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Regenerative Ag Practices Fundamental to Long-Term Health of Fashion and Textile Industries

Far from simply the latest buzzword, regenerative agriculture is an opportunity for brands to invest in a fundamentally different system that drives numerous benefits for people and the planet — from boosting climate resilience and reversing biodiversity loss to prioritizing justice, equity and sustainable livelihoods.

A landmark report released this week by global nonprofit Textile Exchange asserts that a transition to regenerative agriculture is fundamental to the long-term health of the fashion and textile industry.

As brands face an increasing risk from disruptions to fiber production from climate impacts and biodiversity loss, regenerative agricultural approaches can play a key role in helping farmers develop more resilient systems, bringing immense social and environmental benefits to the industry and beyond — a view that ecofashion icon Marci Zaroff and her apparel brands wholeheartedly support.

Interest in regenerative ag fast gaining momentum — with companies including Allbirds and icebreaker; VF Corp’s The North Face, Timberland and Vans brands; and a growing number of forward-thinking startups putting their weight behind regeneratively grown materials such as cotton, leather and wool. But there is no one-size-fits-all approach — and the concept is nuanced. Brands are looking for a comprehensive analysis of this growing opportunity, as well as a roadmap to engage meaningfully.

Sponsored by Kering, J.Crew Group (J.Crew/Madewell) and CottonConnect, Textile Exchange developed the Regenerative Agriculture Landscape Analysis to be the first report that gives the fashion and textile industry a framework and toolkit to credibly understand, implement and describe the benefits of work in this space.

In mapping out the important considerations for the industry, Textile Exchange hopes to enable companies to understand how to approach and engage in regenerative ag projects and partnerships. The report’s initial Matrix of Regenerative Programs and Engagement Pathway equip brands to ask the right questions to identify and support initiatives that align with their values. The aim is to help the industry gain clarity on how these efforts will help meet their overall climate, biodiversity, social justice, and other sustainability targets.

The report also addresses an important gap seen in the discussion to date: the need to acknowledge the Indigenous and Native roots of this concept, and to include racial and social justice as critical components of any system termed “regenerative.” It highlights the importance for brands to clearly articulate their vision and intentions as they invest in regenerative agriculture, and to ensure that social justice and sustainable livelihoods are embedded in their approaches.

These interlocking themes lead to its top-line conclusion: For fashion, regenerative agriculture is an opportunity for investment in a fundamentally different system that moves beyond the current extractive one.

“Regenerative agriculture is about growing raw materials in alignment with natural systems and Indigenous practices,” says Beth Jensen, Climate+ Strategy Director at Textile Exchange. “It’s a complete contrast to the extractive approach that has become the norm in recent years, but it doesn’t fit neatly into a single definition or set of practices. While this can be a challenge for companies, it’s also an opportunity to lift up farmers and growers as the essential leaders in this movement.”

Going forward, Textile Exchange calls on brands to invest in inclusive and credible regenerative agriculture projects that can boost the resilience of the industry within our planetary boundaries. Brands should also ensure that those who are the direct stewards of the land — including Indigenous people, communities of color, and farmers (or their chosen representatives) — have an active decision-making role in any regenerative project from the start.

“Regenerative agriculture can provide multi-benefits for nature and communities, and it is direly needed to help reverse the trend of climate and biodiversity loss,” says Géraldine Vallejo, Kering’s Sustainability Programme Director. “At Kering, we are working with partners and farmers on the ground to scale projects through the “Regenerative Fund for Nature” in partnership with Conservation International. This is not the time to wait for others to take the lead — we must all invest in supporting regenerative practices as a matter of urgency. This report provides brands with a thoroughly researched and practical roadmap on how to get started."