Fashion Relies on the Amazon. Here’s How One Brand is Giving Back.
- by Megan Doyle
- Sep 28, 2021
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Image Credit: DaCosta Verde
This post is sponsored by DaCosta Verde. As always, EcoCult only works with well-vetted brands doing good work. Support our editorial by supporting them!
In July this year, scientists shared a disturbing development: researchers found many regions in the Amazon are now emitting more carbon into the atmosphere — around one billion tonnes per year — than they absorb. According to the Brazilian research institute Imazon, an area 13 times the size of New York City was deforested between August 2020 and July this year. It’s cause and effect: deforestation leads to a drier climate, longer droughts and a greater risk of fires. Natural fires are a rare occurrence in the Amazon, which means that all of these fires are man-made.
The Amazon is being cleared for the production of various fashion commodities, including leather, cotton, man-made cellulosic fibers (like rayon), and to a lesser extent, rubber. Soaring global fashion production (with the exception of the pandemic lull) means these textiles are increasingly valuable, making them a big business opportunity for far-right Bolsonaro’s government.
The Amazon is close to the heart of Brazil-born Mäby Dutra, who founded her brand DaCosta Verde in July 2020. Since its inception, the brand has planted a tree in the Amazon rainforest for every purchase, along with carefully sourcing materials that don’t damage the Brazilian rainforest.
Brazil is the second-largest producer of leather behind China, exporting almost $1 billion in hides and finished leather each year. While China is the biggest importer of cow skins, Europe is another major destination — if your handbag is “Italian leather” it’s likely that while the leather was tanned in Italy, the cow was farmed in Brazil. Indeed 71% of Italian leather comes from Brazilian bovine skins.
The supply chain for leather is notoriously opaque — it can take up to two years to go from cow to finished leather and in that time, it undergoes numerous treatments — creating a sector where transparency is incredibly difficult to achieve. It’s almost impossible to guarantee that leather exported from Brazil doesn’t come from a ranch based in former rainforest land.
In response to the 2019 Amazon fires, fashion brands like VF Corp and H&M publicly boycotted Brazilian leather in order to ensure that their sourcing wasn’t contributing to the deforestation of the rainforest. But last year, nonprofit Canopy and sustainability activator Anthesis surveyed 38 of fashion’s biggest companies and found that 76% of companies had not made any deforestation commitments for the leather they procure.
Man-made Cellulosic Fibers
Man-made cellulosic fibers (MMCF), commonly known as modal, rayon or viscose, are problematic in a number of ways. Not only are they made from dissolving wood chips using extremely toxic chemicals, but according to Canopy, 200 million trees are logged every year to make these fabrics. This chemically intensive process often is sourced on land that was once ancient, endangered or tropical forests, which are replaced with single-species plantations grown specifically for pulping. This causes loss of biodiversity and natural habitats that are crucial for the survival of the rainforest, and have a huge impact on global weather patterns.
Luckily there is an industry wide push to improve standards for MMCFs to ensure that endangered forests are not being destroyed. The Textile Exchange reports that around half of all MMCFs are certified with the Forest Stewardship Council or Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification and there are several smaller certifications, including Canopy’s own CanopyStyle Audits, where the company is pushing for next-generation feedstocks to create MMCFs, such as recycled textiles or agricultural waste.
DaCosta Verde works closely with material supplier Lenzing to source sustainable viscose (called EcoVero) for the brand’s range of colorful and contemporary everyday separates. EcoVero differs from the MMFC’s mentioned above because the wood pulp comes from responsibly managed forests, and the viscose manufacturing process uses 50% fewer emissions and water than generic alternatives.
The Amazon is the only place in the world where rubber is commercially harvested from trees that grow in the wild without harm to the tree, and while it isn’t a huge export for Brazil anymore, it has a turbulent history dating back to the 10th century. Most of the global rubber supply now comes from commercial plantations in Southeast Asia, or is made synthetically from petroleum, but wild rubber from the Amazon is a high quality, sustainable material that provides a crucial income source for marginalized communities living throughout the rainforest. Rubber tappers actively conserve the biodiversity of the rainforest and extract rubber without harming the trees or the surrounding environment. Notably, footwear brand Veja works exclusively with Amazonian communities to source the rubber for their shoe soles.
Brazil is one of the world’s largest cotton producers, forecast to produce 13.2 million bales in 2021/22 by the USDA. The state of Mato Grosso, which is split into three regions: the Amazon, Cerrado/Cerradao and the Pantanal wetland, produces two-thirds of the country’s cotton. It’s also where illegal deforestation of the Amazon is rife — Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research detected a 31% increase in 2019/2020 compared to the year before.
To boost output from the region, President Bolsonaro is planning a 1,050 km railway system called Ferrogrão that is set to run through the heart of the Amazon. It’s a project that is expected to cause devastating damage to the rainforest, including hundreds of environmentally protected areas. Not to mention that Brazil is the world’s largest user of pesticides, using over 60,000 tonnes of highly hazardous pesticides in 2018, all of which have been banned in the EU. Business is booming in Mato Grosso, meaning more deforestation and more harmful chemicals, to produce more cotton.
How DaCosta Verde is Giving Back
With the Amazon under threat, DaCosta is stepping up that commitment with a new campaign, which launched this month, called We Are Amazônia. The brand is teaming up with Brazilian non-profit S.O.S Amazônia to celebrate Amazon Rainforest Day with the launch of two gender-neutral, sustainably made, and GOTS certified organic cotton T-shirts, which are ethically produced in Brazil. DaCosta Verde has considered everything down to completely compostable packaging and plantable garment tags in order to limit the campaign’s environmental footprint.
With every tee purchased, S.O.S Amazônia will plant five trees to help promote the conservation of biodiversity within the rainforest. DaCosta Verde’s goal is to plant 5,000 trees with this campaign, which is also supported by global platform Fashinnovation, with advisory support from the UN Office for Partnerships and is aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals.
“The Amazon is a true inspiration for the brand and also a reference that changed my way of thinking as it relates to our three homes; our minds, our bodies, and the planet. So, it’s only right that we honor this very special date and raise awareness for the We Are Amazônia cause, and take action to save the largest rainforest in the world.”