In conversation: Christy Dawn co-founder<br>Aras Baskauskas with<br>Oshadi Collective founder, Nishanth Chopra

In conversation: Christy Dawn co-founder
Aras Baskauskas with
Oshadi Collective founder, Nishanth Chopra

In Februrary 2020, the Christy Dawn team travelled from California to Erode to see first hand the progress that Nishanth and farmers Kuppasaami and Eshwari had made with a 5 acre patch of stony, unloved, arid land. They were transforming into a fertile plot to start growing cotton. Christy Dawn CEO Aras Baskauskas and Nishanth had met online a few months earlier, through Rebecca Burgess of Fibershed in California. It was serendipity. Aras was looking for a partner to start a new way of not just making clothes from surplus fabrics, which they had been doing already, but growing them from the ground up. And Nishanth had just been given some seed funding (literally) by Fibershed to pilot a 5 acre regenerative cotton plot using ancient farming techniques that would leave the earth in better condition than he had started. 

Aras invested in the project to cultivate 20 acres to grow cotton for Christy Dawn. It was the first time they had met in person and were soon getting their hands dirty, digging cow manure and compost made from food waste into the earth to fertilise it naturally, learning about growing cover crops that add nitrogen, potassium and humus to restore health into the soil, talking to Kuppaswami about the benefits of growing different herbs and plants. 

That was the beginning of a partnership that is now in its fifth year. Aras managed to convince his investors that this was the future, not just of Christy Dawn, but of the fashion industry. With investment of money but also a lot of time and care, the partnership has evolved into Oshadi Collective cultivating 200 hectares of land, and Christy Dawn’s pioneering farm-to-closet system which allows customers to become land stewards. An investment - or a gift for a friend of US$200 - covers the cost of farming cotton regeneratively on 4,356 sq ft of land to grow enough cotton for a single dress.  

“Our collaboration with Christy Dawn was a turning point. It happened through Rebecca Burgess of Fibershed, and it allowed us to explore how we could grow cotton regeneratively and use it to create garments that are truly sustainable.”

This investment covers the farmers’ salaries, the cotton seed as well as seed for eighteen different crops that help to regenerate the land, nurture the soil, provide pollinators, companion planting to attract attract insects away from the cotton and increase biodiversity; pay for drip irrigation, natural fertilizers, worms, and the many other costs involved in growing cotton the Oshadi way. It’s a long term investment, and you go on the journey with the farmers, so that when the cotton is harvested in month six, Christy Dawn buys the cotton back from you so that eventually a year later, once the cotton has been spun and woven and the cloth cut and sewn into a dress, you can choose your dress and buy it.  

Of course, there are dresses to buy off the peg for those who just want something to wear there and then, but by becoming a land steward, you are shouldering some of the weight that traditionally has been solely on the farmers’ shoulders who are constantly at risk from all sorts of factors they cannot control, not least the weather. It’s possible that a $200 investment might go up or down, depending on the conditions that season and the resulting cotton yield. This is the reality of farming, and one that few of us consider when buying our clothes. A bad year for a farmer means less money to feed the family. Traditionally, brands do not compensate their suppliers if there was flooding or drought or a bug infestation.  

This stewardship system is what Christy Dawn is doing on a bigger scale, by investing in the fibre from the soil up, the health of the planet and the wellbeing of the farmers. As Aras sees it, everything is connected and the right way of doing things means getting intimately involved every step of the way. Through this work, the earth will win. The success in the partnership has not been to sell more dresses, but to create a thriving, regenerative land where the farmers are paid a living wage they can rely on from one season to the next, and where over 2 million tons of carbon have been sequestered from the atmosphere and put back into the ground.  

Nishanth and Aras have shown what can be done. 20 acres grew into 80. But it’s not been easy. Here, they discuss the challenges - and the rewards - and explain why we all have our part to play in supporting the work they do. They are joined in conversation by journal editor Tamsin Blanchard. Nishanth by the way, is wearing a custom shirt he had made from some leftover Christy Dawn daisy print fabric. 

Aras Baskauskas: Nishanth, you gotta make me one of those shirts!

Nishanth Chopra: Yeah, for sure. What's your size?

AB: I love it. Yeah, we're starting to do like men's stuff now because I want to wear this stuff. I couldn’t care less about clothing from a fashion point of view. I'm not interested in that, but I wear clothes. For me what the work that we're doing together is like, how do you open the aperture? How do you open it up so that it's like other people can participate? You know?

Like what about the woman who doesn't wear dresses? Or what about someone like me that doesn't wear dresses, so we are working on hoodies and tees. So much of the work on my side, is around the mindset and the philosophy and the underlying energy so tees and hoodies are great because then you can share the story more, right?

Tamsin Blanchard: There’s a lot you can say on a Tee. The medium can be the message. What is the story you want to share?

AB: At Christy Dawn, we sit at this really interesting point where people are buying things that they don't need. The reality is the people buying a Christy Dawn dress don't need another dress. Right? I have 500 T-shirts, I mean not really 500 but I have so many T-shirts. I don't need another shirt. And so then it begs the question, what's the role of clothing?

When people asked me about Christy Dawn, I used to be like, ‘Oh, it's a woman's clothing line’. And then I changed it from being ‘it's a woman clothing line to it's an integrated, regenerative fibre company.’ But in my heart of hearts, the way I think of Christy Dawn is, we're in the business of shifting consciousness. How do you use that medium to do it? It doesn't mean you can't have things, it doesn't mean you can't have a new shirt, but it's more about shifting out of that consumer mindset that's so sick. That puts us in this really interesting position because to keep going, to keep doing our work, we need people to keep buying pieces. And at the same time, how do you get people to start thinking differently about the way they buy pieces?

Sometimes I think it's beyond our ability. And sometimes I think, well, let's try it. You know, let's keep trying to play with the way people think and feel about everything that they interact with. But it's an interesting place to be.

NC: I keep having this reflection on how sustainable is the work we do as a company also, and I think every time I ask the question: Does this one really need this supplier, another production company or another company? The answer is, a lot of times no. But then I only think about it as there are things that don't work. Like for example, the smocking we do, the plastics we use, there's no way out, how can we evade it? I think every time you sit down and think about what are the things that make it unsustainable and then you pick one thing and change that to make it sustainable.

By farming, we are building it back, we are building things we have been destroying for years and years. And I think we're coming to a place of the lifecycle of a garment when it gets ended, I think of the day that it can be composted, just cut into pieces and put it put into your compost bin or put in your farm yard. I think that day, things will completely make a switch.

“I hope that the principles we're advocating will become mainstream. If another brands adopt regenerative and ethical practices, we can create a more sustainable fashion industry and have a positive global impact.”

TB: You are really thinking about things differently and solving problems that nobody else is even thinking about. People aren't even thinking about the fact that for example, the elastic in the smocking or in their pyjamas, isn't biodegradable. But you're thinking about how to solve it. And then you're actually going and doing it. You have introduced natural rubber elastic!

AB: Yeah, we're naive, naive enough to think that it can be done, stupid enough to not understand why it can't be done. So we try things that most people wouldn't try.

TB: And then you get results.

AB: Four years ago when I first reached out to Mairin [Wilson, then director of regenerative practice at Christy Dawn] and then we met Nishanth, it was like, why the hell would a brand our size, which is tiny, ever think about how can we figure out a regenerative cotton farm like that? It doesn't make any sense. Even looking in hindsight.

So from the perspective of the soil from the perspective of the ecosystem and the biodiversity, it's been a success. And that was what we set out to do that was really like hey, can we be in a right relationship with the Earth with the farmer? In that way it worked. It was very much a vision. I made this assumption by following that certainly Christy Dawn is going to explode and succeed at the financial level. And what I've been really smitten with, is this idea of letting go of the fruits of the effort. The work is the work, we did it. It's been done and we've proved something that nobody even thought that they needed to prove through this collaboration. Then it's sitting with it and saying okay, that has made its ripple and it will continue to. Like I saw Pangaia announced that by 2026 they're going to be all regenerative. I think Citizens of Humanity made a similar announcement and the hardest part is this work.

“Regenerative farming isn't just good for the soil, it's good for the soul. It brings a sense of purpose, knowing that the work we do today will benefit future generations. It's about leaving the land better than we found it. Regenerative farming is about going beyond organic. It's about creating systems that are regenerative rather than extractive. This means improving soil health, increasing biodiversity, and using natural fertilizers and crop rotation. ”

Nishanth is in a different situation with Oshadi and where they are, but the hardest part for me because I'm not a businessman, is to take an idea that's been gifted to me, to follow it through and then to let go of any expectation of how that might impact my idea of success. And just allow it to be there, which is a real challenging place to be, because the truth of the matter is, I think the work that we've done with Oshadi and knowing how successful Oshadi has been in getting other brands involved and growing this thing. I feel confident that the ship is moving and we're going forward with this movement towards regeneration. But what I can't stick a claim to and I have to be open to, is that doesn't necessarily mean the ship is going to go in the direction of Christy Dawn’s success. But the Earth is going to win and that is a really interesting place for me.

TB: But the problem is that we need brands like Christy Dawn to succeed for these systems to be able to keep going.

AB: We need the investors to say yeah, to say this is gonna work. Yeah.

NC: I think for us as a supplier, someone working on this project from a different perspective. I think the last few months have also been a very big change for us because we started letting go of brands, who wouldn't take part in the farming project. Because I think the future of what we do has to be aligned with the value of the things we are working towards. I don't have enough savings to survive and stuff like that. So for the last couple of months, we started letting go of brands who are not committed to the farm, who are not committed to the values. We have like 160 employees and waking up every day and I'm just like, wait like, oh my god...fuck...

Three years ago, when I met you or when we started this project, I never knew that it was going to come this far. I didn't know we could even spin the fibre. I didn't even know how do we regenerate the fibre as like, like this is going to happen. We figured out how to figure out and I think this is what is the same thing as Christy Dawn. I always think about how they do it and how they convince investors they can do it, or how because with other brands, it's such a long process. We got commitment for like 20 acres and it was a year of practice just to say one Yes.

All the brands we work with are amazing brands and just starting up in the initial phases. It might look good as a lot brands coming, but we're running a business so different. 150 people distributing this compost, figuring out how to distribute the compost, mixing it was like, I can't even explain how we brought in so much waste like 50 tonnes of waste and having 50 farmers on it, having like a rotary tiller, packing it. And we had to make that happen in one week! We used to do like one tonne in a week, and now 50 tonnes have to be done in the same week, one week span of time and finding people, Finding resources, finding ways, mixing it, distributing it.

TB: Interesting though it's the way that you have been working side by side with Christy Dawn, you know that you've had this amazing partnership, but almost as a pilot for how you can work in a different way. Christy Dawn’s ‘Grow Your Own dress’ idea illustrates this all so brilliantly. As a citizen buying a dress, you immediately become invested in this whole process and system. And I think that's a really genius bit of communication, involving the customer in this journey right from the start. Tell us about how that's how that's developed?

AB: We're in the business of shifting consciousness, or at least I like to think we are. And so, for me, this relationship with Nishanth was born from this idea of intimacy. It was born from this idea that it doesn't matter what the problem is - it could be economic, it can be social, it can be environmental. My underlying belief is that at its core, it's an intimacy issue.

We've disconnected from our relationship to ourselves. Our relationship to each other lives for the planet, our relationship as these beings on a rock floating around this giant ball of gas that's on fire. And, there gets to be a mystery to it. And there gets to be a connection to that mystery. It’s a little bit different for Nishanth but in perverted Western culture, which is where I live in Los Angeles, there is no place for mystery. That doesn't exist. And so for me in my personal journey, it was like connecting to that mystery and it was an act of intimacy to connect. And so if we're in the business of shifting consciousness, the question that I have to ask myself, ‘Well, how do we get people to get intimate?’ Because when we sowed those first four acres, it was like I was checking the weather and I was like, fuck if it if it doesn't rain soon enough, there's not or if it rains too much? All of a sudden, I had this relationship with a part of the world that I didn't know about a year before. Right? And it was a risk, right? Because we weren't paying for yield, right? Like it was just like Nishanth said, like, if I win, we win. But if I lose, we lose, right? And so when you get into that intimacy the opportunity for growth, and expansion is massive at a very personal level. So the question was, how do we get people intimate? How do we get people to understand this?

“The sense of community we've built is one of our greatest achievements. It's not just about business; it's about relationships, trust and mutual respect. Every person involved in this process plays a crucial role. Working with local farmers like Kuppasamy and Eshwari has been essential. We involve them in the process, share knowledge and ensure they see the benefits of regenerative farming firsthand.”

And simultaneously from the business side of it, we have 80 acres. I’m not sure exactly how much cash is rolled out, off the top of my head, probably a quarter of a million dollars or more. Just to commit to that land, and that quarter of a million dollars, we're not gonna be able to bring that to market for a year. Now, from a business perspective, from an investor's perspective, that's a whole lot of cash that you're putting out that you're not going to see for a long time and I'll go back a second prior to this relationship.

If you were to ask Kuppasamy and Eshwari if they wanted to go regenerative they'd be like, we can't afford to take the risk. Because the farmer in general is the person holding all points of human’s relationship to the rest of the earth, to the rest of the planet. And because that relationship is so out of whack, it's really painful on the farmer's shoulders, so they're holding that entire weight. So what we did with Oshadi is we said,’ look, we'll carry that weight. We'll pay for the process, so that you don't have to take the risk and then what we quickly learned is, fuck, we can't be the hero. It's too heavy for us. So what would happen if instead of having one place where all that weight was sitting, we shared it as a community. Right? So from a business perspective, if everybody takes a little bit of the pie, a little bit of a weight, we can carry a whole lot more from this consciousness perspective. All of a sudden, everyone gets to get intimate, right? We all get to win. That was the idea. And then the challenge is you don't get a lot of time with a customer. How do you communicate that and so we did that with, ‘Hey, we're gonna send monthly updates on the farm’. And certain customers that come back like, oh my god, I love this and I want to reinvest.

TB: So the customer in effect, invests in the process with the farmer, with Oshadi, with Christy Dawn, as an equal partner. How did you calculate the cost to the customer before you’d even grown the cotton?

The first one we did such a bad job calculating what the yield was gonna be that the first people that invested in that kind of stewardship, they got back a 60% gain because we were so inaccurate in our estimations of how well the land was going to receive our efforts.

So a customer who invested $200 got $320 in store credit back. That was a good investment!

AB: And then the next season we were more accurate so they put in $200 and at the end of the season, they got $206 back, right and people were like, what happened? Well, we are trying to get more accurate, right? And, and so, some people are hearing this as an investment in cash, which is fine. And then some people are hearing it as like, wow, this is just a stewardship, and so many Westerners think about stewardship as about donating and they think about being a saviour and that was also something we were trying to flip on its head because what I learned through this process is there's no hero in this story unless every one of us is the hero. So we're all in it together.

TB: So you’re changing age old power dynamics.

AB: I think from the Western perspective, how we gain our wealth, we're extracting and we're exploiting but at a certain point we know that so there's this guilt. So then when we say I'm going to donate money, it's coming from shame. Right? Like here: Take my shame, take my money. And this whole idea was like no, you don't have to feel bad or anything. Like you're part of this solution, and it's also not a sacrifice in the sense that you get to win. The whole principle of regeneration is that every stakeholder wins, including you, including me. And so that was the whole idea, and people have definitely responded well.

I think our issue is just a communication issue. As a brand overall. The reason I'm not on the calls with Nishanth as often as I used to be is because I feel confident that we have people in place in our team that can work with Nishanth and that relationship has been established. What we struggle with as a brand is really letting people know just how impactful the work is, like what's woven into a dress?

TB: The way that you communicate around what you're doing is pioneering. There are so many educational resources on your website. But completely interwoven with the product as well. Which I think it's just so smart.

AB: Thank you. It resonates for you. But in order for Christy Dawn to actually make it we have to get the people with their head in the sand. They're like ‘I don't want to look! I'm too scared to look.’ And that's our challenge. We can speak to the Tamsins of the world, but who we need to speak to are the people that are just sleeping, and you get five seconds. We're going to keep doing it. We're going to learn like in any regenerative system, we're gonna get better and better at it and keep trying to be really frank like in this conversation. The early adopters, we have those; we can speak to them. But the question is, can we speak to the human beings that don't realise that they're ready for it? And can we open them up to that… and once we figure that out, I think that's when, for us as a brand, that's when we really get to flower.

TB: This whole sustainability conversation is how do we get outside of the echo chamber? I think everybody has that problem. How do we communicate to the people that aren’t that bothered, don’t see the connections between what they buy and how that can have a beneficial impact rather than a negative one, or who just want a pretty dress to put on?

AB: If we had more money we would finance a study on clothing as it relates to the skin because I believe deeply the shirt that Nishanth is wearing is infinitely better for a human being then shirt that I'm wearing which is probably made with non-organic cotton, and dyed with non-organic dyes, right? This vegetable dyed shirt, grown with regenerative cotton… but there's no studies on it. Let's say I was going to have celery juice for breakfast. There's no way I put conventional celery juice into my juicer. No way because I know too much about those chemicals because I know what happens to my internal organs and my whole body, the whole system if I introduce those chemicals. The largest organ in all the body is the skin. So what is the skin absorbing? And if we had more money, that's one of the things I want to study from a scientific point of view . Because at the end of the day, people, unfortunately, are not buying because it's better for the Earth. They're buying because they want to look cute, or they want to feel better and they want to be healthier. And I know in my heart of hearts intuitively, I know that what we're doing and through Nishanth’s work and our work together, that this is not only better for the earth, but by wearing it, I really genuinely believe that when you wear a regeneratively grown dress that's been vegetable dyed and block printed there, it’s incomparable for your health as to wearing a conventionally grown and dyed piece.

NC: I also think about that. I've had this very conversation from the very beginning. It's a mindset, like you know, it starts with the seed, goes to the builder, it goes to the maker, it goes to the brand, goes to the consumer and then it goes back to the soil…

TB: It's relationships really that kind of make everything kind of turn for both of you. What's next for you both? Or is it kind of just a cycle that's set in motion and has a natural rhythm?

AB: I told myself once we're at 100% regenerative cotton, once every fibre that we're going to turn into clothing is regenerative, I'm done. I'll let someone else be the CEO because I don't really care about selling clothing that's not that interesting to me. But then I realised I can't walk away now because I have a responsibility on the other side. It's like we figured out… I'm shocked at how quick it happened. But with these 80 acres that we’re harvesting in February are all of our cotton needs for the year. Like we're good, right? We're going to have enough cotton to be fully regenerated and we're there. But what we haven't done is we haven't figured out and I haven't guided the ship yet to the place where we are a sustainable company. And what I mean by this is that we're actually making a profit, and that our investors are like wow, look, Christy Dawn modelled it and any other company can do this.

I'm so proud of the work, I'm so proud of Nishanth. I'm proud of the work that we've done. I'm so happy for the earth, I'm super happy and I think it's taking hold …look Pangaia said it. Eventually every brand it'll be a prerequisite. Right now how much of that will be greenwashing and how much of that will be authentic obviously there's always going to be a balance right. But my hope is that through this work, that it can be financially strong and that has nothing to do with the regenerative cotton. That's just building a brand that people like enough.

TB: Is the positive energy around regenerative enough to build a financially sustainable business on?

AB: If we lead with hey, we have this regenerative cotton that heals the earth and heals each other, we're going to sell this many dresses. If we lead with this dress looks really cute. we're gonna sell a lot of dresses. Which is devastating, but that's just the reality. So my job I think what's next for me right now is getting this thing to the place where it grows. And part of that's beating the drum because regeneration gets to be talked about. No, we don't use the word sustainable in this conversation. I hate that word. I hate it. I think it's like a bad word because like, what are we sustaining? Like, why are we sustaining it? Like no, it's time we stop. We don't have much time left. Right?

I've told Nishanth before - we haven't talked about it in a while but I really love the idea of playing with other materials. I'm an herbalist and Nettle happens to be one of my favourite plant allies. And it's something that historically has been used as a fibre for clothing, not the most comfortable but I think that would be really cool to show. But right now for Chrisine Dawn, we have to figure out how to stabilise. We've grown so much from four acres three years ago to 120 acres like woah! And for Nishanth it’s 200 acres total right now. Right, Nish?

NC: Yeah, currently.

AB: So let's figure out a way that first we can be sustainable as a company, and financially and then that would mean profitable. And that's where we are and I'm just grateful for the partnership and I'm grateful for us being able to explore and the way we found each other is unbelievable. It gives me goosebumps every time you know. We're both very very expansive beings. We know how to expand into the universe. And now it's like alright, now we root now, we got to make sure that this can hold because we've proved that we can do it and now we got to be like, alright, and it's gonna work, you know?

TB: There's a lot riding on you too. Some of that pressure is now definitely on your shoulders because you're pioneering and we need this to work. Sorry to put that pressure on you.

NC: That system of just getting 200 people on one single day; transporting them to 50, 100 different farms; picking the cotton; loading it, bringing it back; storage. I think that's the hardest part of the business. I try not to think about it, but it kind of overwhelms me. I also tell people not to tell me how many people are going on what single day. But I get a cumulative figure when we pay salaries. It's just like something scares me like, oh my god, we have such a big commitment.

When we went to five acres and I could possibly the cotton and you know, we've fibre shed has trusted as like breakers you know, she introduced me to christie dawn, these guys invested and like, you know, that kind of trust is so hard to let go of and just pushes you past things you can do and it's to make sure we make it happen. And I think that's what it is like when Aras is talking about intimacy. We feel a part of that whole body; all these brands, this project is one thing. We become a part of every brand and every brand we work with is part of it. Every brand has taken a piece of you. That's what makes it different than a production company. We are not a production company. We are the brand itself. A part of the brand itself.

TB: That's the whole mindset, isn't it? It translates into the way that you do business. I'm excited about the idea of a nettle collection. I love the idea of having something made out of fibre that you can also drink or eat.

NC: There are so many fibres, so many plants, so many herbs. I think we could embed that in a project because we give the seeds to farmers and it's just a matter of us giving seeds. Once you do that. It's just a matter of us thinking if that's a local plant.

“Nature teaches us patience and resilience. Working with the land, you realize that everything is interconnected. The health of our crops depends on the health of our soil, and the health of our soil depends on the ecosystems we nurture around it”

TB: You could sell a dress with a little sachet of tea made from the same fibre.

AB: Yeah, it'd be so cool….To me regeneration is about thriving, and it's about the capacity of the human being.

TB: How can you measure what you’ve achieved so far?

AB: Through measuring the carbon sequestration through the farm. We're millionaires now with 2 billion net…

NC: 2 million pounds of carbon.

TB: That’s a good measure of success.

AB: Like the new wealth right? Yeah, the new millionaires.

NC: Yeah, you know, it's how much carbon you farmed. Regenerative farming is a holistic thing. So how much water have you saved? How much carbon has been farmed? How many farmers have benefited in those communities?

AB: Nishanth and I are free thinkers, we move to the beat of our own drum. And one of the things that I've learned about nature is there's a connectedness, and it's inviting me to get uncomfortably intimate with people I don't know, asking for help. And saying like, let's do this together. Versus like, we did this right. We all did this.

Learn and take part in the pioneering Christy Dawn's pioneering The Land Stewardship program here.

Explore beautiful pieces from our regenerative collaboration here. 


About the Tamil Calendar

We are building this journal around the Tamil Calendar so we will follow the local seasons according to the climate and the cycles of the moon and how they correspond to the activities on the farm. Just like summer, winter, autumn and spring, Tamil Nadu has six seasons based on the Tamil calendar. Each season has two months: