Regenerative Agriculture Could Change the Fashion Industry—And the World. But What Is It? – Vogue

“The word sustainable is like a dinosaur now,” Aras Baskauskas, the CEO of Los Angeles label Christy Dawn, tells me on a recent call. “What are we trying to sustain—the fires, the tornadoes, the mass extinction? We don’t need to be sustainable, we need to be regenerative.”

That conversation took place in early March, just before the coronavirus outbreak. Now, Baskauskas’s words feel almost prescient. Those natural disasters he mentioned are the result of our climate emergency, but so is the coronavirus; both are symptomatic of our fast-paced lifestyles and one-sided relationship with the planet. “We’ve forgotten that we are nature, and because of that, we’ve extracted from the earth without giving back,” he adds. “We take and don’t return.”

That’s true of many industries, but especially fashion. Even as we shift towards a more sustainable mindset, we can’t really say that anything we’re doing is “giving back” to the earth. If designers produce smaller collections and consumers buy fewer things, it’s certainly an improvement on what we’ve been doing for decades. But an industry that’s “less bad” than it was before isn’t saying much. Baskauskas and his wife, Christy Peterson, had that sharp realization last year. They’ve built Christy Dawn into a modest business known for its sustainable efforts, namely their use of leftover deadstock fabrics in lieu of producing new textiles. “For the first five years of our brand, we were super proud that we haven’t been part of the problem,” he said. “But it weighed on us that we weren’t part of the solution, either.”

That’s where the word regenerative comes in. Baskauskas first understood it in the context of food and agriculture: Regenerative farming is essentially the new organic or sustainable farming, but it goes a few steps further. In addition to omitting chemicals, regenerative agriculture actually replenishes and strengthens the plants, the soil, and the nature surrounding it. And because most of our clothes started as plants, “regenerative ag” is becoming a shiny new buzzword in the sustainable fashion conversation. Richard Malone picked up the International Woolmark Prize for his collaboration with a regenerative farm in India, and Eileen Fisher spoke at length about her new passion for regenerative farming in a recent Vogue interview. “I love this [topic] because this is one of the places where we can make a positive impact,” she said. “Rather than just pollute less or do less harm, we can actually kind of revive the earth through the process of making clothes.”

Unlike Fisher, few of us have ever set foot on a farm, and the conventional-versus-regenerative agriculture debate doesn’t exactly come up at fashion shows. The easiest way to understand regenerative agriculture is to first picture what you think of as a “typical farm”: It’s probably hundreds of acres of a single crop, like corn or cotton. It probably looks normal to your eye, though not entirely natural, because it isn’t: Most of those farms use pesticides and other conventional methods, like deep tilling. A regenerative farm is the complete inverse of that: Imagine acre upon acre of various different crops, many of them strategically planted to help each other grow and flourish. On a cotton farm, there might be rows of snap peas planted as “cover crops” to shade the soil so it stays cool, absorbs more water, and thus grows more microbiomes. Regenerative farms also implement “pollinator strips” of crops that attract bees and butterflies to the area, or they’ll add “trap crops” to divert pests from their hero crops in lieu of chemical pesticides. “It’s really mimicking what nature does already,” Baskauskas says. “You never see just one crop in nature, you see a vast diversity. There’s a reason for that.”

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