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Beyond ‘sustainable’ fashion

Model twins Brett and Scott Staniland reveal why fashion brands must focus on regeneration
Brett and Scott Staniland

This article first appeared in our World Environment Day issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published on 02 June 2022. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

We may never get away from the terms ‘sustainable fashion’ or ‘sustainability’ – but, as their social definitions become more ambiguous, it is increasingly important for fashion to move beyond the ‘sustainable’ and towards the ‘regenerative’.

Sustainable, by definition, is merely the ‘ability to be maintained at a certain rate’. But what are we trying to maintain? The natural disasters? The exploitation? The climate crisis?

It can no longer be about ‘maintaining’ – just breaking even; we have to become net positive in the way our outputs affect the planet. 

According to the UN, current agricultural techniques have depleted soils so much that they have become less productive and less efficient at storing carbon. It is predicted that over 90% of soils could be degraded by 2050.

Pesticide use damages the Earth’s topsoil, leaving it less able to absorb carbon and store water. This in turn can impact food supply and lead to flooding.

Regenerative fashion

For World Environment Day (05 June 2022), we wanted to take a look at some of the projects currently showcasing the positive impact fashion can have – not just in the future, but right now.

Regenerative means giving back more than what we take – restoring and repairing the Earth. There are already examples of this in the fashion industry; most come from biodiversity and agriculture projects that target and improve our existing use of natural materials. This means making garments that become resources and not waste products.

London-based Richard Malone, a Central Saint Martins graduate and winner of the 2020 International Woolmark Prize, partnered with regenerative Indian farmers through Oshadi Studio. The soil on the farm was replenished, improving biodiversity, after it had been damaged from mass production in the past.

Trace Collective works exclusively with natural, organic fibres that have regenerative properties in the ecosystems where they grow. The fibres’ credentials are assessed across three key areas: soil fertility, soil biodiversity and the rate of carbon sequestration from the atmosphere.

We need action

In the luxury sector LVMH and Kering have both announced biodiversity initiatives, suggesting the more mainstream fashion world is beginning to wake up to the positive impact it can have.

The UN has estimated that biodiversity is being lost at a rate 1,000 times higher than is natural. The Fashion Pact, implemented in 2020 with the engagement of over 200 brands, is addressing this crisis through preservation and restoration strategies and coalitions – but it must take more aggressive action if it hopes to reach its goals.

In some instances, it feels like we are still at the ‘avoid’ stage of Kering’s biodiversity strategy.

Know your clothes

Prince Charles’ Fashion Taskforce, which includes the likes of Burberry, Stella McCartney, Mulberry and Selfridges, has been created to accelerate the process of fashion reaching net zero and eventually becoming climate positive. It is working on a Digital ID system, similar to Apple Pay, that will inform consumers of the credentials of their garments.

The group is also exploring how regenerative farming practices can reverse the damage being done to the planet, and launching a €1 million investment programme in the Himalayas in a bid
to restore biodiversity in the region, which is known for its cashmere, cotton and silk.

Whenever you see the word ‘sustainable’, ask yourself and challenge others: how can this be regenerative?

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