Ecologically responsible fashion has become a key marketing signal for many global brands, with advertising claims such as “sustainable”, “responsibly sourced”, “organic” and “recycled” popping up throughout the fashion industry. These claims respond to growing demand from consumers who increasingly want their fashion brands to align with their values and who have shown a willingness to pay a premium for “environmentally friendly” clothing. “Regenerative agriculture”, an approach to agriculture that aims to restore soil health and reduce emissions, is one of these claims. Several global brands are highlighting the use of regenerative farming techniques to neutralize the impact of fashion manufacturing on the environment and appeal to consumers’ appetite for environmentally friendly fashion. As with all eco-friendly fashion trends, the growing demand for products from regenerative agriculture poses marketing and supply chain challenges for brands.
Regenerative Agriculture 101
Regenerative agriculture refers to a collection of agricultural methods and techniques that promote the improvement of the soil and the overall ecosystem for the raw materials used in textile products.
Methods include limiting the use of synthetic crop inputs, applying compost as fertilizer, planting “cover crops” and eliminating or reducing tillage. Cover crops, such as clover, help in the absorption of atmospheric carbon by sequestrating it in their roots. The captured carbon, in turn, provides nutrients to the soil, improves moisture absorption and stimulates crop growth.
Fashion is paying attention, as consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the environmental costs of manufacturing and respond with their wallets. A survey of buyers in Brazil, China, France, the UK and the US showed that 75% identify “sustainability” as very or extremely important. Over a third of respondents reported abandoning their favorite brand in favor of one committed to positive environmental standards.
Despite its environmental benefits, regenerative agriculture has its costs, particularly for smallholder farmers. While fashion brands are eager for opportunities to market environmentally responsible practices to their conscious consumers, it can be costly for farmers to implement regenerative farming practices and meet the sometimes burdensome reporting requirements demanded by brands. This is especially true for farmers in developing countries.
To support the adoption of regenerative agriculture techniques, some brands such as Patagonia and north face  they are working directly with farmers and farmer cooperatives to fund compliance costs and promote uniform standards. Last year, for example, luxury goods group Kering (Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga) partnered with Conservation International on a $ 6 million Nature Regeneration Fund to convert 1 million hectares of livestock and land. agricultural in regenerative farms.
Ensure transparency of the supply chain
Fashion brands making claims about regenerative agriculture must develop rigorous monitoring and quality assurance systems along the supply chain in order to verify that the raw materials they are purchasing and using are, in fact, grown using regenerative techniques and that any advertised environmental benefits are adequately justified. Setting supply chain benchmarks for responsible fashion is not for the faint of heart.
To assist in supply chain management and to promote the adoption of consistent industry standards, several fashion brands are forming partnerships with each other and with environmental organizations. In addition to Kering’s partnership with Conservation International, North Face has partnered with startup AgTech Indigo to monitor cotton grown using regenerative practices across the supply chain and to measure the amount of carbon sequestered by regenerative farming practices. New Zealand Merino, Allbirds, Icebreaker and Smartwool have collaborated to create a similar platform for regenerative wool. Timberland has partnered with the Savoy Institute’s Land to Market program to launch shoe collections with regenerative leather. The transition from conventional to regenerative agriculture, including investments in traceability and other technologies, requires capital, which is why brands don’t fend for themselves.
Brands promoting regenerative agriculture that do not implement reputable compliance programs may find themselves in the crosshairs of false advertising claims or allegations of “greenwashing”. Greenwashing is a term used to refer to advertising claims that misrepresent or overestimate the environmental benefits of a product or service. As environmental marketing claims continue to proliferate, regulatory scrutiny is likely to increase as well, as we have already seen in the European Union. For its part, the US Federal Trade Commission has issued detailed guidance on a large number of environmental advertising claims, including “recycled”, “compostable” and carbon credit or offsetting claims. Before submitting environmental claims, advertisers should make sure the claims are properly qualified and properly substantiated.
Growing consumer demand for environmentally responsible clothing has sparked interest and investment from fashion brands in regenerative farming practices, which aim to slow climate change by restoring soil health. Partnerships between brands and with tech companies and nonprofits can help offset investments in new technologies and climate-friendly farming practices, potentially providing new revenue streams for both farmers and retailers. However, fashion retailers should be aware of the unique legal and regulatory considerations that arise when leveraging consumer interest in regenerative practices and materials.
NOTES ON FOOT
 The sector seeks credentials for ethics and the environment | Stock and land | Victoria (stockandland.com.au)
 New initiative to stem biodiversity loss in global fashion supply chains (conservation.org)
 Timberland launches 3 new “regenerative leather” shoes – Savory Institute