Letter From Christy
Christy Dawn was founded on a deep commitment to honor Mother Earth. We set out to make beautiful dresses in a sustainable, ethical way. From the very beginning, we decided to sew all of our pieces from deadstock fabric, the excess rolls of fabric left over from larger fashion houses. By using deadstock, we were ensuring that the beauty of the natural world was not sacrificed in order to make our dresses. The response was immediate: we had an outpouring of interest and support from the community. It was clear that our mission resonated deeply with people.
Unfortunately, despite our best efforts to minimize our footprint and honor Mother Earth, the vast majority of the textile industry is not working in this manner. The current system endlessly takes from Mother Earth without offering anything in return. The very deadstock fabrics we use are the remnants of a supply chain that is responsible for the destruction of so much of the natural world.
When we started, we weren’t large enough to change the whole system, and so working with deadstock fabric was our best solution. And it’s been a beautiful reciprocal relationship with deadstock. We’ve given new life to the fabric and that same fabric, in turn, has given us great success and nourishment. It is because of this relationship that Christy Dawn has grown to a scale where we can no longer be satisfied merely feeding off of the excesses of a toxic supply chain. It’s time we become an active participant in the solution. But how?
When I see the natural world being destroyed by human greed and ignorance, I see a great opportunity, in myself and in the global community, to deepen our intimate connection with Mother Nature. We have forgotten that we are Nature. Nature isn’t something separate from us. When we deepen our relationship with the Earth, we are really connecting more deeply with ourselves. And when we do this, it becomes so easy to live in harmony with the rest of the planet. It is time to return to our roots, to connect to the deep cycles of life. It is time to get intimate.
Over the last few months, I’ve been doing just that. Sitting in communion with nature. Making offerings. Listening to the trees. To the wild plants. To the wildness in my own heart. Synchronisitcally, as I’ve deepened my connection with nature, I’ve also been learning so much about soil and the incredibly healing properties of regenerative farming. Regenerative farming, in a nutshell, improves the resources it uses, rather than destroying or depleting them. In addition to a long list of incredible benefits for the soil, the farmers and their crops, regenerative practices help us fight the climate crisis by pulling carbon from the atmosphere and sequestering it in the ground.
What if we started growing cotton regeneratively? The impact would be massive.
Our journey in regenerative farming has started with four acres of land in Erode, India. Together with a community of traditional farmers and craftspeople, we will grow our own cotton, using regenerative practices. The cotton will be ginned, woven, vegetable dyed and block printed using centuries old methods that don’t require chemicals but, rather, work in harmony with nature. By creating a regenerative supply chain, we come into a reciprocal relationship with Mother Earth. There’s a beautiful parallel between deadstock fabric and this land we’ve found, which is in need of nourishment and love. That’s where we will begin: transforming something derelict into a fruitful regenerative organic cotton field. As the land transforms and blossoms, so too will Christy Dawn. Just as we’ve given life to deadstock fabric, that same fabric, in turn, has helped us grow into the company we are today. By bringing new life Into this dry, depleted soil, a new chapter unfolds for us as well.
This is the beginning of our transition to a Farm-to-Closet company. Our hope is to create a supply chain that works in harmony with Mother Earth. We are deeply committed to finding a solution that the rest of the fashion industry can look to and co-opt as their own. We are all in this together. I really do believe that we can heal and regenerate ourselves and the Earth, if we are willing to remember that we are not separate.
“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”
- Jane Goodall
Introduction To The Farm
We want to create a system that not only supports the local ecosystem, but also the traditional textile community that surrounds the farm.
The farm is in a small village outside of Erode, situated in the southern state of Tamil Nadu in India. It sits purposefully at the cross-section of large-scale textile manufacturers in neighboring Tiruppur and Coimbatore. Amidst all this industry, the farm presents a more ecological path to making clothes.
Travel with us to the back alleys of Erode where handlooms still creak, and farmers rise early in the morning to tend to their fields, before the heat of the day sets in. It’s here in southern India where so much of the country’s textile history, knowledge, and practice convene. We chose to work here because it’s not only at the heart of the textile industry, but symbolic for the mistakes we’ve made in apparel. Unfortunately, this area sits close to some of the largest apparel factories in the country -- many who have forgotten their relationship with Mother Nature for profitability.
That’s why we found it to be an apt place to begin the process of healing -- ourselves as consumers, the land, and the people who work on it.
Cotton is one of the most popular natural fabrics on the planet. However, it’s also been well documented that conventional cotton production has left a heavy mark on the grounds where it’s been grown. Year after year of cotton production can leave soils depleted, void of nutrients, and dry as a bone.
We didn’t want to invest in cotton if that were to be the end result. While it may be a natural material that will break down in nature more easily, we still want to ensure that our manufacturing practices were positive, create value, and give back to Mother Earth.
India has a unique relationship with the cotton crop: it’s one of the largest producers in the world. Yet the cotton seed bank has been drying up, farmers are struggling to pay debts, and farms have become dependent on genetically-modified seeds and chemical fertilizers.
Recognizing this, we went searching for a partner who was going against the grain and looking to invest in a healthier future for cotton farmers. We found Nishanth Chopra, a second-generation textile entrepreneur, who is a like-minded soul: keen to rekindle our connection to nature.
With his help, we are taking four acres of dusty land once used for conventional sugarcane and sesame and nurturing it to grow organic, long-staple cotton. This year’s project is just the beginning, we plan on learning from and expanding this little plot over the next few years. We want to create a system that not only supports the local ecosystem, but also the traditional textile community that surrounds the farm.
Our Continuous Improvement
Currently, the farm’s soil is depleted, void of nutrients, and dry to a bone from years of conventional farming. Through organic and regenerative practices, we will nurture a system that heals the soil.
Hurting The Soil
Conventional farming practices tend to rely on synthetic fertilizers and may use genetically modified seeds. This system often increases short-term yields but depletes the soil health in the long-term. Though this style of farming can be productive, it damages the farm’s ecosystems and reduces its lifespan. Around the world today, there’s concern of topsoil erosion, because years and years of intensive farming have strained the Earth. By repeatedly farming the same crops on the same soil, adding synthetics inputs, the soil’s natural biology has disappeared or largely diminished. Plus, each time soil is tilled - as it is in industrialized farming each season - carbon is released into the atmosphere. The result is soil that’s dry, dusty, and doesn’t have much left to give.
So farmers have to feed it nutrients artificially. In the process of doing so, the added nitrogen or fertilizers mix in with local water systems. This runoff is problematic because it can pollute local drinking water.
Thus, we’re keen to support farmers that are shifting back to a gentler system, one in tandem with nature, not fighting it.
Sustaining The Soil
The fundamental practices of organic farming revolve around using non-toxic inputs and refraining from synthetic fertilizers and pesticides laden with chemicals. While organic farming is certainly healthier for the farmer, the land, and the crop than conventional farming with chemicals, organic farms can grow just one monocrop. Farmers are encouraged to intercrop to increase soil health and produce their own compost, manure, and organic matter. But organic certifications vary from region to region and so do their requirements.
Organic farming, however, does abstain from genetically modified seeds. In cotton, this is critical, a crop that’s grown around the world using largely GM seeds. With organic cotton production, Mother Nature’s cycle allows farmers to repurpose seeds after each harvest, making it more economical for farmers to sew the seeds from the last season, as opposed to buying more seeds each year.
Helping The Soil
Regenerative farming goes beyond just organic farming to encompass all the aspects of a farm’s ecosystem– from biodiversity to climate change resilience to soil health. It takes the approach that one organic crop on a farm is not sufficient; all the crops have to add soil health. The fertilizers and inputs all ought to come from within the farm itself and its resources. The wildlife that surrounds the land needs a place here to reside, play, and contribute to the farm’s health--thus wildlife ponds, and such natural habitats are encouraged.
Most of all, regenerative farming thinks deeply about organic matter in the soil: are the farmer’s activities building carbon levels in the soil and the diversity of microorganisms? Scientists argue that regenerative farming can sequester significant levels of carbon in the soil. If this is to occur, the farming practices have to minimize tilling, disruption to the topsoil, and instead invest in building the nutrients that have disappeared. Unlike monocrop organic farming, where just one crop is grown in large quantities, a variety of crops are celebrated on regenerative farms. Livestock have a role to play: their movements and grazing patterns can help compact soil, and their excrement is nutrient-dense. On such farms, bare soil is hardly visible; it’s covered with straw, hay, or some other organic matter to protect it from the elements: wind, rain, hot sun. This means it retains more water throughout the year, even in hot, dry spells.
Regenerative farming treats the process as one whole, all are interconnected, all have a role to play, and everything works in tandem with nature. It’s the rhythms of nature that are celebrated on a regenerative farm, not just yield numbers and crop values.
Notes From The Field
Before sowing the seeds, we had to care and prepare for the land that had previously been farmed inorganically. We deferred to local knowledge to create a compost using organic waste from the farm, and introduced earthworms to aerate the soil. In order to mix the compost into the hard, dry soil, we had to till the land. Although we will refrain from tilling in upcoming seasons, it was essential during this first year to make the land hospitable for cotton seeds. This also allowed the compost to properly mix with the soil. We were careful to not till too deeply to avoid disrupting the natural soil structure to the point. In the future, tilling will be kept to a minimum to allow the soil to build up its nutrient levels.
Sowing The Seeds
Once the soil was ready, we sowed the seeds with the help of local women farmers. These are non-GMO cotton seeds that will reproduce season after season, making the farm free of additional seed costs. What the farm reaps, it will sew once again.
Over the next six months, we'll be sharing all our learnings from the farm and the textile community. Learn how farmers are feeding their crops, the beauty of natural dyes, and the art of block printing.
Illustrations by Audrey Helen Weber
Contributing Writers Aras Baskauskas, Christy Dawn Baskauskas, Esha Chhabra & Mairin Wilson