the word “regenerative”, others think that framing the regenerative movement as the gold standard when it comes to doing right by the Earth misses the point. Co-founder of Sylvanaqua Farms Chris Newman is a grower who believes… that the conventional agriculture system is damaging: but he thinks that real solutions are far too connected to specific geographies to ever be standardised and labelled — practices that work on his farm in Virginia, for example, might be irrelevant for a grower in India.”
Our Bottomline on Regenerative Fashion
Along with thrifting and wearing more often what we already own, knowing as much as possible about “the ingredients” in our clothes will empower us to make better choices when we shop. Brands that are collaborating with regenerative farms are a step in the right direction. Below are some of our favorites.
A relatively new company Sheep Inc is also a favorite! On their website they state “Farming has a huge impact on the environment. So when we started looking for our wool provider, we endeavoured to find the highest quality with the lowest impact.” The sheep are also sheared in a humane way and the wool is fully traceable back to the individual sheep.
Between their way of doing things and their bright poppy styles they show how fashion can be.
Essential clothing basics which come as close to regenerative fashion as you can get. Commissioned from 100% organic heritage mills who spin, knit and finish the fabrics which are then sewn into the clothing within a 20 Mile radius of the Harvest & Mill studio. The dyes are naturally made from dye artists in CA and Indiana and all the packing materials are compostable. Reasonably priced and comfortable all in climate positive package. What are you waiting for?
We love this brand! One of our favorite things about it is actually a list of ingredients on the website that defines the bits and pieces of healthy stuff that makes up their clothes. Named by WWD the apparel equivalent of “farm to table, Lydia Wendt, the Founder and Design Director, says her mission is to positively change the industry (where she worked in fast fashion for 25 years so she knows of what she speaks) one bolt of fabric and garment at a time.” And are the clothes comfortable? In a word, yes!
See their story and make sure to take note of the myriad of brands that use their fabrics. Not only making clothes but as they say in the name, making cloth. And the textile is where this all begins and ends – if it’s farmed from regenerative practices and highly compostable we’re well on our way.
We first read about Christy Dawn while researching an article on deadstock. The dresses were wonderful, made from rescued and reused fabrics, with a timeless sensibility. But what really impressed us were the different makers used for each piece; artisan dressmakers paid premium wages, with full benefits et al. A real commitment to transparency can be viewed about each item. But what led to the inclusion here really got us excited. Christy Dawn is evolving from sustainable to regenerative – they launched a collaboration with Oshadi Collection, where they planted the first cotton seeds on a regenerative farm in Southern India in 2019 and will premiere the first collection of dresses this May. Read about this singular journey here.
The first black-women owned vertically integrated apparel manufacturing and print on demand company in the US, Seed 2 Shirt is a Fibershed partner. Working to rebuild regional textile systems in Africa and the U.S through the production of blank cotton/organic cotton t-shirts for brands and organizations they seek to empower the African Diaspora people in a planet beneficial way. Read their web page about the untold story of African American textile makers, how the door was opened and then in 1904, slammed shut. That it’s been opened again by this progressive company reminds us of what practicing “Beyond Fair-Trade” can do. Improving the lives of small-scales and socially disadvantaged cotton farmers, their initiatives have expanded resistance and sustainable practices for countless collaboratives from the US to Africa.
Follow their Instagram– it’s an amazing journey
Long one of our favorite companies for outdoor wear, Patagonia has gone deep into Regenerative Organic. As they write, food and fiber in the old industrial way has led to devastating consequences for our climate.
Since Big Ag(riculture) is a broken system, looking to farm with healthy soil which traps carbon, has the potential to restore the health of our soil and climate. And as a large company, their growing programs encompass the three main elements – pasture-based animal welfare, fairness to farmers and workers and robust soil health and land management. They have the voice and tell the stories in a broad outreach to safeguarding the planet. Join their 30 by 30 Resolution to Protect Nature .
For as long as we can remember, when it got cold, I mean bone chilling “how am I gonna walk out in that temp you have got to be kidding, there can’t be global warming” freezing, The North Face was the dream coat. You could survive anything. But they weren’t the first company that came to mind in terms of regenerative fashion. Well, that’s changed and in such a cool way. They’ve teamed up with Fibershed and The Bare Ranch in California to craft goods made from Climate Beneficial Wool. Or as they say, one innovative ranch and a flock of sheep can make a difference. Check out their Cali Wool jackets, beanies, and scarves. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship☺
The OG in this space is Fibershed. Not a brand but a nonprofit organization based in California that is building a regenerative fiber system through research, education, events, and partnerships.
They have created a Climate Beneficial™ verification which is given to brands using fiber that come from landscapes where carbon farming practices have been implemented, including no-till, cover crops, pasture cropping and other regenerative, organic methods.
And they have created an online marketplace where a various textile artists and designers sell their wares. You can see these at: https://www.fibershedmarketplace.com/
Hopefully, this introduction helped you see another way fashion can actually be good for the planet. The more we discover people working to make these changes the more we know that we can all contribute in a positive way to our planet.