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Can Regenerative Farming Combat Climate Change? Experts Weigh In

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Though there’s no denying the damaging effects the fashion industry can have on the environment, the sector has significant opportunity to do good.

Not only does the industry employ 161 million people worldwide, according to global fashion network FashionUnited, it also has the potential to reverse its carbon footprint by implementing specific methodology at the source. Brands feeling pressure to meet aggressive sustainability targets are turning to regenerative agriculture practices to rebuild soil and, in turn, improve the planet.

In an online panel discussion at sourcing trade show Texworld on Wednesday, experts discussed the ways in which regenerative agriculture can benefit the environment, and why everyone throughout the industry should take note of its ability to create change.

“It’s very important for designers and buyers and sourcing executives to understand what is happening on the ground,” said Atul Mittal, executive director at textile company Pratibha Syntex Ltd. “[They need to] first get convinced themselves about the benefits of regenerative organic farming. Once that happens, everything else will fall in place.”

According to Mittal, shoppers are becoming increasingly aware of their consumption habits and their impact on the environment—a shift that’s bound to gain momentum in 2021 and beyond. When brands and supply-chain partners are educated on what goes into the foundation of their products, they’re able to improve upon them and educate consumers accordingly.

Roian Atwood, senior director of global sustainable business at Kontoor Brands, the owner of Wrangler and Lee, defined regenerative agriculture as farming methods that can “reverse the historical land use practices,” as agriculture is inherently disruptive to the soil.

As the second-largest carbon pool on earth (followed by water, at number one), soil has the potential to help combat climate change. Rebecca Burgess, executive director at regenerative fiber systems company Fibershed, referred to carbon as a “currency below ground” that supports life and moves carbon out of the atmosphere—and healthy soil is better suited to perform this function.

Atwood called out several regenerative farming practices that Wrangler currently uses to improve soil health in the U.S., including use of cover crops, which are plants used to slow erosion; conservation tillage, planting systems that reduce soil erosion by water; and rotations, which involve planting different crops to improve soil health and combat pests and weeds.

According to Atwood, the brand’s origins are deeply rooted in farming. “The first pair of Wrangler jeans was actually created by switching the fell seam from the inside to the exterior, so that someone riding in saddle would not be chafed as they continued on horseback,” he said. “There’s a deep heritage there that it is connected to the land.”

Wrangler has held partnerships with the Future Farmers of America for more than 50 years. In September, the brand invited global cotton farmers implementing soil-carbon and biodiversity improvements to apply for their cotton to be purchased for a Retro Premium jeans collection.

By investing in the beginning of their supply chains, brands can support farmers and help move the needle on the climate crisis. According to Burgess, this should be the goal across the board.

“Eventually, your supply chain itself should be the living, breathing solution to the climate crisis,” she said. “The garments themselves are responsible for taking more carbon out of the atmosphere than they’ve emitted. And frankly, that’s the only way that we’re going to solve the crisis.”

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