Fashion's future is regenerative agriculture

01 June 2022

Lucianne Tonti is a lovely writer, thank goodness, because were she not, the complex, radical subject matter of her un-put-downable book Sundressed, about regenerative agriculture and its vital role in fashion's future, might not be first pick off the shelf for many readers.

illustration of woman in yellow dress

Lucianne unspools the complicated concepts of farming to restore biodiversity, ecosystems, and soil and water health in a scholarly way but with elegant, looping tours through romantic landscapes (where the regenerative agriculture revolution is already underway) and her own intense love affairs with pure-yarn clothes and fashion history.

"Yes it's heavy on information," she laughs, "But it's also unapologetically a book about beautiful clothes; why you should love them, how to love them.”

More precisely, how to love their sustainable, ethical origins, all the way back to their organically farmed seed, silkworm or fleece, by learning the intricacies of their genesis, lifecycle and supply chain.

According to Lucianne, who is fashion editor of The Saturday Paper and a regular writer for The Guardian, pure yarns are currently the best choice any fashion consumer can make right now, before the global industry finally devolves toward a kinder, gentler, non-toxic future via regenerative agriculture.

"It's such a beautiful idea, to talk about re-wilding landscapes and at the same time about beautiful, high end, good quality cotton, wool, silk, hemp and linen clothes," she says. "Regenerative agriculture gets very tricky but is basically a shift away from industrial agricultural principles: no synthetic fertilisers or pesticides, just the natural processes that happen when you have multi-species of healthy plants sequestering carbon out of the atmosphere into the soil, restoring healthy water cycles and ecosystems."

In essence, its methods are difficult to scale and virtually medieval. Only a planet-wide culture shift will ultimately enable regenerative agriculture to save fashion from its toxic self but, says Lucianne, the revolution is already underway.

"Farmers and scientists are trialling different methods and some of fashion's biggest brands are getting involved," she says. "Kering (the French luxury group which owns Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen) is already transitioning cotton farmers along its supply chains to be regenerative."

Many of the global cohort of 60 companies known as The Fashion Pact, representing roughly a third of the fashion industry, have also set targets to derive pure yarns from regenerative agricultural sources by as early as 2030.

Lucianne wrote Sundressed, her first book, after working for several years in Paris as a marketing and sales manager for a small local brand, then with partners in an agency for mostly sustainable small brands including Australian icons KitX and Romance Was Born. "I came back to Australia at the beginning of the pandemic...then the borders shut and I was stuck."

Despite having to disband her fledgling Paris agency, she used the down time in Melbourne to crack on with this new passion project. "Everyone I had been dealing with in Paris was thinking about sustainability, talking about sustainability, working toward sustainability," she says. "So I read, and read, and read, and I came across this idea of regenerative agriculture and just went from there, further and further down this rabbit hole."

The upshot, two years later, is a book that will sit easily beside such seminal tomes as Deluxe: how luxury lost its lustre by another Parisian Dana Thomas, who first exposed fashion's not so fashionable realities, and Wardrobe Crisis, the widely read expose of wasteful, toxic practices and consumerism by Australian sustainability guru, Clare Press.

Lucianne says her ultimate trigger for Sundressed was fashion's well-documented "mountains of crap" which are not only spoiling the planet, but germinating in millions of average wardrobes.

"There's such a sadness in anyone trying to dress in the morning, looking at this mountain of clothes they own and being unable to figure out what to wear," she says. "We can educate ourselves out of that, we must educate ourselves out of that."

Sundressed, Natural fibres and the future of fashion, by Lucianne Tonti, Black Inc., $32.99, will be published in August 2022.

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