Is regenerative agriculture the new fashion fix?

In 2019, we forecast that food brands would tackle climate change through regenerative farming in our Future 100: 2020 and Future 100: 2.0.20 reports. Now the fashion industry is following suit, meaning two global sectors worth a combined $12 trillion are rising to the regeneration challenge.

Harking back to indigenous practices that instinctively work in harmony with nature, regenerative agriculture is a loose term for a raft of techniques, including crop rotation and no-till farming, that actively restore soil and build its resilience. For the fashion industry, which relies heavily on cotton crops for our t-shirts and jeans and the wool and leather from grazing sheep and cows, switching to suppliers who use regenerative practices is one way the sector can start to have a positive impact on the planet.

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Regenerative Cotton T shirt, Patagonia
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US outdoor brand Patagonia has been experimenting with regenerative farming for some years, having previously partnered with the Hopworks Urban Brewery in Oregon to launch its own beer using a regenerative grain. Now the brand is turning its attention to another crop: working with farmers across India, Patagonia is using regenerative organic cotton farming practices for a range of T-shirts. Patagonia is not alone. Fellow US fashion brand Timberland has set a target to source all of its natural materials from regenerative sources by 2030 and in February 2021, The North Face announced a partnership with agri-tech company Indigo Ag to source fiber that can be traced to farmers deploying regenerative practices.

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Photos courtesy of FibreTrace™ (top and left) and Reformation (right)
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Australian transparency tech company FibreTrace teamed up with fashion brand Reformation in March to produce a denim collection. Each item is created from Good Earth Cotton from Australia, which brands itself as the only carbon positive, sustainable and traceable cotton in the world, and is farmed using ecologically innovative techniques.

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Regenerative Fund for Nature, Kering/Conservation International

Scaling regenerative agriculture will require the right incentives for farmers since many of them rely on subsidies. Pioneering companies like Kering-owned Gucci is looking to make a more meaningful impact on climate change by injecting financial investment into the industry. Its Regenerative Fund for Nature aims to convert one million hectares of land that produce materials for the fashion industry from regular farmland to regenerative agriculture within 5 years.

These actions point to a shift where companies themselves are redefining their own industries to be better. Will this push help consumers to see fashion in a new light? Will their behavior spark confidence in other sectors to follow their lead? We are only at the beginning of our regenerative journey.

For more on regenerative practices and how they’re restructuring industries, download “Regeneration Rising: Sustainability Futures.”

Main image courtesy of FibreTrace™.