Nicole Rycroft; environmental activist and “professional tree hugger”
What started as an inevitable and involuntary break from her professional rowing career, grew into a global-level passion project for Nicole Rycroft; the woman spearheading forest-free value chains in the fashion industry.
An Ashoka Fellow Since 2003, and Climate Breakthrough Awardee of 2020, Nicole has always had a soft spot and a special relationship with nature since her childhood. The little girl who used to watch wildlife documentaries with her grandmother developed a profound appreciation and love for the planet at a very early age.
And it was perhaps this deep-rooted love for nature, that remained under the layers of her growth, that triggered the striking realization of the kind of impact she could make on the planet when she was incapacitated due to a virus infection for a few years in her career. Strongly inspired by a campaign to save the Daintree rainforest in Queensland, Nicole decided to take action too, and since then, there has been no looking back.
Today, Nicole Rycroft, based in Vancouver, Canada is the founder of Canopy – an environmental NGO that focuses on protecting ancient and endangered forests as its primary mission.
How Canopy started
Canopy was established in 1999 as a conservation organization to find a solid solution to the problem of deforestation. The NGO intends to actively protect the world’s endangered and ancient forests, and through that, try to combat climate change.
“I started Canopy with the conviction that we are smarter than using 400-year-old trees and cutting down climate-critical forest ecosystems and orangutan habitat to make pizza boxes,” Nicole says.
One of their first successful initiatives was in the publishing industry, where Nicole was able to get the much-read Harry Potter series of books produced sustainably. At the time, there was a glaring lack of a more eco-conscious alternative to freshly made paper. However, with persistent effort and a premium, willing to be borne by the publisher Raincoast Books, they released the first ancient-forest-friendly edition of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
This marked the beginning of truly audacious efforts to bring change on a global level, as it showed that the highest quality publications can be done in environmentally sustainable ways. Owing to the sheer colossal nature of the series and the influence it had on the world, this also brought on the much-needed upscale trend in the production of environmental papers – a feat unheard of at the time.
Canopy’s foray into the fashion industry
Nicole and her team at Canopy were beyond shocked to hear that nearly 300 million trees are exhausted in the textile industry every year, with the consumption expected to double in the coming decades. She was quick to realize that the industry was on the brink of a grave environmental problem.
After learning that some of the most used fabrics, such as viscose, rayon, and modal were created from wood pulp, extracted from the oldest trees in the world, and how intensive the manufacturing processes are, Nicole set up Canopy Style to work with the most influential fashion brands in the world, in a collective effort to save endangered and ancient forests from being cut down to produce clothing.
Soon enough, iconic ready-to-wear fashion leaders, the likes of H&M, Zara, Levi’s, and more joined in with her initiative, along with some elite high-fashion designers including Stella McCartney and Eileen Fisher.
Currently, Canopy Style has more than 500 brands signed up to make serious endangered-forest commitments. As a result of her tireless work, 53% of the world’s viscose supply chain is now considered low risk.
Nicole was able to transform the fashion supply chain in a few years, marking one of their fastest-moving initiatives for Canopy, hopefully producing a butterfly effect.
Next on the agenda for Canopy Style
Canopy Style is now busy promoting the use of low-impact next-gen textile fabrics such as Renewcell’s Circulose fiber; a sustainable material made from 100% textile waste.
The intention is to detach viscose from its primary raw material of wood pulp. Nicole aims to stop over-reliance on endangered forest ecosystems over the next ten years and have at least 50% of the material made from recycled textiles or bacterial cellulose by 2030.
In addition to viscose, leather, cotton, and wool are also fabrics in fashion that rely heavily on tree felling, afforestation, and the general exhaustion of natural resources. Canopy style seeks to replace the raw materials for these fabrics as well, with post-consumer resources, thereby solving the problem of wastage as well.
Far from the production end, Nicole also sees opportunities at the retail end, where packaging is a major contributor to the world’s deforestation crisis.
Efforts will be made collectively, and in partnership with influential brands to bring solid change in the fashion industry towards sustainable manufacturing and distribution.
The fashion industry is perhaps one of the most extensive and complicated ones to tackle, with respect to injecting sustainability. From production to delivery and consumption, there are multiple touch points throughout the journey of an article of clothing where it leaves its carbon footprint. For Nicole to penetrate a massive process like that and make sustainable options a part of the ultimate end package, is indeed a championing step that brings hope to the entire world; knock on WOOD (pun intended).
Canopy, as of today, has helped conserve 39 million acres of forest area in the US, Canada and Indonesia. It is also working with more than 900 companies to spread the impact of the forest conservation initiative.
Here’s to wishing more brands would follow the leaders and be a part of Nicole’s NGO to save the blessings that are our forest ecosystems, around the world.
I’m a fashion designer, content creator, writer, and a strong advocate of body positivity. I love animals, books, rose gold jewellery, putting together minimal OOTDs, and purpose-driven writing.