It feels like everyone talks about regeneration instead of sustainability right now.
Is it another buzzword that will loose it's power as soon as it is used by marketing?
I hope not, and I certainly think, that there is huge momentum in the fashion industry right now. And not only the fashion industry is under immense pressure from global warming, COVID and fragile supply chains - but also our governments. The war in Ukraine shows how globally scattered our supply chains are and how a war in Europe means hunger for poor countries that rely on wheat imports. Or it highlights our dependency on Russian energy.
These interconnections and dependencies are so important when it comes to creating a regenerative system. For too long we have accepted the narrative of an economic system were people and planet are externalities.
Shifting this system to a more regenerative one, means accepting complexity and the fact that everything is connected.
While, in the discourse of sustainable or regenerative fashion, we often talk about changes we can make at the company level or in the supply chain, we only randomly discuss the root causes of the problems.
Let's look at the example of microplastics. Last week a study on microplastics revealed that 80% of the people tested in the study had microplastics in their blood samples.
'The discovery shows the particles can travel around the body and may lodge in organs. The impact on health is as yet unknown. But researchers are concerned as microplastics cause damage to human cells in the laboratory and air pollution particles are already known to enter the body and cause millions of early deaths a year.'
Eventhough, this article does not link the blood contamination directly to microfibers from clothing, there is another study indicating that microplastics contaminating air during wear of garments cause even more severe problems as they go into our resiratory systems.
'A recent study found that microplastics can latch on to the outer membranes of red blood cells and may limit their ability to transport oxygen. The particles have also been found in the placentas of pregnant women, and in pregnant rats they pass rapidly through the lungs into the hearts, brains and other organs of the foetuses.'
Recycling is even making it worse. There are studies indicating that recycled polyester sheds 2x the amount of Virgin PES knits. (https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.9b04535)
Fashion has to stop producing synthetics and embrace innovative natural materials instead.
But, when I talk to fashion brands about the topic, I often hear the arguments, that customers are used to synthetic fibres for example and therefore need the material performance. I get this and I understand that change takes time, but there is not a lot of time left.
Whenever I see a Polyester Garment I now think of the biosphere as a network or web of living beings that spans the entire globe. Plants build materials from solar energy and C02. Animals eat plants and breath the oxygen produced by them. Carnivores feed on plant-eaters. When living beings die there is an elegantly orchestrated process of decomposition. This process breaks down these building blocks and reintroduces the materials into new life. Nature runs on fats, sugars, starches, and proteins. These building blocks disperse everywhere on the planet. This is nature's recycling process. It is called entropy and is described by the second law of thermodynamics: disorder increases over time. That's also the explanation for microplastics being found everywhere. It is physics.
In her article 'Fossil Fashion: How Green Growth is Undermining the Circular Economy' Tone Tobiasson cites Dr. Michael Braungart, one of the original founders Cradle 2 Cradle during the 2021 Berlin Fashion Summit on the topic of microplastics:
“Let us agree here and now that for synthetics, we only use carbon captured from the atmosphere, no oil-based, no recycled PET; otherwise, all raw-materials should be from natural and biodegradable sources. We need to have a positive footprint, not a less negative one; and measure those positives. Hitting your child 5 times instead of 10 isn’t going to help your child, so a little ‘less bad’ isn’t going to cut it. All textiles should be designed into the biosphere, it is washing machines and this type of products that need to go into the techno-sphere. The current take on circularity is stupid. As it is, we have the wrong goals. If the goal is zero impact, humans have no place on this planet.”
In this specific example of microplastics, I think the root cause of the problem is, that we humans of the global north grew up learning the narrative of a mechanistic world view: The separation of nature and humans. We will never design anything that can exist separate from nature. No product, no process, no organisation.
Giles Hutchins puts it this way in his book The nature of business:
'The ecological, social and economic crisis now upon us is as much a crisis of spirit as it is a crisis of resources.'
The systemic or cultural aspects of this crises that need a realignment are:
- disconnection from nature
- systems of oppression
- short-term thinking
- global supply chains
- linear thinking
- high speed
- growth mindset
If we look at indigenous cultures we find quite the opposite:
- Culture embedded in nature
- systems of collaboration
- long-term thinking
- Adaption to place
- systems thinking, indigenous wisdom
- lower speed
- a mindset of receiving and giving back
Here is a perfect example of a product that is designed to create change in the entire system:
Reform Africa is a Ugandan Start-Up that tackles the issues of local plastic waste. The backpacks are colorful and fun, I love each and every product and I especially like the colors and pattern they create with their own Methode of fusing plastic bags into a new material. Faith Aweko, Shamim Naluyima and Rachel Mema HN. founded the company with the goal to address several environmental & social topics in Uganda: - local plastic pollution of waterways and landscapes - local employment with a fair wage: They pay single mothers the same wage as a middle men for
collecting the bags - For every item bought they donate one bag to a school child This for me is a bright example of regenerative design: Making the world a bit better then it was before.
Thus, a textile production model that recognizes it's connection to the biosphere must be build on these principals and has the potential to boost biodiversity, build soil, support communities, and clean up existing pollution. Shifting to a regenerative system means healing. Healing the planet, healing the people in the supply chains, healing from consumerism, systems of oppression, environmental degradation, global warming, biodiversity loss and disconnection and healing our selves.
A systems change requires to change mindsets and believes of people. Let's start with our selves first. Bon weekend & regenerate well!