"Let's not be sustainable and look further."
I have always thought that whatever happens in the food industry is very likely to happen in the fashion industry with a time lapse and back in 2013, I have based a whole denim collection presentation on the food industry trends, with references to demand for ecological, ethical, traceable, community based, social products that actually not only serve their purpose but demand a new way of existence.
Elettra Wiedemann (the daughter of Isabella Rossellini) compares the allure of a handcrafted Birkin bag with that of a locally sourced, organically grown tomato and says that both tell a story, and that both were a labour of love and connect the consumer to an artisan and tradition. No wonder that I have called some of my jeans as delicious and remember a time where we would brainstorm for edible jeans.
People make better choices if we can appeal them at a visceral level and this is taste in food and style and functionality in fashion. Both are not easy to figure out as there are multiple ingredients as well as numerous players along the supply chain. In 2006, I had worked on the denim fabric development program for Levi’s 100% organic jeans and the 30,000 organic jeans launched had a coconut shell button on the waistband and non-galvanised metal fly buttons. The indigo finish had been produced from potato starch, mimosa flower and Marseille soap. They were produced in a dedicated area of the Levi's factory in Hungary, on machinery that has been specially cleaned to comply with the certification process. The jeans presented the circular business model however they were not appealing enough style wise to go mainstream and the customers did not see the real value. It took a long time for sustainable jeans to become both responsible as well as fashionable. During the last decade sustainability has become the hip word and that we started hearing about a growing demand and supply on sustainable options, we are now at a stand-still with the current crisis. This is a tipping point with a huge potential to transform and re-construct a fragile system.
It is very clear that the current crisis is demanding that we forget sustainability and embrace regenerative models. When we think about the causes of global warming , we mostly think about fossil fuel energy and rightly so – the less conspicuous are our breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as the clothes that we put on. Both the food system as well as the textiles and clothing are complex structures, and both have to transform to capture carbon. There is not much nurturing or giving back in the sustainable claims – the models mostly represents doing less bad. The denim industry strives to present our savings on wastewater or chemicals; announcing how much less filthy we are – filthy still yet. The regenerative mind-set is not only about reviving but also formulating a circular loop of supply from the source to the product. This is how we can form a loop. Based on this thread of thinking, I have listed some of the more obvious commonalities of fashion and agriculture.
1.Both food and fashion make a bold statement
What we buy and consume also presents what we support. Choosing what we put on and into our bodies are powerful decisions that we need to have an awareness on. We can second-handedly contribute to the status quo or chose to create change for the better. This starts with getting interested in what we purchase as consumers and looking for the better options.
2.Consumer as a part of the supply chain
If consumer could see where and how their burgers or jeans were made, the better choice would become easier and more obvious. We see more and more people demanding transparency for what they consume. In food, farm-to-table concepts can be a win-win-win for farmers, businesses, and consumers alike. In apparel, supply chains are global and most of the time there are almost 8 factories in the chain. If brands can choose to work directly with the source – from farm to finished product than there is also the added value of developing a more inherent model of transparency as well as eliminating some of the costs. Such a model will also trigger a collaborative value accumulation along the supply chain.
3.Fast food existed before fast fashion
Accessibility through fast food has devalued what we eat, and we have seen a similar trend in what we wear as fast fashion emerged to democratize the industry. There is nothing wrong in offering consumers a diverse choice and accessibility. We must however take into consideration the cost of materials/ingredients, labor, and the impact on the environment to determine the real value of our everyday purchases. Ranked with countries, food waste would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases globally, just-behind USA and China. (Drawdown Project) The fashion industry is one of the most wasteful industries in the world. We produce way more clothes than we need and we discard them after a couple of wears. And the worst part is, the majority of our clothes goes to landfill, even though we could easily reuse or recycle them.
How much waste does the fashion industry actually produce? An average consumer throws away 31.75 kilograms (70 pounds) of clothing per year. Globally we produce 13 million tons of textile waste each year 95% of which could be reused or recycled.
4.Less about the product and more about what the product has to offer
We demand enriched nutrients, health, a sense of well-being, immunity boost from our food and especially after the current crisis we will see fashion becoming smart, connected, co-created, providing a sense of wellness and transforming into a service.
This list could easily extend with further details and the more we think about it the more obvious it become that fashion needs to be linked to the regenerative agriculture in order to make its transformation in being a part of the solution and not the problem.
What has helped me progress my thinking further, is a course I have taken last year on “ How to Design by Nature” presented by Taner Aksel. I had visited his farm; Belentepe close to Bursa in Turkey, over a high school get together 2 years ago. I got curios about permaculture as he told his personal transformation story, how he got to set the farm and developed it in the last 10 years as we hand-picked our salad. Taner says that he always had a feeling that something was wrong with the way our modern world has been fast forwarding and in 2008 he got interested in the patterns that caused the global financial crisis. One thing led to another and his research guided him to take a permaculture course from Bill Mollison in 2010 and he later on started Belentepe in 2013. Taner chose to be a part of the solution by not only setting up a permaculture farm but he become an educator and started giving trainings, running workshops and building a community. More and more people wanted to hear what Taner had to say and many got inspired to take responsibility and engage with their communities to become a part of the regenerative living proposal. Visiting the farm and later on getting the course on permaculture has assured me further that fashion needed to become regenerative. In the fashion world; we always complain about the consumer not being educated enough on sustainability. Having seen how Taner presents the regenerative mind-set as a solution to the climate crisis, convinced me that we needed to step out of our comfort zone in the denim industry to go at length to inform everyone as needed relentlessly. The ripple effect that is happening in the food industry will happen in fashion if we take the responsibility and work hard enough. I have joined forces with Taner around a foundation that he is leading based in Istanbul. The foundation will be serving as a learning, training, sharing best practices platform enriched by workshops on designing with nature and providing both the training as well as the infrastructure guidance for all who would like to start gardening whether in their city balconies, suburban gardens or urban farms as well as providing the connection to certified producers. We will also be working on the intersection of the regenerative fashion and agriculture as everything is like connecting the dots on an unknown territory, the shared experiences, giving voice to the progress and innovation, building communities, uniting around what will heal us, naturally feels better.
There are already great examples from fashion brands who are progressing into regenerative holistic business models of farm to product and defining how fashion can work together with agriculture to give back rather than doing less bad. There is a great article titled “Regenerative Agriculture Can Change the Fashion Industry—And the World. But What Is It?” by Emily Farra on Vogue magazine, where she gives examples of brands and initiatives engaging in regenerative practices. Christy Dawn, Eileen Fischer, Patagonia, Fibershed, Hudson Carbon being a few to name.
Fashion and regenerative agriculture can help each other and collaborate on a common goal to revolutionize the systems through education, engaging both the consumer and the industry players, setting examples, changing lives, telling partnership stories, becoming daringly transparent so that we can actually become the solution to our shared problem.
Stolen Harvest, Vandana Shiva
The Big Little Farm, Director: John Chester
Meet the person: Taner Aksel
IF: I know that you have a lot of passion for building a community of changemakers, education the younger generations and building a web of like minds. Why are you doing all this? And what are your next steps moving forward?
Taner: Almost 20 years ago I had realized that human beings are not living sustainably and have been causing mounting problems especially in natural systems. Unfortunately, if we keep doing this, future generations will inherit a very difficult world to live in. Only if more people learn and engage in sustainability acts, then we can hope for a future. We need to show people that a sustainable life is not only possible but also has multiple benefits and is much more resilient.
IF: How would you define sustainability with just a few words?
Taner: Managing natural resources such that future generations will also have access to them. Living in harmony with nature.
IF: Do you think that the agriculture/food industry and fashion have shared challenges? Is there a possibility to learn from each other`s experiences?
Taner: Industrial agriculture/food or fashion industries are independent on fossil fuels. Both need to reduce their fossil fuel dependence and utilize natural resources sustainably. We can grow food and we can also grow plants for use in textile while regenerating the soil and nature.
IF: Do you have a favorite pair of jeans? and is there a memory linked to this pair of jeans?
Taner: I wore these jeans in the city during winter months when the farm is closed but I enjoy them more while gardening.