Why is it essential that we address agriculture when discussing the clothing industry?
Mainly because textile production relies on agriculture. Be it cotton, hemp, linen, bamboo, eucalyptus or wood pulp for synthetic fibers, the clothes we wear are all, in part, of natural origin. Textile Exchange estimates that in 2019, about 35.5% of the total fiber production was of natural origin (plant or animal)*, which leaves us with a solid 64.5% of hydrocarbon-based fibers. This is a horrendous amount, but we’ll leave that for another article.
[ Credit Yves Junge ]
On that note, at Montloup, 98% of the fibers we use are of natural origin.
If the textile industry is an indescribably wasteful one, we must urgently find better ways to enhance our practices for the sake of our planet.
Without human altercation, the planet naturally regulates carbon cycles by maintaining a balance between the atmosphere and the soil. Human activity has perpetrated this balance, creating a carbon build up in the atmosphere, thus climate change.
One of the solutions most brought to the table is regenerative agriculture, which can be applied to all types of yields, from food to textile.
Regenerative agriculture is an essential solution if we wish to recalibrate the imbalance of the current carbon cycle, hence reduce the effects of climate change.
The holistic approach it implies uses the power of plants, which, through photosynthesis, trap carbon within the soil. Many paths to a prosper future exist and reside in greener agriculture involving richer soils by favouring biodiversity and diverse crops, which combined would considerably improve soil quality**.
These regenerative practices are rooted in indigenous knowledge practiced by natives and developed at a local scale for centuries. Holistic practices in land management are essential to regenerative agriculture practices***.
An interesting aspect of this approach is that most projects are embedded locally: each unique region has its own ecosystem.
Since textile is the matter of interest here, Fibershed, a non-profit organization, is a good reference point.
Based in California and founded by Rebecca Burgess, Fibershed’s mission is based on the regional development of textile fiber production. Their impressive work includes charts of local fiber and natural dye producers, extensive soil documentation through regenerative agriculture, solutions to extort ourselves from our dependence to plastic, studies on the dangers of micro-plastic pollution, and so much more. Their expertise shines through this vast domain. From California, the Fibershed project has expanded to different groups around the world, including Ontario, Canada.
While reading Rebecca Burgess’s book, I discovered the two following producers:
[ Photo of Sally Fox – Credit Paige Green]
The first is Sally Fox, owner of Vreseis an enterprise specializing in organic cotton production. She lives in a rural region of California, near Sacramento. Throughout the years, she developed an expertise in naturally dyed cotton. Spanning from browns to greens, these varieties of cotton, once weaved or knitted, preserve their color which can evolve with the years. Certified GOTS, Sally has also implemented many practices to maintain the quality of her soil. Among other methods, she plants black peas to attract undesirable insects and distract them from the cotton plants. She rotates her crops in association with merino sheep, who nourish the soil with their droppings. Animals play a key role in regenerative practices.
Sally’s cottons have been spun in North Carolina by a company called Hill Spinning. Her cottons were blended to organic cotton from Texas. We took advantage of the beautiful colors to create stripes and wonderful mottled effects.
The second producer is Lani Estill, owner of Lani’s Lana wool. Also based in California, Lani raises Rambouillet sheep to produce wool.
[ Lani's sheeps – Crédit photo Anna Odendaal ]
She participated in Fibershed’s “Climate Beneficial Wool” program. This study, conducted by Dr. Delonge, proves that creating a wool-based garment could have a negative CO2 impact and therefore trap more carbon than the amount released. These studies are based on the total life cycle of the garment, including the energy used to create it, the transport, the raw materials, farming the animals and the creation method. For this to be done, the studies suggest basing the production on a regional scale to reduce the transport as much as possible, while using solar energies to create the product, to compost and properly manage the soil and water.
Lani’s wool was spun by Worsted Spinning New England in Maine. We created two different fabrics with it: French terry and fleece, which has organic cotton on the jersey side, and wool on the brushed side.
We can agree that practicing regenerative agriculture alone will not reverse the thriving carbon curve and make our planet a lively, healthy place.
Because a crop, be it regenerative, will always demand from the earth, and a recent English study suggests that biodiversity and soil health are best preserved in natural spaces than in any form of agriculture****.
[ Credit Jordan Whitfield ]
It is therefore urgent that we reduce our consumption rate to accelerate the re-neutralization of certain key spaces, to perpetrate life on Earth.
We’re not implying a drastic return to ancient ways of life, but a drastic reduction of our consumption habits to avoid mass production. This will allow us to access more artisan ways of providing for ourselves, in respect of the environment, as well as redirecting our economy to a local scale, allowing local producers to thrive.
For further information, I recommend:
**Conférence avec Rebecca Burgess, conférence au Sustainable fashion forum, Avril 2021
***Organic cotton market report, Textile Exchange, 2021