Fashion Industry places more emphasis on sourcing materials
  • Fashion industry, criticized as a major polluter, looks to regenerative farming
  • With the fashion world’s backing, startups like Oshadi Studio may find it easier to find investors.
  • An embrace of materials sourced from regenerative farming could help the reputation of the fashion industry, which generates more CO2 emissions than aviation and shipping combined. 

Call it a brand makeover. This year, the fashion world’s International Woolmark Prize for young talent, which helped launch the careers of Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfield in the 1950s, focused on designers who emphasize environmentally conscious practices and materials.

Each of the 10 finalists produced a “sustainability approach” for their work. Irish designer Richard Malone won for using materials sourced from regenerative agriculture in India through a partnership with Oshadi Studio. Regenerative farming goes beyond sustainability, using practices that actually leave the soil replenished to improve biodiversity and generate larger crop yields.

“The fashion world needs a new outlook,” Nishanth Chopra, the founder of Oshadi, told Karma. “Every aspect of the supply chain should be looked at.”

For the fashion world, committing to regenerative agriculture might help rehabilitate its reputation. Currently, it’s often criticized as a major polluter, responsible for more CO2 emissions worldwide than the international aviation and shipping industry combined. Adding to the problem, only 13% of total material in the clothing industry is recycled, Morgan Stanley analysts have said.

Unfortunately, “most people don’t know how clothes are made,” Chopra said. “Consumers need to be informed.”

Oshadi, with London-designed fashions made with materials from Indian farms practicing regenerative agriculture, is only a few years old, but has already worked with international fashion heavyweights, including Stella McCartney. The company sells its own fashions and also provides materials to other brands, Chopra said. Luckily, it is located in a part of southern India that hasn’t been disrupted by the pandemic.

Oshadi has held off on seeking investors while it made sure its system worked, Chopra said. Now that the company has three harvests under its belt, it may seek funding to buy more land.

It’s not just upscale fashion that is committing to more principled agriculture practices.

Timberland, the outdoor clothing company, last month announced a partnership with the nonprofit Savory Institute to develop a regenerative leather supply chain. The company already has an agreement with Other Half Processing to source leather from ranches that use regenerative practices. 

Regenerative agriculture isn’t new to India, of course. Organic India has been following those farming principles to make teas, foods and beauty products since the 1990s. The company has worked more abou 3,000 farms over the years.

“Initially, it was quite difficult to convince farmers to switch over to regenerative agriculture,” Organic India COO Balram Singh said in emailed comments to Karma. But over time, they saw their soil health improve, resulting in a much better yield. Also, the healthier soil held water better, resulting in more efficient irrigation, he said.

Because of the pandemic, “people have become more aware about their health, well-being and immunity,” Singh said. “The food industry is expected to source more and more raw materials from regenerative organic agriculture. Demand for such products is already increasing many times over.”