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Fashion Grown in Soil: Citizens of Humanity Promotes Regenerative Cotton Program

During a webinar called “A Regenerative Future for Fashion” sponsored by Citizens of Humanity on Tuesday, fashion-model-turned-environmental-activist Arizona Muse gave her fellow panelists and viewers a brief vocabulary lesson. “‘Sustaining’ means to stay the same and we’re not in a great place right now, are we?” she said. “‘Regenerating’ means to become better and healthier. It means to heal as well. That’s a great word for us to focus on.”

With its brand-new Earth-friendly initiative, Citizens of Humanity Group is striving to do just that.

The jeanswear manufacturer, which is based in Huntington Park, Calif. and produces its namesake brand along with Agolde and Goldsign, has launched a program with six farmers in the U.S. to grow cotton using regenerative practices. The cotton will be harvested and ginned later this year and utilized in the company’s products starting in late 2023.

Regenerative agriculture applies often ancient conservation and rehabilitation approaches to farming and stresses keeping soil—and thus crops—healthy without the use of synthetic fertilizers and other chemicals. “In layman’s terms, regenerative agriculture is a holistic approach to restoring and rebuilding natural ecosystems for a given crop that contribute not only to the crop’s health but also to the overall soil health,” said webinar panelist Kish Johnson, national sales director Advancing Eco Agriculture, a 16-year-old agricultural service that offers farmers biological and mineral nutrition products and guidance about regenerative practices. Its clients collectively cultivate 5 million acres of U.S. farmland.

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One result of Citizens’ new farm-to-closet initiative, which group CEO Amy Williams stresses is meant to be a long-term one, is to transition every product–where doable–to regenerative cotton over the next year and a half. “This is not a capsule group,” she said. “We feel really deeply committed to this work.”

She added that further benefits of it will include fighting climate change and keeping U.S. jobs and farms afloat.

Citizens’ program encompasses 800 acres of domestic farmland that should yield enough cotton to create 500,000 pairs of jeans though some of the white gold will be used for knitwear instead of denim, Williams said.

The final cost of the project won’t be known until the cotton is grown and harvested—and the yield, like all things in agriculture, will be dependent on the weather and other unpredictable factors. However, Williams said that she expects the price to be around $1 million for the first harvest. “There are also individual arrangements on a per farm basis that support exactly what those farmers asked for,” she added. She also said that the cost–whatever it ends up being–would not be passed on to consumers.

One of the program’s six participating farms is Hardwick Planting Co., a fourth-generation family-run agricultural business in northeastern Louisiana owned by brothers Marshall and Mead Hardwick that recently became the first American farm to be certified Regenagri (regenerative) by Control Union, an agricultural inspector based in the U.K. “Farmers are always trying to increase their crop load. The bottom line is that it just makes them more profitable but how we go about doing it needs to be extremely responsible as we can destroy our environment,” said Marshall, another webinar panelist. He continued: “The United States farmer is about 1.5 percent of the U.S. population and we take great pride in saying that we feed, shelter and clothe the remaining population. But you have to do it in a responsible way.”

The Hardwicks have previously worked with nearby Vidalia Mills, the only operating denim mill in the U.S., and that association led to their introduction to the Citizens of Humanity team and the project launch.

However, Turkey-based Orta, not Vidalia, will be the mill to weave the denim for Citizens.

Webinar panelist Muse, who founded the regenerative farming–based charity Dirt last year, applauds the new advancement but believes modern civilization—and the fashion industry in particular—has miles to go to correct its previous wrongs against both the Earth and the earth.

“I think the soil deserves an apology. And the farmers that live on that soil deserve an apology for the way our society has been treating farmers and soil–either really badly or neglecting to even learn about it,” she said. “It wasn’t in our general consciousness until very recently that fashion has grown in soil. Thank you, farmers, for growing my dresses for me. That was really cool that you did that.”