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.


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.


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.


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.


Regenerative Wool Shaking Up the Textile Industry

Published: December 20, 2017

Savory Institute team member, Chris Kerston, was invited to speak at the International Wool Trade Organization’s (IWTO) roundtable event in Port Elizabeth, South Africa earlier this month. South Africa is one of the premier wool growing and processing regions of the world. This annual event is designed to bring people together from across the wool industry to help develop new collaborations and synergies in both the textile and apparel industries. Our founder, Allan Savory, spoke at one of the IWTO gatherings in 2014 (watch here). This led to a demand for closer interaction with the Savory Institute, as wool producers there proactively look for ways to further improve their grazing management to regenerate their landscapes.

At the IWTO event this year, Chris presented in tandem with the Savory Hub leader in South Africa, Rolf Pretorius. In addition to presenting, Chris and Rolf met with individuals representing all areas of the wool supply chain to discuss the excitement around our new outcome-based Ecological Outcome Verification, and subsequent Land To Market program. Rolf has been a very active participant in this emerging program and is set up as one of our prototype Hubs to lead this initiative in this region. He works closely with both commercial ranchers and community farmers in the region.

Chris also got the opportunity to visit BKB, a wool broker and auction house. BKB is the largest aggregator in the country and markets 62% of the country’s wool. South Africa has a long history raising quality wool and was the first country outside Europe to own Merinos. This history dates back as far as 1789, when the Netherlands government donated two Spanish Merino rams and four Spanish Merino ewes to a military commander there to experiment with. Today, it is one of the largest wool growing regions for the apparel industry with about 15 million merino sheep (see Bloomberg article).


Fast-Fashion’s Environmentally Destructive Habits

Author: Sophie Linden | Published: December 7, 2017

Style has its hazards. From credit card debt to painfully high heels, many trends have proven the idea that fashion comes at a cost. Each decade of outfits has a concerning global impact. Now, a recent study from the Ellen Macarthur Foundation illuminates the incomprehensible toll fashion takes on the climate.

Done in collaboration with animal-welfare advocate and high-end clothing designer Stella McCartney, the Macarthur study tracks the environmental devastations incurred through the production of next season’s wares.

The study calls this fashion’s tendency to “take-make-and-dispose,” also known as fast fashion. It’s an obsession with new style wherein unworn clothing is quickly turned over, and a garbage truck’s worth of fashion is thrown away every second of the year. If the industry keeps up like this, by 2050, textiles and garments will account for a quarter of the world’s carbon budget.

It’s also estimated that half a million tons of plastic microfibers are leaked into earth’s oceans each year, as synthetic materials are laundered and microparticles of plastic eventually travel into the ocean. This is the equivalent of 50 billion plastic water bottles, contributing to a health crisis for sea animals, which are ingesting plastics as if they were plankton.  

In order to remedy the heavy-handed consequences of fast fashion, the foundation has offered a four-part approach: asking stakeholders to phase out the use of hazardous materials, improve the recycling of old fabrics, use renewable resources in manufacturing, and increase the quality of goods it sells.

The authors envision creating a “new textile economy,” though it is worth noting that some corporate entities are already changing their business practices with climate change in mind.


Are Your Favorite Jeans Part of the Climate Problem?

Clothing companies might be ignoring as much as 90 percent of the climate pollution they generate.

Author: Hannah Lownsbrough | Published: December 7, 2017

As the fashion industry prepares for the holiday season, many high-profile brands will pump out new trends and products faster than ever before. All too often, however, that business helps drive severe damage to our global climate due to the fashion industry’s extraordinarily high levels of pollution. As 2017 draws to close, the fashion industry must step up to the challenge and redeem their terrible track record by reducing carbon emissions. The first step is simple: companies must open their record books and allow for more accurate calculations on the environmental impact of their production methods and subsequent climate impact.

Sadly, instead of increased transparency and commitments, fashion CEOs are hiding behind greenwashed PR campaigns, like the disappointing announcement made by Levi’s, Gap, Guess, Wrangler, and Lee at a New York climate week event this past autumn. CEOs of the world’s famous denim brands said they would announce climate targets in two years, a deadline far longer than necessary to complete a basic step. While these CEOs continue to delay the climate commitment process, denim supply chains are continuing to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere without recourse.

Denim and clothing companies will do all that they can to fudge the link between their brands and the realities of greenhouse gas emissions. According to reports from the Carbon Disclosure Project, companies within the fashion sector might be ignoring as much as 90 percent of the climate pollution they generate. Like too many industries before them, the fashion industry is attempting to solve the problem of its own emissions by outsourcing production to contractors in countries with less strict emissions regulations, namely China or Bangladesh. But despite the ostensible attractiveness of these short-term solutions, the long-term consequences could be catastrophic. These businesses can no longer afford to look away from the climate legacy they will leave behind.

Right now, the clothing and accessories industry is a huge contributor to global climate change. According to one study, the industry generates about 3 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, roughly equal to the pollution created by putting 163 million new passenger cars on the road. A study by a leading clothing company concluded that one pair of denim jeans produces 44 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to driving a car almost 48 miles or burning over 21 pounds of coal. Manufacturing a single pair of denim jeans produces 44 pounds of CO2, roughly equal to the greenhouse gas emissions from driving a passenger car nearly 50 miles.


Dirt Shirts and SITO: Promoting Organic Apparel and Eco-Friendly Fashion

Author: Dr. Joseph Mercola | Published: December 12, 2017

When was the last time you considered what your clothes were made of? If you’re like most people, you may not realize how important organic clothing is, or why. In this interview, Marci Zaroff,1 founder of the first organically certified textile mill in the U.S., will help enlighten us about the merits of organic fashion.

Her facility is certified to the most prestigious organic certification, the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), and Marci, known in the fashion industry as an “ecopreneur” and “green fashionista,” has played a major role in promoting ecologically-friendly clothing that is anything but drab. In fact, Marci was the one who coined the term “eco-fashion.”

She’s been working as a consultant for us for several years now, helping us create our own line of GOTS certified organic cotton mattresses, organic bed sheets and towels. The issue of organic clothing was something I neglected for years, but after gaining an understanding of the global implications of how fabrics and dyes are made, I felt compelled to take action.

I am very proud to support the organic cotton farmers by adding a full line of high-quality organic clothing to my online shop. These products are very durable and built to last, while remaining extremely soft to the touch. Organic clothing can vary in quality as some products are quite thin and can wear out quickly. These products are made to last to stop the destructive cycle of fast fashion.

You can now find everything from socks and underwear to men’s, women’s and kids’ organic, GOTS-certified T-shirts. The Dirt Shirts are made from cotton grown in Texas and manufactured in North Caroline and Virginia. I will be donating profits from these Dirt Shirts to the Organic Consumers Association to develop projects supporting regenerative agriculture, such as regeneratively produced wool and cotton.

I am personally wearing GOTS certified organic clothing whenever possible, and without any unnatural dyes, as described in my interview with Rebecca Burgess. I know this may be a challenge for many, but the simple first step you can take is making sure your underwear is organic GOTS certified and free of chemical dyes, which is why I am so excited to have the opportunity to use this as my primary underwear.

Fast Fashion Versus Eco-Fashion

In a world of “fast fashion,” where garments are increasingly being treated as single-use items and styles change faster than the seasons, Marci’s ideology is to fashion what the slow-food movement is to food.

“[F]ast fashion has … proliferated to the point where 20 percent of the world’s fresh water pollution is coming from the fashion industry. The fashion industry is actually the second largest polluter in the world …

While people think ‘cheaper, faster, more’ is a good thing, where there’s 52 seasons a year and lots of choice, at what expense does that come? Well, serious human and environmental impacts come from that. Ten percent of the world’s carbon impact and 3 trillion gallons of fresh water are being used each year for fashion. Then there are the social ramifications,” Marci says.

Marci has been in this business since the 1990s. With a background in food and beauty, she was able to connect the dots and translate everything she’d learned about food and beauty to fashion, textiles and fiber.

“I saw fashion as a very significant vehicle for transformation, because people love fashion. It’s a powerful vehicle … I started a brand in 1995 called Under the Canopy, which was the first organic fashion and home lifestyle brand.

We went direct to consumer for eight years while I was raising my kids, and then launched as the category captain for Whole Foods markets, a 2,000-square foot Under the Canopy store-in-store, and grew that significantly through the years, [to] where we launched the first organic textiles for Target, Macy’s and a number of other retailers.”

But Marci’s vision kept growing. Ultimately, she realized she wanted to be a solution provider and create a way to make sustainable and organic fashion easy for other brands and retailers. She envisioned creating a platform others could confidently use. And that’s what she has created — a fully transparent and traceable supply chain for organic cotton apparel, accessories and home textiles.

From Degeneration to Regeneration

In the video, you’ll see both Marci and I are wearing our “Dirt Shirts,” made from 100 percent organically grown cotton. Notice this is not just 100 percent cotton, a virtually meaningless label. It’s 100 percent ORGANIC cotton. These T-shirts are made from organic cotton grown in Texas by an incredible organic cotton farmer co-op, and all of the manufacturing takes place in the U.S. If you’ve never had the opportunity to wear one, I can tell you it’s the softest material imaginable, almost like cashmere.

Best of all, it’s sustainable, and contributes to the regeneration rather than the degeneration of our environment. These shirts are now available for purchase, and all Dirt Shirt proceeds will be donated to an educational project to expand awareness of the benefits of organic cotton.

“It’s amazing to be a part of the solution. Conventional agriculture has gotten out of control. Cotton farmers, domestically and abroad, are really struggling in the cotton industry from the overuse of chemicals in their farming methods and how expensive those methods have become,” Marci says.

“Ultimately, it’s very hard for those farmers to sustain their livelihoods, not to mention the fact that cotton represents less than 3 percent of the world’s agriculture but uses somewhere around 20 percent of the most harmful insecticides, and up to 10 percent of the most toxic pesticides. Over 90 percent of cotton is currently genetically modified.

When you look at organic T-shirts and organic clothing, to me it has always been about no compromise, breaking the stigma that you have to give up style, quality, fit, color, comfort — which you don’t. On the contrary, when you feel how pure this is and how soft it is, it’s because chemicals haven’t broken down the fibers. Secondly, you can be really smart in how you source …

A typical garment in a supply chain can change hands seven to 10 times. When I started my first company in organic clothing, I went straight to the farmers. There was no supply chain. I had to build [that] up, which meant I could be more efficient, I could cut out a lot of those markups and middlemen, and add value to the product and ultimately offer a product that is not less, it’s more.”


A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future

Published: November 28, 2017

Fashion is a vibrant industry that employs hundreds of millions, generates significant revenues, and touches almost everyone, everywhere. Since the 20th century, clothing has increasingly been considered as disposable, and the industry has become highly globalised, with garments often designed in one country, manufactured in another and sold worldwide at an ever-increasing pace. This trend has been further accentuated over the past 15 years by rising demand from a growing middle class across the globe with higher disposable income, and the emergence of the ‘fast fashion’ phenomenon, leading to a doubling in production over the same period. 

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.


Sustainable Style: Will Gen Z Help the Fashion Industry Clean up Its Act?

Author: Emine Saner | Published: April 25, 2017

This week marks the fourth year since the Rana Plaza disaster, where 1,135 garment workers were killed, and thousands injured, when a building collapsed in Dhaka. Fashion Revolution Week was set up to mark the anniversary, when the myriad issues with fast fashion are much reported: the fossil fuels burned; the chemicals released; the landfill sites brimming with discarded clothes; the human cost of poor working conditions and pitiful wages. You don’t have to be a hardened environmental and social activist to realise this is an unbelievable mess. In a decade or two, we might look back at this period of mass consumption and wonder what on earth we were thinking.

That’s the hope anyway. Unravelling and remaking the entire clothing industry seems a daunting if not impossible task, but there are signs that a younger generation of consumers will demand something different, and a wealth of new brands are offering it. Sustainable clothing is, finally, being seen as a desirable option, with a smattering of cool brands rejuvenating the market. And a sprinkling of young celebrities championing it – perhaps most notably Emma Watson, who recently set up an Instagram account to document her eco-friendly fashion looks.

One brand, Reformation, has been heralded by Vogue, has more than 640,000 Instagram followers and its many fans include Taylor Swift and Alexa ChungYael Aflalo set up the ethical clothing company after a trip to China where she was shocked by the amount of pollution that textile and clothing manufacturing was causing. At the time, she says, people thought “I was crazy – there were basically no options for sustainable clothes that were actually cute.”