Can Fashion Heal the Planet? A Conversation on Regeneration with Sheep Inc.

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The impact of climate action begins at the source of the materials brands use. Labelling an item of clothing as ‘sustainable’ is not enough to make the fashion industry viable in the race to save the planet. Instead, we must follow the lead of those bringing regenerative practices back onto farms and into the clothes we wear.

Words by Kelly Marie Smith

Photography by Sheep Inc.

The fashion industry is stuck on the idea of merely ‘sustaining’ the environment as it is today. Yet sustaining was the answer decades ago; now, we must regenerate the industry and the Earth. 

We have become supremely detached from the lifecycle of our clothes. And somewhere along the way, we began viewing fashion as disposable, with little regard for the craftsmanship or the impact this attitude has on the Earth. The low cost of fast fashion obscures us from the lethal environmental price tag – consequences that we are now beginning to witness. 

In recent years, brands like Sheep Inc. have realised the actual depth of fashion’s impact on the planet and seized the opportunity to make moves towards regenerative design.

The London-based knitwear brand has used the issue of climate change as a call to action, one that goes far beyond a sustainability statement. With their regenerative approach, Sheep Inc. is the first naturally carbon-negative fashion brand, proving that fashion can not just be impartial to the climate problem — but a genuine solution.

“80% of fashion companies today don’t know where their garment’s raw materials come from.”

Edzard van der Wyck, the co-founder of Sheep Inc, knows first-hand that you can create beautiful pieces of clothing whilst addressing the climate emergency. “Regenerative fashion is about creating fashion products that have a naturally regenerative impact on the environment, without the need to offset.”

“Our wool is sourced in New Zealand from sheep stations at the forefront of the regenerative farming movement, sequestering more CO2 from the environment than their operations emit.” 

Regeneration at a glance

Regenerative agriculture finds its roots in Indigenous practices, and it’s those voices we need to listen to should we wish to drastically improve our chances of undoing the damage we have done. Regenerative techniques can include:

1. Using perennials and cover crops to protect the soil

2. Reintroducing Indigenous flora and fauna

3. No pesticides

4. Varying crop rotations

5. Not stripping the land

6. Bringing grazing herds back to the land in ways that mimic natural migration

While a lot of its success comes down to soil health – since healthy soil removes carbon from the atmosphere making the Earth beneath our feet flourish – regeneration is intrinsically far more complex. A single definition or list of practices can’t hold all that regeneration is.

But its impact is profoundly simple. When farms use regenerative practices, soils become prosperous and biodiversity increases. 

Farm to fashion

Since our clothes begin on farms, the future of fashion and farming are indistinguishably connected. Like farm to table, this is farm to closet, and it’s the new wave of fashion. 

It all begins in the growing stage, managing biodiversity and soil to build fertile land before using natural dyes that leave you with compostable clothes. It’s a process of soil to soil.

“The main message we wanted to get across when starting Sheep Inc. is that we’ve lost touch with the story (and impact) behind the things we wear. 80% of fashion companies today don’t know where their garment’s raw materials come from,” Edzard explains.

“That’s why each garment is not only fully traceable, but it also comes with its own trackable sheep. To remind customers that every piece of clothing started somewhere.”

Fashion and the future

According to Global non-profit Textile Exchange, regenerative agriculture is fundamental to the long term health of the fashion industry – while simultaneously improving environmental health and helping farmers develop more resilient systems. But this approach must be rooted in equity and justice, putting livelihoods and the environment first.

Can we heal the future through fashion? If you had asked me that based on the effectiveness of our sustainability mindset, which sees us produce the same amount of scarcely better clothing, I would have said an emphatic no. 

Regeneration, though, is an entirely different story. There lies an opportunity to not only drastically lower emissions and halt climate change but to quite literally mend the damage we have inflicted on this planet for far too long.

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Kelly Marie Smith

Kelly Marie Smith is a freelance writer based in Sydney, covering a multitude of topics from the environment and politics to literature. She has written for publications like Russh Magazine, Vogue and the YA Edit.

2022-02-14T03:36:05+00:00Categories: Conservation|