Regenerative cotton, what does it mean?
Imagine purchasing a cotton shirt that’s cultivated in a way that cleans the earth rather than depleting it. Right now it might seem like a stretch, but sportswear giants like The North Face, are leading the way.
Is cotton cultivation sustainable?
Cotton cultivation is one of the biggest sustainability pain points for agriculture and apparel. Although it’s a natural fiber, it is a particularly chemical and water-intensive crop. While it only inhabits 2.4% of the global cropland, it accounts for 22.5% of the world’s insecticide use. Since cotton is the most used non-synthetic fiber in the world, there is a large opportunity to create a positive impact by changing our processes.
While organic cotton was the first answer to this dilemma, yielding crops using 90% less blue water and less chemical usage. It only accounts for less than 1% of the cotton production today with little room to scale.
Luckily for us and the environment, there’s another way to approach cotton farming.
In addition, it is so “attractive” for young generations that it is already gaining attention by leading sportswear brands.
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
Imagine coming across a field in the wild. The lush field is filled with a wide array of flora and fauna. Now think about coming across farmed land, where there are neat lines of perfectly spaced out crops covered in pesticides. There’s a stark difference between the two, not only in appearance but also in performance.
While our natural world will continue to flourish for millennia our cultivated fields turn to dust from degradation.
Regenerative Agriculture is a way to bridge the gap between the two, bringing a bit of wild to our farming system.
By tuning into the rhythms of a natural ecosystem, regenerative agriculture improves the natural resources of a farm. The holistic practice used include:
- LOW OR NO TILLING OF LAND: Tilling involves digging, stirring, and overturning soil. This practice actually releases the carbon stored in the land into the environment. Reducing the need to till can help the soil retain more water, organic matter and store more carbon
- INTERCROPPING: Planting different types of crops close to each other, which can produce higher yields and improve soil quality over time
- COVER CROPS: Planting crops that are not for selling, but rather for providing nutrients and protection to the soil
- CROP ROTATION: Rotating the variety of crops planted from one year to the next
With time this approach can enhance the nutrients levels in soil, which can help sequester more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The North Face Commits to Regenerative Cotton
For The North Face, a brand made to be enjoyed outdoors, it was a no-brainer to jump on-board.
They partnered with the agricultural technology company, Indigo Ag to source cotton fibers from their network of farms using regenerative techniques.
Carol Shu, Senior Manager of Global Sustainability at The North Face, spoke to the true potential of moving away from reducing the impact to actively doing good for the environment when they announced the collaboration stating,
“Regenerative products have the ability to shift the industry from simply ‘doing less harm’ to actually replenishing or having a positive impact on nature and resources, and as a brand that is committed to protecting the outdoor places we love to play, we believe this is another critical step in addressing climate change impacts in our supply chain.”Carol Shu, Senior Manager of Global Sustainability at The North Face
Through the partnership, The North Face will pay a premium for the cotton farmed by Indigo’s network of suppliers who are using regenerative techniques. The brand will start using regenerative cotton with their Fall/Winter 22 collection.
Shift towards Regenerative Practices: Patagonia and Gucci
While The North Face is the first sportswear company to partner with Indigo Ag, others across the apparel industry have shown interest in regenerative agriculture.
In 2017 Patagonia established their Regenerative Organic Certification. It’s a holistic agriculture certification encompassing animal welfare, fairness for farmers, and robust requirements for soil health and land management. Along with the sportswear giants, in January Gucci announced its latest sustainability strategy. Regenerative farming is a key component of the plan. Pledging to invest in suppliers that use regenerative methods across their supply chain.
This is a positive sign for the future of fashion and agriculture.
It’s a huge step towards a cleaner future for both industries and the environment as a whole. We can look forward to more brands investing in this active take on sustainability. It won’t be long before our garments display a “made with regenerative cotton” hangtag.