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Exposing the Dirty Business Behind the Designer Label

Even before it gets worn once, that new T-shirt you bought is already dirtier than you can imagine. It’s soaked through with toxic waste, factory smog and plastic debris—all of which is likely just a few spin cycles away from an incinerator, or maybe a landfill halfway around the world. Our obsession with style rivals our hunger for oil, making fashion the world’s second-most polluting industry after the oil industry.

According to the think tank Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), the majority of fast-fashion products —the hyperactive production and marketing cycle fueled by high-volume, high-speed supply chains, which often bludgeon the environment while driving ultra-cheap retail market —are incinerated or trashed within a year. In the U.S., wasted leather, cloth, rubber and other scraps constitute over 8 percent of the total volume of solid waste. Global clothing consumption averages about 22 pounds annually per person, though the U.S. and Europe each average roughly triple that amount.

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The Next Wave of Sustainable Fashion Is All about Regenerative Farming

“I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

These words from Nobel Prize-nominated teen activist Greta Thunberg helped galvanize 1.4 million people to take to the streets earlier this month to participate in the global school strikes for climate action. And while Thunberg’s message about the environment was alarming, the underlying assumption was that there’s real hope for addressing climate change.

Photo credit: Pexels

When human beings have made such a mess of the planet, where does that hope arise from? For many experts, a groundbreaking way of thinking about agriculture — regenerative farming — offers one of the most concrete reasons for optimism.

“Agriculture really represents the best chance that we have of mitigating and ending the climate crisis,” said Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario at the National Retail Federation in January.

 

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Weaving Success Through Organic Cotton

In India, there is an urgent need for a shift towards ecologically and financially sustainable cotton

Author: Anita Chester | Published: June 25, 2018

India is the largest producer of cotton and the crop is of significant importance to the economy. Closely woven into the cotton story is the fate of over 6 million small and marginal farmers who plant this crop annually.

However, today, we have reached a point of inflection. The so-called successes of past decades heralded by the hasty adoption of transgenic Bt technology are being eclipsed by the recurrence of pest attacks, worsened by unsustainable land and water use. The growing resistance to pests, such as the pink bollworm, and an alarming rise of secondary pests, suggests that there has been an increase of pesticide use.

Other factors like erratic rainfall, poor extension services, dubious seed quality and lack of credit at reasonable rates, aggravate and worsen the situation for farmers who are not able to cover the increasing costs of production. Poor returns and debt cycles are thus driving cotton farmers to despair, and at times, death.

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Slow Clothing, The Book

Author: Jane Milburn | Published: November 20, 2017

Slow clothing is following the lead of slow food as a way of responding to waste, pollution, and exploitation issues in the way we dress.

Australian social entrepreneur Jane Milburn, founder of Textile Beat, has spent five years studying the need to transform a culture of excess to a more thoughtful and engaged approach. She believes slow clothing is the antidote to fast fashion.

In her new book, Slow Clothing: finding meaning in what we wear, Jane presents a compelling case for wearers to change the way we dress so that we can live lightly on Earth.

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Chris Kerston About Building the World’s First Regenerative Wool Supply Chain

Author: Elisabeth van Delden | Published: March 8, 2018

Chris Kerston is the Market Engagement and Public Outreach at the Savory Institute. In this episode, Chris introduces us to Allan Savory and the work of the Savory Institute. Chris explains how desertification happens and what role sheep and wool play to reverse desertification. You also get to learn details about the Land to Market certification scheme Chris and his team are working on to build a regenerative supply chain.

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Conservation-Minded Purchasing: How Clothing Purchases Help Get Conservation on the Ground

What if, before you purchased a hat or sweater, you knew the wool used to make it came from sheep raised on a ranch managed to improve soil health and increase soil carbon?

Author: Chad Douglas | Published: February 26, 2018

For nearly a decade, ranch owner Lani Estill has worked with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to improve soil health. By adding carbon-conscious conservation practices to her ranch, the operation now stores more carbon in the soil than it emits through its operations.

As a result, her operation, Bare Ranch, is marketing “climate beneficial” wool to a national clothing manufacturer. Estill and her family raise sheep and cattle on her 40,000-acre ranch, which sits on the border of northern California and northwest Nevada.

With help from her local NRCS offices and supported by Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contracts, Estill has also improved wildlife habitat on her ranch. She improved sage grouse habitat by removing thousands of acres of invasive juniper and installed hedgerows for pollinators. She and her co-owners also installed fencing and livestock watering facilities and are following a prescribed grazing management plan.

Bryon Hadwick, NRCS District Conservationist in Alturas, California, works closely with Estill and Bare Ranch to implement conservation practices that are good for the land, animals, atmosphere, and their business.  NRCS is a member of the Bare Ranch conservation team, which includes Point Blue partner biologists, the Carbon Cycle Institute and Fibershed (an organization focused on local fiber-sourcing). This past spring, Bare Ranch worked with these partners to develop and adopt a Carbon Farm Plan.

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Natural Products Expo West Trend Preview: Regenerative Ag

The conversations to have, education sessions to attend and products to see at Natural Products Expo West to get the full view of this macro trend.

Author: Jenna Blumenfeld | Published: February 13, 2018

For first-timers and seasoned Natural Products Expo West attendees alike, developing a show floor game plan is a dizzying experience. Here, we narrow it down by showcasing exciting new products that exemplify the regenerative ag trend identified by New Hope Network’s 2018 Next Forecast report.

It’s important, though, to remember that products don’t drive change. People do. Strategize Expo West by learning more about what’s trending and prioritizing deeper conversations. Instead of asking if a brand is sustainable, ask why. And ask how. Use our suggested questions within each trend to break the ice, make lasting connections within the industry and have your best Natural Products Expo West ever.

What is regenerative agriculture?

Doing no harm is an imperative, but healing the harm that’s already occurred is among the richest opportunities for agriculture and the food industry. This includes building soil health, scrubbing waterways of fertilizers and sequestering carbon through deep-root perennials.

Questions to ask vendors

Ask potential vendors these questions to see if their regenerative practices align with your standards.

  • How do you define regenerative agriculture?
  • How do you ensure that your suppliers follow regenerative practices?
  • How do you communicate your regenerative practices to customers?
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This New Denim Label Is Paving the Way for Sustainable Fashion in Copenhagen

Author: Brooke Bobb | Published: February 1, 2018

While the word organic has become commonplace in American dialogue—whether it’s used to describe vegetables, face creams, or cotton—surprisingly, it’s a relatively up-and-coming stamp of approval in Denmark. The city of Copenhagen is suddenly bursting with new organic restaurants, skincare companies, and now, fashion labels. One such brand leading the charge is Blanche, a new line of eco-conscious denim that was launched in August 2017 by fashion natives Mette Fredin and Melissa Bech. Fredin is the creative director, and Bech, the commercial director, but they work in tandem on everything, including design, marketing, and branding. While Blanche does include ready-to-wear and some cool logo merch, the jeans are the sweet spot. Everything is made locally in Copenhagen using Global Organic Textile Standard–approved fabric and deadstock fabric. Prices for the wide range of denim run from around $150 to $216, and, at the moment, Blanche is only available in select Scandinavian retailers. Bech and Fredin are expanding quickly, however, and they say expansion into the U.S. and the rest of Europe will come soon.

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Care What You Wear — Fixing Fast Fashion

Author: Dr. Joseph Mercola | Published: January 30, 2018

In recent years, the true cost of cheap clothing and so-called “fast fashion” has become better understood, and with that knowledge, a call to change is being sounded. Investigations reveal the clothing industry is a significant source of environmental pollution — according to some estimates it’s the fifth-most polluting industry in the world1 — and excessive consumption only adds to these problems.

So, while in the past the fashion industry has largely skated below the radar, environmentalists and environmentally-minded industry insiders alike are now starting to really hone in on these problems. As noted by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation:2

The time has come to transition to a textile system that delivers better economic, societal, and environmental outcomes. The report ‘A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future’ outlines a vision and sets out ambitions and actions — based on the principles of a circular economy — to design out negative impacts and capture a USD 500 billion economic opportunity by truly transforming the way clothes are designed, sold, and used.”

In the past, I had not really given much thought to the clothes I’m wearing, and was shocked to learn about the health and environmental damage occurring from “fast fashion.” I’ve now dedicated myself to wearing and supporting a responsible and regenerative movement to “Care What You Wear,” by developing the Dirt Shirt — organic clothing grown and sewn in the USA — and SITO; organic clothing produced responsibly outside the U.S.

This year, give some serious thought to cleaning up your wardrobe. Remember, being a conscious consumer does not stop at food and household products. Your clothing can be a source of hazardous chemicals, and cheaply made fast fashion items take a tremendous toll on the environment and the people working in the industry. As a consumer, your choices will help guide the garment industry toward more humane and environmentally sane manufacturing processes.

Clothing Sales Are at an All-Time High

According to the featured report, created by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation’s recently launched Circular Fibres Initiative,3,4 while sales of clothing are at an all-time high, utilization of clothing has dramatically diminished, which makes sense considering you can only wear so many items in a year. Most of us also have maybe a handful of items we really like and end up wearing repeatedly.

Between 2000 and 2015, clothing sales soared, doubling from 50 billion units to 100 billion. As a result, the average number of times a garment is worn before being discarded significantly dropped. As noted in the featured article, “steady production growth is intrinsically linked to a decline in utilization per item, leading to an incredible amount of waste.”

Estimates suggest more than half of all clothing purchases are discarded in less than a year. As crazy as it may sound, one British fashion company reminds its customers that a dress will only remain in a woman’s wardrobe for five weeks!5 As noted by Lucy Siegle, who made that stunning observation,6 “The way we get dressed now has virtually nothing in common with the behavior of previous generations, for whom one garment could be worn for decades.”

The result of treating clothing as single-wear disposables is a rapidly growing waste problem that is tough to remedy. Landfills burn the equivalent of one garbage truck full of garments each and every second, and since fabrics are typically dyed and/or treated with toxic chemicals, it’s all essentially toxic waste. Less than 1 percent of discarded textiles are recycled and reused. Growing chemical and plastic pollution is yet another side effect of fast fashion.

“The use of substances of concern in textile production has an important impact on farmers’ and factory workers’ health as well as on the surrounding environment. During use, it has been recently estimated that, half a million tons of plastic microfibers shed during washing ends up in the ocean and ultimately enters the food chain … the foundation notes.

Introducing a New Textile Economy

To address these downsides, the featured report presents a new form of textile economy in which textiles “re-enter the economy after use and never end up as waste.” The four cornerstones of this new economy involve:

  1. Phasing out toxic substances used in textile production and redesigning materials to prevent shedding of microfibers
  2. Changing the way clothing is designed, marketed and used to move away from disposable fashion
  3. Improving textile recycling
  4. Transitioning to renewable inputs to prevent the waste of nonrenewable resources

Fashion designer Stella McCartney, who cohosted the launch of the report, said:

“What really excites me about ‘A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future’ is that it provides solutions to an industry that is incredibly wasteful and harmful to the environment. The report presents a roadmap for us to create better businesses and a better environment. It opens up the conversation that will allow us to find a way to work together to better our industry, for the future of fashion and for the future of the planet.”

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The Production of Indigo Dye from Plants

Author: Nicholas Wenner | Published: December 2017

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