- Words Tania Leslau
Climate-positive brands give more to the planet than they take from it. Whether their products will be a customer hit is another matter.
As the deep January frost sets in, we automatically turn to the clothes that leave us feeling blanketed in warmth. From classic turtlenecks to slouchy grandad sweats, wooly knitwear is a rite of passage for winter dressing.
Now, these knits could be the most regenerative items in our wardrobes. Brands are taking a step beyond sustainability – producing knitwear that actively reverses the effects of the climate crisis. It appears that climate positive clothing is on the horizon.
Climate positivity is the new sustainability buzzword. Climate positivity moves past carbon neutrality, aiming to offset 100% of all environmental damage. The improvement of environmental, human and animal welfare are the three core beacons of climate positivity, which is really an umbrella term interpreted by brands in different ways. Brands are starting to search for new ways to nurture biodiversity, reduce energy waste, support local communities and create recyclable clothing. In short, climate positive fashion suggests that the clothes on the hanger give more back to the planet than they take from it.
On paper it all sounds peachy. Fashion and nature have long been at odds with one another, so the prospect of reconciliation is an optimistic thought. Yet the fact remains that brands are still pumping clothing into the gargantuan fashion system and knitwear is one of the main culprits of environmental damage. Fast fashion houses churn out synthetic sweats made from materials such as acrylic or polyester. When machine-washed, these jumpers release microfibers into water systems which contributes to microplastic pollution. Microfibers make up 90% of the microplastic pollution in the Atlantic Ocean, which are ingested by sea creatures that uphold the entire marine ecosystem.
The initial instinct would be to turn to organically made knits crafted from hemp or wool. Wool is a renewable resource and biodegradable. It’s also incredibly warm. But even wool requires a lot of energy and water to produce. Sheep farming contributes to soil erosion and the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. So, the sheep remain culpable.
It goes without saying that the most sustainable clothes are the ones already in our wardrobes. Yet sometimes the dopamine hit of a new jumper is simply irresistible. Brands such as Sheep Inc. are helping to quench the human desire to consume, while impacting the climate positively. Through the creation of naturally carbon negative, 100% traceable and biodegradable merino wool knitwear, the brand has spearheaded the shift towards climate positive fashion. The Sheep Inc. supply chain even ensures that more carbon is removed from the atmosphere than the production process contributes. But how realistic is it that other labels will follow suit?
“I would say fear is the main challenge facing brands wanting to go climate positive,” says Alexander Lewis, Head of Design at Sheep Inc. “They don’t really have any reason not to, other than a fear of rocking the boat, fear of change, or a fear of challenge. It may be the case that years or decades or work has gone into building the supply chains and company structure they currently work under, and it is extremely challenging to change this overnight. I also think it can also be down to not knowing where to start or the right information.”
Burberry is another brand paving the way for climate positive knitwear. In June 2021, the brand pledged to go climate positive by 2040. “We are the first and remain the only luxury brand to have made a climate commitment with this level of ambition and hope others will follow,” note the Burberry Team. “We believe the luxury sector has an important role to play in setting a new standard for the fashion industry as whole. As a luxury leader, we can help set a benchmark in terms of responsible sourcing for the wider industry and inspire customers to be more considerate of how their clothes are made.”
Following a scandal which broke in 2018 surrounding controversy that Burberry were burning deadstock, the brand has done a one-eighty towards environmental regeneration. Even Burberry shows aim to become climate positive: “We aim to be net-zero by 2040, which will require Burberry to not emit any emissions across our end-to-end operations including all shows, events and third-party suppliers. Offsets cannot be counted towards net-zero – it relies solely on reductions, so our ambition is definitely to head in this direction by then.” Bring on the climate positive fashion show.
There’s another challenge facing climate-positive knitwear – customer buy-in. Offsetting environmental damage at every stage of garment production is not cheap. Although climate-positive knit prices are not eye-watering, they certainly target a particular consumer wealth bracket. With some climate-positive knits costing upwards of £200+, many don’t have the financial means to invest.
The dawn of climate-positive knitwear exemplifies the ongoing issue of shopping sustainably being closely tied up with class issues. But luckily there are ways to enjoy climate-positive knitwear without breaking the bank. It’s just a case of doing your research. BAM is an impact positive brand that creates clothing using bamboo – which has natural renewing properties. The brand offsets 100% of all emissions produced and founded the Water Boreholes Project which restored over sixty boreholes – providing safe water to over 37,000 people in Kenya. With knit prices starting from £69, the brand is showing that climate positive clothing doesn’t always require luxury price tags.
There are plenty of obstacles facing climate-positive knitwear’s plight to go mainstream. The emergence of climate-positive fashion is a glimmer of hope for the fashion industry – which for so long has devastated the planet’s resources. Increasing awareness surrounding the fast fashion industry has pushed consumers into shopping second-hand or vintage, a positive first step for sustainable fashion. Yet this doesn’t solve the damage major fashion companies continue to inflict on the environment. With their rigorous commitment to regenerating the planet as opposed to simply covering their tracks, climate-positive brands are showing that it is imperative for climate-positive knitwear to infiltrate the broader consumer market.
The Sheep Inc. Team couldn’t agree more. “Why shouldn’t climate positive go mainstream!” Lewis says. “Knitwear is a mainstream product category and how amazing that it should be climate positive and regenerative as well. I’d say people are crazy if it doesn’t become mainstream.”