Skip to main content

How Close Is Sustainability to Becoming a Business Imperative in Fashion?

In a post-Rana Plaza world, consumers are on the precipice of a mindset shift away from the mindlessness of mass consumption and toward thoughtful new ways of bringing product into their lives, fashion veteran Kristy Caylor told attendees at the SXSW panel “Sustainability or Bust: The Future of Brands” Friday.

Caylor’s startup For Days is slated to launch in April with a “responsible” T-shirt subscription model hawking 100 percent made in Los Angeles tees and the mantra “Own Nothing. Have Everything.” Caylor initially developed an interest in sustainability while working for Gap, where she visited entire towns in China that were built to support the brand’s manufacturing needs.

“The customer’s connection to the supply chain is virtually non-existent,” Caylor said. “That doesn’t feel right and it doesn’t feel like the future.”

That’s why For Days’ mission is to reinvent the T-shirt-driven basics business, which relies heavily on highly polluting, resource-intensive raw materials like cotton. Given that the average American purchases 10 T-shirts annually, it’s a high-turn area in apparel ripe for disruption.

“If we fix the manufacturing and supply chain side, consumers can consume as much as they want without the same impact,” Caylor said, adding that our “ownership economy” is evolving towards an “access economy.” In researching how to create a zero-waste manufacturing facility, Caylor discovered that For Days can save $2 per unit just by having a smart energy and water strategy. However, she noted, the industry overall hasn’t made the investments to drive fashion toward a more sustainable future.

Though sustainability has been a hot topic in fashion of late, there’s some concern that consumers aren’t quite sure what to make of it.

Related Stories

Helena Dunn, founder of women’s eco-friendly surfwear brand Tuulikki, described sustainability as something of a “dirty word,” noting that consumers sometimes wonder whether a product made from recycled fibers and fabrics is just as good as something derived from virgin materials. “Does environmentally sound come at the cost of performance?” she posed.

To combat this notion, Caylor said she talks about circularity and sustainability not as choices to avoid a guilty conscience but in terms of creating a better product that’s better for the individual.

Sustainability should be a business imperative, and Liontrust Asset Management partner Harriet Parker said brands that choose to ignore sustainable models do so at their own peril. Earlier this year, the European Union Commission released a report recommending financial institutions to reward sustainable investments, setting in motion a ripple of change through the continent’s financial system.

Companies aligned around three core principles—improving efficiency by doing less with more; improving quality of life by creating healthier products; and making things safer and more resilient—will see greater and more predictable growth, Parker said. What’s more, investors will increasingly scrutinize how emerging brands manage sustainability and other ESG (environmental, social and governance) issues.

Because consumers will never stop buying—clothing doesn’t last forever, after all—it’s important to create products that make an impact for better, and not for worse.

“The power of commerce can actually be transformative,” Caylor said.