As the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, and land degradation escalate at alarming speeds, it’s (more than) time to move beyond sustainable fashion and embrace regenerative fashion.
What does ‘regenerative’ mean?
To understand regenerative fashion, first we must understand regenerative agriculture.
According to Regeneration International, “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 improvements in the water cycle.”
Essentially, the point of regeneration is that rather than focusing on doing less bad or having less of an impact, it puts the focus on doing more good and creating a positive impact by improving the land, revitalizing the soil, restoring nutrients, and capturing carbon from the atmosphere and into the soil (as we know our atmosphere has far too much carbon, but our soil actually has far too little carbon — in fact, our soil has lost about 50–70% of its original carbon content. Regenerative farming practices can help restore the balance by sequestering carbon from the atmosphere into our soil).
As Rebecca Burgess of Fibershed puts it, “carbon is a finite resource that moves through soils, oceans, food, fibers and the atmosphere — and ancient carbon is fossilized in Earth’s core. There is no more carbon entering or leaving Earth — we are simply seeing the effects of having too much of it in the wrong place.“
So, how does this apply to the fashion industry?
Natural fibers used in the fashion industry, whether they’re animal-based or plant-based, are all grown/raised on farms or ranches. And so, when the fiber is grown or the fiber-producing animal is raised as part of a regenerative system, then that fiber is regenerative.
For example, if a cotton farmer is using regenerative, holistic management practices (such as cover crops, crop rotation, no-till, composting, and pasture cropping) to grow their cotton, that cotton is regenerative cotton, just like when a cotton farmer using organic practices, they can call their cotton organic cotton.
How Do I Know When a Fiber is Regenerative?
While not nearly as widespread as organic yet, regenerative is gaining steam fast. The leader in this space is Fibershed, a nonprofit organization based in California that is building regenerative fiber systems through research, education, events, and partnerships. The organization has built out a large network of farmers, ranchers, land managers, ecologists, mill operators, spinners, natural dyes, filters, designers, sewers, and knitters to advance regenerative and regional fiber systems.
Fibershed has a Climate Beneficial™ verification, which is given to brands using fibers that come from landscapes where carbon farming (i.e. carbon-capturing) practices are being used.
Climate Beneficial™ was first used for wool from sheep who grazed on grassland and helped enhance carbon storage in the soil. Cotton farmers are now exploring what it looks like to grow Climate Beneficial™ Cotton as well.
Is There a Certification for Regenerative Products?
There is one in the works! The Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) seal is currently in a pilot program. To achieve this certification, entities must already hold a USDA organic certification, or equivalent international organic certification.
Beyond being certified organic, entities must follow criteria within the following pillars: Soil Health & Land Management, Animal Welfare, and Social Fairness. Read this document for more details on the criteria in the ROC Framework.
While the focus or Regenerative Organic has been largely focused on food companies, Patagonia was in the pilot program, proving that there is a very real opportunity for apparel and fashion brands as well to get involved!
Where Can I Find Regenerative Fashion?
There are a few pioneering brands bringing Climate Beneficial™ fibers to the market as well as many brands partnering with Fibershed to create more regional fiber systems.
However, the Climate Beneficial™ stamp of approval and the Regenerative Organic Certification Pilot is limited, so this list also includes brands that are stepping up to build more restorative, healthy fiber systems to help create a regenerative fashion industry.
Many of the brands making Climate Beneficial™ products are small-scale producers, so Fibershed has created an online marketplace to more easily find Climate Beneficial™ seal. You can go to the lefthand side and choose the filter “Climate Beneficial” to see which products have reached that level.
Harvest & Mill is a Fibershed Member with basics like socks, tees, and joggers made with USA-grown and milled organic cotton. The brand has many undyed pieces, like unbleached white as well as heirloom brown grown cotton and tan-green grown cotton.
All of Harvest & Mill’s pieces are independently sewn in Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco. Discover more sustainable basics brands in this guide!
Slow fashion brand California Cloth Foundry is a Fibershed Soil to Soil Partner that creates loungewear from earth-friendly natural fibers like regenerative hemp, Climate Beneficial wool, Cleaner Cotton™, organic cotton, and Lenzing Modal®.
CCF also uses natural dyes and finishes. The colors for their pieces are achieved by botanically dyeing the fabric with plants like weld and madder, brightening the fabrics with hydrogen peroxide, or leaving the fabric undyed. The brand ships their earth-minded pieces in compostable materials and vegetable-based inks.
Coyuchi is a home and lifestyle brand that has been producing organic bedding since 1991, so it’s no surprise to see this brand as one of the pioneers of Climate Beneficial™ Wool! You can find Climate Beneficial™ wool blankets, beanies, gloves, scarves, bedding, and dryer balls in Coyuchi’s collection.
Eileen Fisher is making strides towards sourcing from regenerative farms — the brand is a Frontier Founder with the Savory Institute’s Land to Market program, which is the world’s first a verified regenerative sourcing solution for meat, dairy, wool, and leather.
Eileen Fisher’s regenerative wool is sourced from Argentinian ranchers who are regenerating depleted grasslands while sequestering atmospheric carbon using healthy holistic farming practices.
As a participant in the Regenerative Organic Certification Pilot, Patagonia has started selling tees made from the regenerative and organic cotton grown using the standards set forth by Regenerative Organic. All of Patagonia’s regenerative organic cotton tees are sewn in Fair Trade Certified™ factories. I’m on the waiting list for one of their Soil Power statement tees!
The North Face partnered with Fibershed to create a collection of Climate Beneficial™ Wool products, including coats, scarves, and beanies. The wool is all sourced from Bare Ranch in California, so the brand calls the collection “Cali Wool”.
8. Christy Dawn
Christy Dawn is currently investing in regenerative fibers for their dreamy dresses. The LA-based brand partnered up with the Oshadi Collective in India to transition their existing farm (which was growing conventional sesame and sugarcane) into a regenerative cotton farm that Christy Dawn will source their cotton from.
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. The mission of Seed2Shirt is to “get back to production, manufacturing, and distribution in the African-American community using 21st century vertically integrated business models.”
Cover Image courtesy of California Cloth Foundry
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