Can Fashion Have a Positive Impact on the Planet?

In recent years, fashion has woken up to its need to reduce its environmental impact, from cutting down greenhouse gas emissions (an urgent task, considering the industry is responsible for between four to 10 percent of all emissions globally) to tackling issues such as deforestation and microplastics pollution.

Recently, though, focus has also turned to whether fashion can actually have a positive impact on the planet, with the likes of Burberry, Gucci-owner Kering and LVMH all launching major biodiversity initiatives to restore nature in the past year. And just this week, the Sustainable Markets Initiative’s Fashion Taskforce, set up by Prince Charles, announced its Regenerative Fashion Manifesto, which outlines the need to move towards an industry that is both “climate and nature positive.”

To begin with, the taskforce—which includes major brands such as Burberry, Chloé and Stella McCartney—is launching a €1 million investment program in the Himalayas to restore biodiversity in the region, which is known for its cashmere, cotton and silk, as well as reviving traditional craft. “It’s the first in a long series of projects,” Federico Marchetti, former Yoox Net-a-Porter CEO and chair of the Fashion Taskforce, tells Vogue. “We’re committed to progress towards regenerative fashion—I do believe fashion can have a positive impact.”

“Regenerative” has become something of a buzzword in fashion of late. In short, it’s about replenishing our ecosystems in a way that allows them to continue to bounce back—moving away from the linear, extractive way in which the industry currently operates and towards a more circular, nature-based system. “It’s investing back in nature, in biodiversity,” Marc Palahi, chair of the Circular Bioeconomy Alliance, which is partnering with the Fashion Taskforce on the Regenerative Fashion Manifesto, explains.

Given that so many of our clothes come directly from nature (be it cotton, wool or leather), a huge part of that is shifting towards regenerative agricultural practices, such as no-tilling, growing a range of different crops, and integrating livestock. “Regenerative agriculture is really the future,” Beth Jensen, director of climate+ strategy at the Textile Exchange, says. “It’s about working in harmony with nature, increasing biodiversity, addressing water concerns [and] everything that’s related to soil health. It’s our ability to source materials moving forward in a way that potentially gives more than it’s taking from the environment.”