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Regenerative fashion: the solution to fashion industry pollution?

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By Estefania Ziliani

· 6 min read

The root of the problem in the clothing industry

The solution seems to lie in increasing regenerative agriculture relative to the "conventional fad" to reduce the carbon footprint.

Regenerative Fashion refers to clothing made in a way that supports circularity, either through the economy reflected by recycling materials that would otherwise go to waste, or through the soil-to-soil cycling of regenerative agriculture.

What is regenerative agriculture and why is it important for fashion?

It's very likely that few of us have set foot on a farm, and the conventional vs. regenerative farming debate doesn't exactly come up at fashion shows.

What exactly are we talking about?

It is a form of agriculture that focuses on soil health by combining several different crops planted strategically to help each other grow and flourish. "Pollinator strips" that attract bees and butterflies to the area and "trap crops" to deflect pests are also implemented instead of chemical pesticides.

Where do we come from and where are we going?

The use of heavy machinery, fertilizers and pesticides to maximize food production is contributing to soil degradation and loss. At this rate there will not be enough fertile soil left to feed the world. In addition, intensive agriculture stirs up CO2 naturally stored in the soil and releases it into the atmosphere, accounting for more than a third of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Regenerative measures include:

1. Minimize soil plowing: Conserves CO2 in the soil, improves its water uptake, and leaves vital fungal communities in the soil intact.

2. Crop rotation: improves biodiversity, while the use of animal manure and compost helps return nutrients to the soil.

3. Transfer of grazing animals to different pastures.

You can help us get to Net Zero

Reflection: "Regenerative agriculture improves and maintains soil health by restoring its carbon content, which in turn improves productivity, just the opposite of conventional agriculture," and estimates that annual regenerative cultivation could reduce or sequester between 14, 5 and 22 gigatonnes of CO2 by 2050".

Regenerative Agriculture has the potential to reverse climate change and we could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices.

The relationship between agriculture and fashion

The textile and fashion industry is highly dependent on farming systems, from the land that produces cotton crops to the sheep that produce wool.

Cotton, for example, is the most widely used fiber in the world, using 2.5% of the world's agricultural land while consuming large amounts of pesticides and herbicides.

This puts enormous pressure on water in dry areas, uses up valuable land that could be growing food, and is extremely damaging to the environment.

The Sense

Regenerative agriculture, or agroecology, is about working in harmony with nature using indigenous ecological knowledge.

It benefits from various techniques such as crop rotation, no or no tillage, cover crops and intercropping, and natural compost.

All of this helps reduce carbon, enhance biodiversity, enrich the soil, and improve water systems. It is an ancient nature-based solution to climate change, helping land that has been degraded to regenerate and flourish.

Fashion brands are investing in this restorative system as they work to address their environmental impacts and become climate positive rather than just carbon neutral.

Some brands are also using regenerative fashion to add greater traceability with a “farm to cupboard” concept in the same way that the food industry has done.


The idea is that customers can trace their garments back to the farm that grew the material.

Talking about land degradation and fashion takes us to the stage of material production in the life cycle of a product.

It is said that around 50% of the environmental impacts of a fashion product occur in the fiber production phase.

This is directly related to agriculture and grazing in the case of natural fibers.

Observing the impacts

Let's start with a closer look at the cultivation practices used in cotton production.

Cotton is the most widely used natural fiber in textiles and accounts for one third of all fibers manufactured worldwide. Of this share, around 64% of the cotton produced is used in the garment sector.

According to the OECD, yields in the global cotton sector have been stable since 2004, and the US Natural Resources Conservation Service estimates that soil erosion and desertification have reduced land productivity by a 50% and economic losses of up to 400,000 million dollars annually.

Current conventional plow-based cotton cultivation, based on the use of deep tillage and pesticides and herbicides, increases soil exposure to erosion, disrupts the functions of soil organisms, and releases enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into the soil. atmosphere.

The same goes for grazing, a source of fashionable materials like leather and wool.

An intensive system produces overgrazing which occurs when plants are exposed to intensive grazing or short recovery periods. In addition, in this case, the soil cannot regenerate and allow the continuous production of food.

Cradle-to-cradle principles

They guide the transformation towards regenerative fashion. As stated by The Ellen MacArthur Foundation and based on Cradle to Cradle principles, a circular economy is regenerative by design.

When we create a product, we must ensure that we eliminate waste, use healthy materials that benefit the economy by ensuring that it enhances the ability of ecosystems to regenerate at every step of the product's life cycle.

The Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Program categories serve as clear guidelines for making a truly circular and therefore regenerative model to encompass the transformation of a business:

  • Guaranteeing the health of the materials eliminates the risk of disturbing the capacity of natural systems to provide nutrients, sequester carbon and regenerate.
  • Producing with renewable energy ensures an inexhaustible supply of energy to power our economies, without undesirable emissions as a consequence.
  • Ensuring water quality is the basic premise for the functioning of any ecosystem.
  • If we guarantee the health of the soil, we sequester carbon, prevent pollution, but also water runoff.
  • In this way we can ensure human health, as well as the proper functioning of natural and technical cycles.


Last but not least, "a healthy environment can provide more stable income for farmers around the world."

The cultivation of regenerative natural fibers can provide more than one crop per year, ensure soil health and sustainable income sources for farmers and ranchers.


While Regenerative Organic's focus has largely been on food companies, Patagonia was in on the pilot, showing that there is a very real opportunity for clothing and fashion brands to get involved as well.

Restoring natural cycles through a viable economic model is the ultimate goal of circular fashion that achieves climate commitments, restores ecosystem resilience, ensures human health, and fights poverty.

The fashion sector is facing the most important revolution since industrialization. Implementing the principle of regenerative economy in all stages of the life cycle of fashion products could be the answer that we have been waiting for a long time to face global challenges.


"Still, I can't help but wonder if putting the spotlight on how crops are grown is just another way brands might be greenwashing customers".

Is this really the root of the problem or the solution to the pollution caused by the fashion industry?

Or should it be sought elsewhere?

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Estefania E. Ziliani is the Lawyer Specialist in Administrative Contracts at the Ministry of Economy of Argentina.

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