Saturday Read: Two sustainable fashion gurus on a mission to make soil sexy in London
Far from providing a pivotal road map, COP26 has at least uncovered a few tangible solutions for multiple industries to move forward.
For the first time ever, fossil fuels have been noted and added to the final agreement, albeit rather half heartedly, with a little help from India and China.
Another key take-away was the need for ‘nature based solutions’, so a good time for City A.M. to sit down with FOLDE, a new concept clothing brand that aims to go beyond the status quo of sustainability “by bringing a new found balance with nature and society. “
Much like the farm to table movement in the food industry, the label’s founders Sally Gravellng (pictured left) and Louise Petranca, believe that connecting the origins of raw materials, will create a mutually beneficial relationship between farmers and producers themselves.
Focusing purely on natural fibres grown using low impact or regenerative farming methods can radically reduce fashion’s impact on the environment while supporting local economies.
How exactly can fashion regenerate soil?
Sally Gravellng: Approximately 30 per cent of clothes are made from agriculturally produced fibres such as cotton, wool and linen. In exactly the same way as how we grow our food, the methods we use to farm our clothing materials can have a huge effect on the health of our soils, the quality of our water systems and the biodiversity of our ecosystems. Methods such as curated crop rotations, holistic grazing, recycling plant and animal matter back into the soil, no tilling, agroforestry, alongside the creation of grasslands and wetlands all benefit the delicate ecosystem of the farmland. By employing these methods we can build up soil mass, reduce erosion, improve water filtration as well as increase the amount of carbon sequestred from the atmosphere and stored within our soil. Healthy soil is so powerful it can reduce the Earth’s temperature and help combat climate change.
Unlike conventional, mass scale agriculture which strips our soils of their goodness, regenerative farming has the ability to restore life.Sally Gravellng
Louise Petranca adds: This isn’t about pointing fingers at farmers. Intensive agriculture has been encouraged since the World Wars in order to feed and clothe a growing population. Farmers now need help and encouragement alongside government incentives to support them in making this change. Fashion has a huge part to play in that by carefully considering what fabrics we chose to work with and dedicating time to working alongside these farmers so we can tackle these problems together.
In such a crowded market, with so many sustainable brands opening everyday, why do you think you could stand out?
Louise Petranca: In a world that needs to consume far far less, we had to really question our ‘raison d’être’ when conceiving the brand. In order to justify putting any new clothes into the biosphere, there has to be a real solid and purposeful mission behind that decision. For us that meant designing within nature’s boundaries and proving that being truly sustainable didn’t need to be at the exclusion of fashion. By tracing our materials back to their agricultural roots and collaborating with climate conscious farmers and textile producers we have been able to radically reduce our brands impact on the planet.
Sure, but how do you get around shipping cotton from India and how do you counteract the footprint?
Sally Gravellng: The question here is not about getting around something, it’s about understanding the complexity of the problem. Cotton is the largest non-food crop in the world and between 40 and 50 million people rely on it for their livelihood in India. You also have to recognise that you cannot grow cotton in the UK as our climate is not suitable for it.
The solution isn’t to stop using cotton from India but to grow cotton in a way that helps to fix the problems specific to that country and region.Louise Petranca
Louise Petranca: That’s exactly why we chose to work with The Oshadi Collective. Fibres are farmed regeneratively from organic, native cotton seeds and then spun, naturally dyed, woven and sewn all within a ten-kilometre radius, facilitated by local artisan communities employed on their own terms. By employing a fibreshed model within a 10km radius the carbon mileage between production units, which can sometimes be over thousands of miles, is massively reduced and by farming regeneratively we help to draw down excess carbon into the soil.
Your first collection is wool. Please can you tell us a little more about the regenerative pathway to British Wool.
Louise Petranca: Recognising that it is a pathway is the first step. Globally there are some amazing initiatives that are transforming the way sheep are farmed. Charles Massey’s regenerative farm in NSW is an amazing example, as well as the work done by Nativa to bring transparency to the industry on a global scale. In the UK similar visionary work is happening but on a smaller scaleand unfortunately we weren’t able to find anyone who produced regenerative, British Wool on a scale that was suitable for manufacturing.
Sally Gravellng: We did however meet Ruth Rands from Herd Wool who is very passionate about supporting farmers in the transition from conventional farming to regenerative practices. Herd Wool has tackled the first step on the pathway which is to begin to restore value to British Wool. From this position it is then possible to open up the dialogue with farmers about how they can transition to more enriching practices. We decided to work with Ruth because we wanted to support her and the farmers on this journey.
Any thoughts on how to spot greenwashing?
Sally Gravellng: This is a hard one as it is a very complex subject and hard to communicate clearly and concisely whilst still being truthful and transparent. In there is probably your answer. Binary, black and white statements could be an indication that there is some greenwashing going on. Brands that communicate honestly about being on a journey and have a roadmap to achieving their mission are holding their hands up that they aren’t perfect yet but they are dedicated to making a difference. Secondly we would encourage people to dig below the surface of what a brand is communicating to learn how deep the health of the planet and people are built into the core of their business.
“If the definition of success is tied solely to financial profit and not to their social and environmental impact then we would certainly question any big sustainability messages being made by any company.”Sally Gravellng:
We have noticed that you have already built support from high profile individuals within the sustinability community, how has that helped?
Louise Petranca: We have been very lucky to have had quite a few people lend their support. We weren’t quite prepared for how open and supportive this space is given that the fashion industry can often be quite secretive. Being able to speak to Arizona Muse about our aspirations for becoming a regenerative brand, at such an early stage in our journey, was incredibly important as it gave us the confidence that we were on the right track. She recently launched a charity called DIRT that’s dedicated to biodynamic practices and improving the health of our soils, so her knowledge about the subject was incredibly helpful. Now that we have launched a Crowdfunder campaign having support for that campaign from Arizona, Livia Firth and associations like EcoAge and the Cotton Diaries really helps give credibility when we are such a new brand.
Yes, you touch on an interesting point there, why did you chose to go with Crowdfunder vs investor?
Louise Petranca: The appeal in crowdfunding for us was the opportunity to build an engaged community. It felt like the right thing to do at this early stage in our development. We were also concerned that corportate investment might overshadow our true purpose. We are not ruling out working with an investor at a later stage but it would be important that our values and theirs are completely aligned. We have seen many brands veer off path when success becomes purely about financial gains.