Christy Dawn doesn’t want to be a sustainable fashion brand anymore.
“We want to be a regenerative brand,” Christy Baskauskas, the Los Angeles-based label’s chief creative officer, told Sourcing Journal.
Like the people behind it, the cool-girl fave—picture celebrities like Emily Ratajkowski and Mandy Moore decked out in its wares—has been on a journey of expanding consciousness, one that recently culminated in the latest “chapter” of its Farm to Closet collection. The line of dreamy, cottagecore-infused prairie dresses and jumpsuits, a collaboration with India’s Oshadi Collective, features textiles handwoven from regeneratively grown cotton and cruelty-free “peace” silk that leaves the worms unassailed.
Many of the fabrics are block-printed by hand, lending them a wabi-sabi aesthetic that recalls the Zen Buddhist philosophy of finding beauty in imperfection. “Someone is there stamping the fabric all day long,” Baskauskas said. “And it does happen where you have a floral that’s slightly off-center, but to me, that’s just human.”
The same is true of the plant-based dyes that give the clothes their nostalgic hues, since the results are often subject to nature’s whims. Most brands demand consistency, but Christy Dawn welcomes these variations.
“If you’ve worked with natural dyeing before, you know that indigo can create several different colors of blue,” Baskauskas said. “For us, it’s like, O.K., if we have this idea of sky blue, but it just happened to sit in the sun for two hours longer or the clouds rolled in and so created this darker or lighter shade, I’m O.K. with that because it’s this beautiful process that is involving Mother Nature. And we always make sure to tell that story with our community so that they feel connected.”
Creating clothing this way wasn’t always the goal, however. When the former model and her husband, Aras, co-founded Christy Dawn in 2013, they used deadstock and leftover fabric because it was affordable. “It wasn’t like, ‘Let’s change the world, let’s like do this the right way,’” Baskauskas admitted. “It was, honestly, to create beautiful things without breaking the bank.”
As the Christy Dawn team “evolved as humans,” it realized that while it wasn’t part of the problem posed by fast fashion and its ilk, it wasn’t part of the solution, either. Soon, Baskauskas said, sustainability was no longer enough.
“You know the word ‘sustainable,’ it’s like you’re sustaining something,” she said. “I have two small boys and when I look around in the world, I’m like, ‘I don’t want to sustain this because there’ll be nothing left for them in the next 50 or 60 years.’ And that goes also for our clothing brand and for the fashion industry. We don’t want to sustain this anymore. We actually want to heal.”
Regenerative agriculture, a holistic land management model that employs crop rotation, no or minimal tilling, generous handfuls of compost and managed grazing, is a concept that’s gaining traction in the industry. It helps to think of it as organic farming on steroids; the idea is to sequester carbon from the atmosphere, restore soil health and promote biodiversity.
In January, Kering, which owns luxury nameplates like Balenciaga and Gucci, unveiled the Regenerative Fund for Nature, a grant-administering vehicle that wants to shift 1 million hectares of current crop and rangeland to regenerative farming practices over the next five years.
The following month, The North Face announced it was working with Indigo Ag, a Boston-based agricultural innovation company, to create a first-of-its-kind collection made with cotton sourced using regenerative farming practices. Not long after, the New Zealand Merino Company enlisted Allbirds, Icebreaker and Smartwool to create the world’s first platform for regenerative wool.
While regenerative agriculture feeds into the idea that brands can not only do “less bad” but “more good,” reversing “the harm” produced by years of industrial farming isn’t something that can happen overnight, Nishanth Chopra, founder of the Oshadi Collective, told Sourcing Journal. He pointed to the “dark history” of the Green Revolution in 1960s India, when modern technology and methods, such as high-yielding variety seeds and pesticides, were introduced. Unwinding all that damage won’t be easy.
For Chopra, regenerative agriculture is no different from the “ancient Indian farming” his forebears practiced. His family has worked in textiles for generations, but he wanted to mitigate the damage garment production creates, not contribute to it.
Chopra started out with his own label before realizing he could drive more change by extending his artisanal “seed to sew” network to brands like Christy Dawn, which was the “first brand partner who believed in us,” he said.
And Christy Dawn doesn’t just buy the regenerative cotton from Oshadi, it helps grow it, too. In 2019, the brand leased four acres of farmland in the Tamil Nadu city of Erode, working with farmers at the Oshadi Collective to rehabilitate the parched, chemical-riddled and nutrient-stripped soil by “asking it what it needed,” Baskauskas said. The 3,000 meters of cotton the plot yielded went into the first iteration of Farm to Closet, which debuted in May. Christy Dawn has since leased another 26 acres, and it’s eyeing a more expansive 50-acre tract that would allow it to hire more farmers. It pays them three times the living wage in Erode, a fact that won over early doubters who are now “literally knocking on the door” to ask for jobs.
“It’s really exciting but also very nerve-wracking because we’re taking on the risk as a brand,” Baskauskas said. “We’re the ones investing in the land and the farmers—we pay for the land, we bought the tractors and we pay the farmer salaries. If there’s pestilence or a flood, that’s on us, not the farmers, which I think is why most brands don’t do this because it’s much easier to buy organic cotton on the market. It [requires] much more energy to invest in healing.”
Christy Dawn can confidently label its cotton as regenerative because it “draws down carbon from the sky,” Baskauskas said. Each dress sequesters roughly 22 pounds of carbon dioxide, according to one internal analysis. So far, the entire plot has absorbed “in excess of” 60 tons of CO2.
Baskauskas’s goal is for Christy Dawn to become an exclusively Farm to Closet company, “so we would use everything that our land would generate for our clothing, and only use that.” The brand has its own factory in Los Angeles, but Baskauskas envisions creating a “fully regenerative fibershed,” or localized garment ecosystem, in India, complete with cut-and-sew facilities. But the pandemic has shaken up some of Christy Dawn’s timelines, which is part of the reason the collection is being released in different drops.
“It’s not as intense right now but we’ve definitely seen delays,” she said. “But our people have to be safe and healthy first—that’s our priority. And at the end of the day, it’s just clothing. And if we need to delay something, then we’ll delay it.”
There’s also the fact that rising to such challenges is all part of being a regenerative—and not just sustainable—brand.
“It goes back to that regenerative way of looking at problems or challenges as a means to grow and learn,” Baskauskas said. “We went from buying deadstock to leasing land in India; we’ve shifted our total mindset completely. It feels like we’re birthing something. It’s a little uncomfortable but we’re growing and learning.”