If you take care of Mother Earth, she’ll take care of you. That was the inspiriting belief in which Californian fashion label Christy Dawn founded their new programme, The Land Stewardship. On a mission to save the planet one dress at a time, the brand’s new initiative is a model for community-supported regenerative farming that aims to connect customers to the ground and people from which their clothes are grown, sewn, dyed and crafted – a restorative act of repairing our relationship with the Earth and the clothes on our back.
In 2013, Christy Dawn and her husband, CEO Aras Baskauskas started the eco-conscious brand from their garage in Santa Monica. From day one, earthy, flowing prairie dresses adorned their collections, the kind you could imagine skipping care-free and bare-foot in through fields of wild flowers, exuding that effortless Californian aesthetic. Using deadstock fabrics from the very beginning – a sustainable alternative to churning out new fabric, by rescuing the leftover or unwanted materials from other companies - meant that garments took on a limited-edition quality by nature. Timeless items to be treasured for years to come. “It allowed us to say we weren’t part of the problem. For a while that felt really good. But as we grew, we wanted to be part of a solution.” Baskauskas told us.
The Land Stewardship
The brand knew they had to go beyond sustainability, to ask, what more can be done? To truly make a difference on this planet of ours, they had to give back. They began to seek out cotton that was regeneratively grown, but when their search came up empty-handed, they decided if they couldn’t find it, then they would make it themselves. In 2019, the Christy Dawn farm was born in Erode, India.
The brand found a mutual solace and synchronicity in the farmers and artisans at Oshadi Collective, who they partnered with and began farming 24 acres of depleted land regeneratively. “It was a huge shift to go from buying deadstock fabric to sewing seeds. We weren’t paying for yield, we were paying for process.” Baskauskas explains.
The healing practices used in regenerative farming, despite the new name, are in fact just ancient farming techniques under a new age guise that nourishes the earth, helping to increase biodiversity, sequester carbon from the atmosphere and regenerate the ecosystem. Taking things back to a time when things were simpler is the salve the world needs - and so desperately craves.
But as we all know, the Earth is unpredictable – even more so in the throes of global warming. Embracing its rhythms and volatilities is simply part of the journey, and the risk. However, as the brand sought to deepen their relationship with the ground below their feet, the Earth responded with gratitude in their first cotton yield, providing them with enough cotton to make 2500 dresses. Their belief was coming true. “Our commitment was to work with the soil and the farmers in a reciprocal way; to deepen into an intimate relationship with Mother Earth, the farmers and ultimately ourselves. To our great delight, it worked.”
For a brand that is grounded in relationships, reforging connections with people and places, inviting customers into the initiative to connect them with the roots from where it all begins felt like the natural next step. “We knew we had come upon something really special.” says Baskauskas. “And rather than keep it for ourselves, we wanted to invite as many people into the process as possible.”
Under the new programme which launched last year, customers can become Land Stewards by investing $200 to cover the cost of farming cotton regeneratively on 3485 sq ft of land - from the farmers’ salaries, to the drip irrigation and pollinator crops, all the way down to the worms in the ground. It’s a first of its kind invitation for customers to play an active role in the process; by supporting the farmers working to transition to regenerative agriculture practices, they’re helping to protect their livelihoods and investing in the future of our planet.
Working in a respectful way with those who know the land the best, the farmers harvest the cotton over two months to reveal the earth’s bounty, and customers then receive their investment back as store credit – the value dependent on the size of the yield that season – allowing them to buy one of the very dresses that they helped create. “This isn’t an act of saviorship or a donation”, Baskauskas reassures, “it's an investment that inevitably benefits all stakeholders.”
A connection to the planet, people and places
We all have a responsibility to know where our clothes come from. But for too long, the industry has taken advantage of those most vulnerable, leaving behind a legacy of broken supply chains and a trail of smoke and mirrors. “We need to stop using a top-down approach, where brands dictate financial, product and even environmental and social benchmarks to suppliers. Instead, we need to engage with our supply chains to create community-specific solutions.”
By sharing a slice of the risk and protecting farmers from the vulnerabilities of modern-day farming – the possibility of unsuccessful crops, the health exposure to dangerous pesticides and the spiralling debts to cover the cost of expensive equipment - the reward surely feels all the more worthwhile.
Baskauskas sees a future in regenerative practices for the rest of the industry, if brands are willing to change. “It's all about relationships. The first step is getting to know and understand each person, process and plant involved in creating your clothing. From there, you can start creating mutually beneficial relationships, the groundwork of any regenerative system.” This shift in emphasis from product to process is what makes Christy Dawn so progressive. Through systems of reciprocity, getting to know the dyers, weavers, dressmakers and farmers on a personal level, intimate, rich relationships flourish in support of one another – it’s a humbling reminder of our interconnected nature on this planet. Christy Dawn are not only healing the Earth, but a frayed system too.
Nurturing the ground, cultivating new mindsets
A programme like The Land Stewardship feels like the antidote needed to inspire a mindset shift in all of us. For too many years, we’ve been disassociated from the hands that weave our clothes, their faces, stories and livelihoods. By connecting us on a very human level to the source, it reveals the true value of what we’re buying - the craft, knowledge and skill which is poured into every garment is something that should be savoured. “In general, people know very little about the hard work that goes into making a dress, starting with the soil.” says Baskauskas. “Creating our dresses from the ground up, has taught us how much love, passion and knowledge goes into every step of the process.”
In our throwaway culture, we have a long way to go to realise this. The average garment is worn only seven times before it finds its way into a landfill, Baskauskas tells us. “We believe that by being totally transparent and telling the story of our dresses, from farm to closet, customers can begin to understand just how much goes into each piece and understand how valuable these dresses really are.”
Despite not knowing what the appetite would be for such a program, it’s something that has been welcomed by consumers, as the plots of land have been lapped up in support of the initiative. Baskauskas is hopeful that other brands will be inspired to follow their lead. “It is a great way to engage and utilize a company's entire community to support a common mission.”
A future, regenerated
Each and every one of the clothes on our back has left an enduring dent in the planet. It’s a burden we’re now all having to carry. But despite the fashion industry’s notorious reputation, Christy Dawn’s Farm-to-Closet initiative is the proof needed, that fashion does have potential to remedy our wrongs, and actually heal the planet.
It’s this exchange of respect, restoring Earth’s natural equilibrium, that will be the future for the industry - not organic-looking clothing labels, nor sustainable materials or recycling schemes. “Revitalizing soil is the most powerful tool at our disposal to reverse climate change.” Baskauskas confirms. There is hope it would seem, after all.
Since the beginning of their first collection, Christy Dawn have brought over 90 acres of depleted farmland back to life, transforming it into bountiful, cotton-rich soil. With their sights now set West of India on the soil of Peru to create a similar model for their sweater collection, this is only the beginning of the brand’s inspiring journey to restore Mother Earth to its former beauty.
We’d like to thank Aras Baskauskas for enlightening us on their mission and sharing their innovative and mindful attitude with us, and the rest of the world.