How to promote low-impact materials, biodiversity & regenerative agriculture
This Fashion Declares webinar focussed on methods and examples of switching to low impact materials in fashion value chains.
Currently, the fashion industry is propped up by fossil fuels, which are responsible for 89% of global GHG emissions. Two thirds of fibres and materials are produced with fossil fuels as are the dyes used to colour, print, and finish them. Fashion requires a just transition towards the use of low-impact materials, and to connect transparently with the farmers who produce these crops. The farmer’s role in textile production is crucial, not only to the impact of the specific material being produced, but in terms of holistically managing the land on a global scale. As Jo Dawson reminded the audience, ‘we do not inherit this land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.’ (Native American Proverb).
On this webinar, we heard from experts from across the field; Sarah Compson (Soil Association/Textile Exchange ), Debbie Luffman, (ThinkCircular/Hubbub/Fashion Declares), Aneel Kumar Ambavaram, (Raddis Cotton), Jo Dawson, (H. Dawson Wool/HD Wool/The Woolkeepers), Tamsin Lejeune (Common Objective).
Safia Minney hosted the panel, and set the scene by reminding the audience that we must ‘redesign every sector to fit within planetary boundaries, 4 out of the 9 we have already exceeded’.
‘Fashion is responsible for between 2 and 10% GHG emissions … we have an urgent need to act now, which is why we came together as a community to create Fashion Declares to bring you this programme of webinars and tools to move forward in your organisation.’
With fashion being so highly dependent on fossil fuels, Safia questioned ‘how to delink the fashion industry from fossil fuels. We know that two thirds of fabrics and materials are directly produced from fossil fuels, how do we transition away from this?’
Crucially, ‘we need to move from a growth logic to an earth logic in fashion, which puts planet and people central.’
Sarah Compson, Soil Association, Textile Exchange
Sarah spoke about her journey into the world of sustainability and how our choices are so impactful. ‘We vote with what we eat and what we wear every day.’
Sarah set up some underlying concepts of low impact-materials, they key being not only thinking about ‘doing less harm, but more good.’ Even though there isn’t a single definition of what “regenerative” is, they all do this. Even though regenerative agriculture is viewed as something shiny and new, it goes right back to the principles of agroecology and organic and we need to focus on what unites us.
In this, ‘we have an urgent need to move from extractive to holistic approaches in the way we produce materials, which for natural fibres, goes back to the farm.’
This means moving from a land sparing to a land sharing approach, which means farming with nature, rather than keeping the natural world in one corner and highly intensive farming in another…It’s not possible to close natural systems down like that.’
Sarah spoke about having a holistic view in modelling approaches, and about being aware of multiple impacts in finding solutions, ‘we need approaches that think about multiple benefits at the same time. You need to consider carbon, water, biodiversity, and social justice. Single issue solutions can sometimes lead to negative impacts elsewhere. For example, you can’t have climate justice without social justice.
Sarah’s final comments:
- ‘Low impact materials need to come from systems that take a holistic approach, such as organic.
- To drive change on scale we need to rethink our whole approach to value chains, reward the right things and share the risks more fairly.
- Finally, solutions already exist. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but we do need to work together, linking experience, innovation, and a serious amount of ambition.’
In closing, Sarah noted that although ‘the changes we need to see feel pretty unimaginable, but the world we’re heading towards is also pretty unimaginable if we don’t change our current trajectory.’
Aneel Kumar, Raddis Cotton, India
Raddis is a holistic system, Aneel explained. After ten years on the ground with cotton farmers, trying to drive sustainable change, they realised that ‘the fragmented approach doesn’t work.’
Raddis focusses on three important aspects.
- Farmers – promoting regenerative agriculture
- Value chain processes – materials processes, manufacturing
- The customer – how the product is used
The farmer takes the most risks, protecting nature, whilst managing against chemicals, poor market prices, pests, changing weather conditions etc.
‘The farmer is a real entrepreneur, the real protagonist in this story of textiles,’ Aneel stated.
‘Doing less bad is not enough, we have to rebuild and restore’ which farmers do in their approaches in making natural pesticides from chillis etc, enhancing soil health and biodiversity, and using non-GMO seeds. They face sudden changing weather conditions, so in growing other crops alongside cotton, ensure they multiple revenue streams, to support themselves and nature. ‘We look at the landscape, and we work together with tribal farmers’.
Collaboration with buying partners is absolutely key in making these vast changes Aneel noted, ‘this isn’t something we can do alone. It is definitely a collaborative process,’ not farmers doing one thing and the big companies doing another, but a transparent and respectful partnership to create real change. Raddis are partnered in this way with Umber and Ochre, Hugo Boss, Bedstraw and Madder and others.
Jo Dawson, HD Wool, The Woolkeeprs
Jo spoke about how watching Allan Savory’s Ted Talk was a big turning point in his sustainability and regenerative journey.
Similarly to Sarah and Aneel, Jo highlighted the need for textile companies to not only do less bad in the changes they make, but actively do more good. ‘Our business is essentially a 130 year old start up’. The role of wool in this, is that it is a ‘garment insulation made out of a natural, renewable, raw material. And when those sheep are well farmed, they can actually promote carbon sequestration, biodiversity improvements, soil health, water cycle, and has great communication potential, linking the farmer and the customer.’
Wool and cotton have been considered problematic due to their land use. However, as Jo explained, if the animals and the land are managed well and properly, they can instead have a positive impact. ‘Well managed sheep can help reverse climate change because they become a carbon sink.’ They also help to improve soil health, through planned grazing, local understanding, and holistic management. ‘Soil from holistic managed grazing operations have been shown to sequester up to 7 tons carbon per hectare per year.’ Jo demonstrated through images the effect that overgrazing can have on the roots of a plant (see the full event video below).
H D Wool created ‘The Woolkeepers’ to pay a fair price to farmers who supply wool and promote regenerative practices ‘We need to help our farmers’ by working collaboratively, linking farmer, brands and customer through traceability.
‘We work with brands like The North Face, Finisterre, Purdey and other heritage brands that want natural materials, high performance and authentic sustainability’.
Debbie Luffman, ThinkCircular, Fashion Declares
Debbie started her journey as a designer and buyer in fast fashion and then worked as Product Directorer at Finisterre, where she worked directly with farmers and recycled, low-impact synthetic materials.
Debbie walked the audience through the current materials system, the ‘Linear Material flows’, which has been around since the Industrial Revolution – a take, make, waste system. ‘About 70% of the impact of a product is what it’s made of, so it’s important to start at the material phase if you want to reduce your impact.’
Two thirds of all textiles are synthetic so highly dependent on fossil fuels, and 80% of natural fibre is cotton grown industrially which depletes soil and has considerable impact on water supply. Only 3% of all raw materials globally are made from a recycled fabric – bottles, nets. Less than 1% has had a textile life before. 53 million tonnes of textiles are produced each year and after their use we dispose of them. 73% of them are incinerated at the end of their life according to the Ellen McArthur Foundation.
‘How can this change? If we moved from that linear system to a circular material flow, which is based on mimicking natural, regenerative flows.’
‘It’s about designing out pollution.’ If we move to a circular flow, keeping the inherent value in those materials growing and processing, and lowering the impact overall.
‘The idea of having a regenerative system moves beyond doing less bad, to moving to a positive impact system, which is where you look at animal welfare, social welfare, human rights and biodiversity.’ Designing out the pollution, extending the life of clothes and then recycling into another fabric or biofuel.
Debbie closed with her six top tips for low impact sourcing:
- Create clear objectives and roadmap
- Collaborate with supply chain and product team
- Know the source – transparency is key
- Be clear on end-use
- Avoid blends where possible
- Prioritise durability and product longevity
Tamsin Lejeune, Common Objective
Tamsin introduced Common Objective, and how they help people to find suppliers of low-impact materials. Check out Common Objective.
Do also check out Future Fabrics Expo, and Offset Warehouse.
The theme of this webinar was focussed on how fashion companies must seriously work towards doing good, and creating systems that actively create positive impact – and models that bring this about at speed and at scale. As always, collaboration, transparency and communication are all key to making this shift.
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