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What could regenerative fashion mean?

In 2015 Li Edelkoort shocked the international fashion world with her manifesto 'Anti-Fashion' in which she claims that the fashion system is dead.

A week ago I read on LinkedIn that a new degree program with Li is soon to launch at Polimoda. The course will be called 'From Farm to Fabric to Fashion'. Designers will be trained with a focus on fiber science and agriculture, promoting regenerative agriculture and the use of biomaterials. The course builds a bridge between traditional Tuscan textile craftsmanship and material science. I am very excited about the program and, as always, I see great potential in Li's forecasts.

But now let's start again from the beginning, why is fashion dead?

I'll spare you the usual blah blah blah about why the industry is terribly dirty. But there are three aspects I'd like to highlight anyway.

Why we got to this point is mainly due to three aspects:

Social Injustice: The fashion system is designed for exploitation and would not function as we know it today without these power structures. Keywords here are Cheap Labor, Racism, Neocolonialism and other forms of oppression.

The Use of Fossil Fuels: In the early 2000s, global polyester production exceeded the volume of cotton. This volume has doubled again in the last 20 years and is now six times the volume of cotton. One of the biggest problems caused by Polyester fashion is waste, and I don't just mean the mountains of clothing piling up in the Atacama Desert or the clothing that burrows deep into the beaches in Ghana and knots itself into so-called tentacles. I also mean the enormous microplastic problem that gets bigger with every washing machine load.

According to Fashion Revolution, 35% of the microplastics in the oceans come from clothing. That's the largest percentage.

Greed: Fast fashion is about profit. Clothes have become a disposable product due to artificially created trends that make clothes obsolete. To change this we need a massive mindset shift towards purpose economy and sufficiency thinking.

Grapfic based on Reed, 2016 and Roland, 2018.

If we look at the chart above we can see nicely that the whole industry is on the left, degenerative side. There are more and more brands making their way to the top right, but how exactly can we do that?

For one thing, we see that sustainability is no longer enough, because that would mean maintaining the status quo. But we have done so much damage to the Earth and its inhabitants that we need to turn the entire system upside down in order to repair what has been broken.

How can we do that? Through radical change!

If we need to flip the system on it's head. An exercise is to imagine the opposite scenarios from the fuck-ups described above. These could be as follows:

Social Justice: Here I'd like to quote Atmos Magazine, which says: 'To rewrite our future, we must right the past -including the harm that colonization has authored upon the Earth's original caretakers and listen to their words of wisdom.' fullstop. Nothing more to add here.

Biomaterial Revolution:

If all this misery has come about because we have allowed cheap polyester plastic to degenerate into a disposable item, the other side of the coin is a Biomaterial Revolution.

Any measures to minimize leakage will result in less microplastic entering the oceans, but not more. We will still be on the left, red side of the graph from above! It is impossible to collect all the fibers that are generated during the wearing and washing of clothes. Consistent avoidance is the only honest measure to be sustainable at all.

Humility as a new business culture:

From my point of view, the opposite of greed is humility. Humility before nature and all living beings. Humility means that we white people of the global North no longer see ourselves as superior to nature and other people, but take back our place in the system. It means giving up power and listening to others. Asking questions instead of knowing answers. How do we do this? Through inner work and a global shift of values. Building on this, we can create new business ethics.

To get there we can listen, ask questions and work on ourselves. Are you ready for this radical change?


Changing markets foundation (2021). changing markets foundation.

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