Emerging brands continue to set new benchmarks for fashion. As more established companies set long-term sustainability goals, hoping to move away from wasteful processes and win over conscious shoppers, a new brand built on a circular retail model has set out to prove just how clean fashion can be.
Launched Wednesday, For Days delivers organic T-shirts and other cotton basics to members who can send them back in any condition (ripped, stained, stretched), as often as they’d like, to be recycled and replenished. There are twelve styles for women and nine for men, available in four to six colors each. Memberships allow access to three, six or 10 styles at a time, for $12, $24 and $36 per month, respectively.
“We’re keeping everything in the cycle; we’re not consuming anything,” said founder Kristy Caylor, whose resume includes founding luxury brand Maiyet in 2010. “You just put the old [styles] back in the same bag — that bag is recyclable. And then ship them back to us, and we put them into the pile to upcycle.”
For now, manufacturing takes place in Brooklyn, but by late July, it will move to Hawthorne, California, a suburb of LA. A longtime center for jersey production, there’s a lot of talent there, Caylor said. She’s working with an expert in biomimicry and waste reduction to minimize the factory’s usage of energy, water and raw materials.
“Customers who care about a more sustainable way of doing things will spend money on this [brand],” said Sarah Berner, an investor, advisor and board member of Gratitude Railroad, which invests in conscious businesses. She pointed to several stats, including Americans throw out an average of 80 pounds of clothing per year, 60 percent of which is owned for less than one year. Americans buy 10 T-shirts per year, according to For Days, which require 7 gallons of water to make. On top of being void of toxic chemicals, tees made from organic cotton use 71 percent less water and 62 percent less energy.
Specific points in Caylor’s career led her to For Days’ concept. Fresh out of business school, she worked for Gap Inc., where she built the petites business for Banana Republic. It called for spending much time in the factories, where she realized the environmental impact of the supply chain. She went on to head up Gap’s Red line, established to support the fight against AIDS. She moved more of its production to Africa “to align the origin of the product with the message of the product,” which she found connected with shoppers. She had a stint as president of Band of Outsiders before starting ethically-minded Maiyet.
“When we were fundraising [for Maiyet], we said, ‘We found these amazing artisans in places that need employment most, and we’re going to work with them, and we’re going to make this beautiful product,’” said Caylor. “People were like, ‘Wait, are you a philanthropy?’ or ‘Are you going to sell at Whole Foods?’ We were like, ‘No, we’re going to show on the Paris runways and sell at Barneys.’ People were so confused, and it really solidified the need to change the conversation.”
Caylor came to consider Maiyet an inefficient business; largely dependent on wholesale partners, the quantity of inventory being made, returned and marked down was troubling, she said. (According to Paul van Zyl, Maiyet’s co-founder and current CEO, the brand “recognized inefficiencies in the wholesale business model, in terms of dead stock and wastage,” and no longer works with wholesale partners.) She parted ways with the brand in 2015.
A For Days women’s style
Fashion has earned a bad rap for being a dirty industry. As commonly referenced, it’s the second most polluting industry in the world, second only to oil. And, according to a November 2017 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, focused on building a circular economy, only 1 percent of clothing is recycled.
Increasingly, fashion companies are working to repair their damaging ways. Zeroing in on circular fashion, which involves incorporating recycled resources into the supply chain, brands including Nike, H&M, Burberry and Gap are moving that direction. Earlier this month, they joined Stella McCartney on the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular initiative, centered on reducing the industry’s waste over three years. In 2016, H&M announced plans to use 100 percent recycled or other sustainably sourced materials by 2030. Eileen Fisher launched a take-back program for used pieces to be recycled. By 2020, it pledges 50 percent of Eileen Fisher pieces will come from its circular program.
“It’s hard to shift an existing business in this way, and small shifts aren’t enough,” said Caylor. “Unless we empower the customer and give them information, and give them amazing product, and give them a new model, nothing’s going to shift. I took a step back and thought about how I can make a more sweeping change and apply more sweeping innovation to the industry as a whole. This has to be the future.”
But scaling the model will come with challenges. The subscription market is getting saturated, with more then 2,000 companies in the space. A recent UPS survey of subscription members showed that 61 percent canceled a curated subscription box membership in 2017. Also, Caylor is well aware of the manpower needed to manage necessary logistics. To start, a data team is in place to inform inventory and production. It’s about avoiding overproducing and anticipating customers’ needs, she said.
Thanks to fashion rental companies like Rent the Runway, Le Tote, Armarium and Gwynnie Bee, many consumers are already comfortable with the concept of an access versus ownership retail model. Not unlike those companies, For Days will work to simplify the lives of members and eliminate clutter, Caylor said — adding it’s important members also “have fun” with the styles and wear them as a form of self-expression.
“Access over ownership is a proven model, and it’s happening across industries,” said Berner. “We’ve seen the subscription model work in retail. Layer on For Days’ sustainability focus and transparency regarding its supply chain, and it’s a no-brainer. The key for For Days will be nailing the customer experience.”
Moving forward, more cotton styles will be added to the brand’s assortment. Then, bringing more fabrications, fabrications and even designer partners into the mix could follow. “We welcome participation, because we really want to build this out as a way of life,” Caylor said. “The possibilities are big.”