Solano County, California is a place most people pass through heading from here to there. Overlooking Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, its eastern edge lies a stone’s throw from Sacramento, and directly west, there’s Napa, separated by a ledge of hills. Here, in this fertile middle, Ryan Mahoney’s family has been breeding sheep at Emigh Ranch for five generations. The wool Mahoney produces is especially fine, long-haired and tender—and now it’s playing a starring role in CO’s new Natural World capsule collection, a range of products designed to test the horizons of sustainable fashion.
“Sustainability” is an overused word. There’s no universally agreed-upon definition, and so, in a fashion context, it’s been used to describe everything from making clothes built to last to Earth Day marketing initiatives. Mostly, though, what “sustainability” implies is harm reduction—whereas Natural World is a collection that aims to do better. This is our platform to explore the possibilities for fashion that are regenerative—that actively help heal the earth, in ways that are measurable, verifiable, and transparent.
This is our platform to explore the possibilities for fashion that's regenerative—that actively helps to heal the earth, in ways that are measureable, verifiable, and transparent.
How can a sweater be regenerative? Or a pair of slouchy trousers, or an oversize trench? The answer to that question is supplied by Rebecca Burgess, founder of the organization, Fibershed. Burgess is reimagining the fashion supply chain: With one eye trained on the thriving apparel industry down the coast in L.A., she is developing a network of ranchers, farmers and artisans across North Central California, the bioregion encompassing the San Joaquin Valley, the United States’ agricultural powerhouse. Most of this land is given over to monocrop farms and industrial ranches, but Burgess is working to repurpose a portion of that acreage for the growth of Climate Beneficial™ materials for textiles—wool, cotton, and other truly natural fabrics farmed with soil restoration in mind.
This form of regenerative agriculture, sometimes referred to as “carbon farming,” optimizes land to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere and back into the soil, where it shores up the ecosystem underground. Once-common processes such as composting and managed grazing obviate the need for synthetic fertilizers and make farmland more productive and more resilient against flooding and drought—no small concern as this year the fields at Emigh Ranch turned brown in April, the earliest in a century.
It was through Burgess, and Fibershed, that we connected with Mahoney, whose Climate Beneficial™ wool forms the heart of the Natural World capsule, going into pieces such as Sculptural Tunic Blouse, Oversized Boxy Raglan Sweater, and Utilitarian Drawstring Jumpsuit. Burgess’ emerging network also includes Ryan Huston, an Iraq War veteran who runs Huston Textiles from a hangar on a former Air Force base in Sacramento: One of the only makers of selvage fabrics remaining in the United States, Huston rebuilds the classic machines out of salvaged parts. He sees his small factory as a critical node in the regional textile system Burgess is working to create, in aid of regenerating not just soil, but whole communities in need of economic and environmental repair.
This form of regenerative agriculture, sometime referred to as "carbon farming" optimizes land to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere and back into the soil.
The climate benefits of local food are well known, at this point; the same principles apply to fashion made from fabrics grown and made in California, a big state more than capable of supporting such an enterprise. But the environmental benefits of “buying local” are dwarfed by those of investing in regenerative agriculture: The two Northern California ranches where CO sourced its Climate Beneficial™ Wool—Emigh Ranch and Bare Ranch—sequester a combined 7,109 metric tons of carbon per year, the offset equivalent of 1,512 passenger vehicles or 2,221 roundtrip flights between New York and London.
The two Northern California ranches where CO sources its Climate Beneficial™ Wool sequester a combined 7,109 metric tons of carbon per year, the offset equivalent of 1,512 passenger vehicles or 2,221 roundtrip flights between New York and London.
But there’s more to Natural World than just wool. The capsule also features recycled cashmere, a fabric that uses fewer chemicals, 80% less electricity, 98% less water and 90% less CO2 than non-recycled alternatives, as well as GOTS-certified organic cotton and linen from Italy. All wool and cashmere pieces are left undyed, saving water, electricity, and CO2, and every garment under the Natural World banner is designed for lifelong use—a core value of the CO brand as a whole. And because these materials are 100% natural, they can be returned to the soil at the end of their lifecycle—however many years hence that may be.
In support of that effort, we are allocating 10% of Natural World sales to Fibershed’s Carbon Farm Fund.
Natural World is a start—a small start toward a big change. The next item on the CO agenda is expanding its Fibershed collaboration to help develop Climate Beneficial™ versions of organic cotton and linen, products that do not currently exist in California. In support of that effort, we are allocating 10% of Natural World sales to Fibershed’s Carbon Farm Fund, which provides seed money to growers who are transitioning or expanding carbon farm practices, and providing an open-source directory of our U.S. suppliers, in the hope that other American brands will join the movement to make fashion regenerative.