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How Outerknown is Committing to Full Circularity by 2030 and Surviving COVID-19

Rivet's 2020 Denim Circularity report takes a deep dive into how the global denim industry is plotting its circular future amidst a worldwide pandemic.

Coastal lifestyle brand Outerknown has committed to full circularity by 2030, designing to eliminate waste and pollution, and ensuring its apparel can be kept in use as long as possible.

The Culver City, Calif.-based company said product will be designed and created for increased longevity and eventual disassembly, using 100 percent circular materials and trims, and made to be renewed and reused, or fully recycled once worn beyond repair. Outerknown will also solve for end-of-life solutions not only for itself, but for the industry at large.

Founded in 2015 by world-champion surfer Kelly Slater and creative director John Moore, Outerknown has been known for social and environmental sustainability–from abiding by Fair Labor Association at the inception to investing in and bringing to market Econyl recycled nylon, which turns ocean pollution into buttons, and prioritizing preferred fibers. In 2019, more than 90 percent of the fibers used in its collection were recycled, regenerated or organic.

“The clothing industry still holds to the broken and wasteful linear model,” Slater said. “The model must change and Outerknown is excited to be the point in the sustainability arrow, investing in circular models both for product and end-of-life solutions.”

Outerknown outlined key milestones in circularity, innovation and fair labor that will be used to show the way in embracing circular models. To that end, Outerknown will develop and commercialize safe and circular materials, products and technologies, plus solutions with the greatest potential to mitigate impact.

By 2025, Outerknown says 75 percent of fabrics and 50 percent of products made will be circular and regenerative, according to industry guidelines. By 2030, all products will be circular.

All new products will be designed for increased utility and recyclability, and made for disassembly. Outerknown will launch a renewed category and platform that will include resale, repair and recycling.

The company said it will also expand its partnerships to advance commercialization of emerging circular technologies, materials and guidelines. By 2025, Outerknown will invest in and support the development of five emerging circular technologies and innovations to share industry-wide and will pilot and/or scale 10 circular technologies and innovations to share with the sector.

The company also pledges to serve as a key catalyst and leader for industry working groups at the forefront of circular innovation and advancement and plans to serve as the first circular industry case study to be shared openly, setting an example and demonstrating circular solutions.

Outerknown said it believes that circular innovations are only significant if they are rooted in fair labor practices. To build upon an already rigorous Fair Labor program that includes Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers, the company will expand its Fair Labor program activities by 2025 to ensure workers’ safety at Tier 3 (yarn processing) and Tier 4 (raw materials) strategic partners’ facilities. It will also disclose Tier 1 through Tier 4 suppliers, going beyond the industry’s standard for transparency.

All Tier 1 suppliers will need to have programs that include direct worker involvement and that demonstrate their commitment to improving the livelihoods of workers.

“Outerknown is young, agile and committed to reimagining the future of design and fashion,” said Megan Stoneburner Azim, director of sustainability and sourcing, who joined the team in 2019 to spearhead the 2030 strategy. “The brand has always open-sourced learnings through collaborations and industry working groups, and we’re committed to sharing our progress transparently on our way to 2030. While we are making the necessary investments to accelerate social and environmental advancements in all parts of our supply chain, we know we must work collaboratively with the industry to drive true, systemic change.”

Azim told Sourcing Journal that like most other brands, Outerknown has felt “the ripple effects of the pandemic throughout our supply chain,” but has been able to quickly and appropriately react to continue production and operations despite the coronavirus crisis.

“We produce a fair amount of garments in parts of Asia that either proactively addressed COVID-19 or managed through this crisis earlier in the year,” she said. “While we’re operating as per usual, this pandemic has made it evident that the industry at large must restructure supply networks and proactively shift to sustainable and viable supply chains that protect both people and the planet.”

Outerknown has supported its supply chain partners by following “responsible purchases practices,” maintaining all orders for fully produced goods and absorbing any liabilities for material orders for future seasons internally.

“In making this decision, we knew we would be responsible for more inventory than matched consumer spending,” Azim said. “As a result, we ran a sale, which we do not normally do, to help all the pieces find homes, while also lifting some of the financial burden for supporters.”

As for whether the pandemic has impacted sustainability goals, she said the company recognizes the potential for some delays in launching these developments but will continue to evaluate market needs and implement viable solutions that can be slotted into future product lines.

“We have five years to research, pilot and implement this work, so while our short-term focal points may now need to be more concentrated on R&D, we’re still confident we’ll meet our 2025 milestones and 2030 goal of full circularity,” Azim added.

Outerknown is sold at outerknown.com and at select premium retailers worldwide.

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