In the fight to save one of Northern Quebec’s last untouched boreal forests from logging, the Cree’s latest ally could be a group of fashion labels.

Mandy Gull, deputy chief of the 2,000-member Cree community of Waswanipi, spoke to a gathering of 81 clothing companies in New York City on Oct. 26 in an effort to convince them to stop sourcing materials such as rayon and viscose from endangered forests.

“I was asked to inform those companies how they could be buying products other than from a virgin forest, and how the impacts are felt by our people, the Waswanipi Cree, in our traditional lands,” said Gull.

Before becoming involved in the event, Gull said she didn’t know that wood pulp was used to make jeans and T-shirts. Now she says convincing companies and consumers to shop sustainably could help protect the land and wildlife around Waswanipi.

H & M, Zara, and Marks and Spencer are among the companies that have agreed to avoid buying materials from endangered forests, according to Canopy, a non-profit working to encourage sustainable forestry and organizer of this week’s event in NYC.

Companies looking for alternatives can source their materials from sustainable forestry projects, plantations or recycled fabrics.

“We want to make a connection between the forest, communities like Waswanipi that live and depend on the forest, and are defending the forest, and connect with end users so the brands understand how their decisions can have an impact all the way to Indigenous communities living in the boreal forest,” said Mélissa Filion, senior corporate campaigner with Canopy.

Worldwide, 70-million trees are logged each year to supply rayon and other fabrics to the garment industry, according to Canopy’s research. As demand for paper products decreases, Filion said some forestry companies are looking to produce dissolving pulp instead, which is used in fabrics.

“Mandy is an unbelievable speaker,” said Filion after the event. “She spoke with a lot of passion and I think it created some sparks within the minds of many of the brands to have a better understanding of the impacts of the decisions they make.”

The Waswanipi Cree territory covers an area slightly smaller than Switzerland, and Gull says 90 per cent of that territory has already been affected by logging.

In recent years the community has teamed up with environment groups including Greenpeace to protect the remaining 10 per cent, an area called the Broadback Valley forest, which is one of the last remaining intact boreal forests in Quebec.