Most clothes end up in the landfill. The solution is to make and sell much better clothes.
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According to McKinsey & Company and the Council for Textile Recycling, the world fashion industry produces 100 billion garments for seven billion people each year, the average American throws out 80 pounds of clothes each year, and 85 percent of all apparel ends up in landfills, even the ones we feel good about donating! Those shocking statistics were seen as an opportunity for an increasingly popular San Francisco based startup.
Why not fashion new clothes out of used clothes and recycled fibers? Why not address the growing number of consumers who are making purchasing decisions based on their desire to preserve and improve their own health and welfare, as well as that of their families and the environment? Why not offer consumers a chance to demonstrate their concern with the very clothes on their backs?
Related: Sustainable Fashion Is The New Trend
This is the concept behind Taylor Stitch. Now you can wear stylish clothing that lasts a decade instead of a year, is made with significantly less water, and produces a much smaller carbon footprint. Taylor Stitch is disrupting the fashion industry by pioneering new ways to source, sew, and sell.
We love the concept and wanted to know more about this successful and timely business venture. So, we caught up with Taylor Stitch Co-Founder and CEO, Michael Maher at his San Francisco Headquarters.
M&B: How was Taylor Stitch created and what was the inspiration for launching the brand?
Michael: Taylor Stitch began as an experiment in custom tailored shirting. We couldn’t find a shirt that fit and simply became enamored by a better fitting, higher quality product without all the pretense of the fashion world. We yearned for something that was tailored yet more casual and could transfer from work to the weekend.
We saw the casualization of the American office happen as tech permeated the country. Even my friends in finance in New York were wearing jeans to meetings. It was clear the line between what guys were wearing to work and wearing on the weekend was blurring quickly.
Guys were rolling sleeves and ditching ties so the ole 15.5/33 and a size medium didn’t mean anything, so we created a shirt sized like a jacket based on the thousands of custom shirts we had made. You buy our shirts by your chest size. So, if you wear a 40 jacket (our medium) you buy a 40 shirt. We built a shirt that looks just as good (and stays) tucked in as it does out with the collar undone and sleeves rolled up. A utilitarian approach to shirt making.
Ten years later, Taylor Stitch has grown to offer more than just shirts by slowly developing best in class products across just about every category of menswear. We continue to innovate on the classics by using organic, recycled and regenerative fibers wherever possible. By the end of this year, 95 percent of our cotton will be organic while offering many other recycled and regenerative fibers made from everything from Baby Yak (softer than cashmere) to recycled water bottles (also surprisingly soft).
M&B: Tell us a little about how you used Cash Flow instead of VC money to fund and grow your venture.
Michael: We built a crowdfunding platform, so our customers are involved in the product creation process. This helps us control our own destiny, bringing customers to the front of the value chain. We are building something for the long haul — not just with our products but the brand as well.
M&B: So How are your sales doing? Are they growing? And how do you sell your apparel?
Michael: (Re sales and growth) We became profitable last year, which is a huge accomplishment and something we are really proud of. Our customer base is growing steadily, and we are constantly exploring ways to expand our footprint across the country.
(Re how we sell) We deploy a hybrid selling model. We have essentials always in-stock, and the rest is crowdfunded through our Workshop. The Workshop model guarantees early community buy-in, and significantly limits waste caused by overproduction. To date, 95% of the items we design get crowdfunded.
M&B: We notice you have online sales and bricks and mortar shops. Why have you bifurcated your sales program?
Michael: The most successful brands incorporate both online and offline elements. Retail is far from dead. For us, it’s about giving customers a place to experience the brand with all 5 senses. No digital experience can replace the feeling of trying on a shirt that fits perfectly.
M&B: What was the biggest challenge you faced getting started and how did you overcome it?
Michael: We started a shirting company with no shirting experience and no money. So, we turned to the country’s oldest family of shirt makers to learn. From fit and balance to why 22 stitches per inch matter, we spared no lesson in construction. It’s taken time but it’s worth it.
M&B: Can you tell us a little bit about your new association with Yerdle?
Michael: We work with Yerdle to power Restitch, our new ecommerce program. When began looking for a partner, they were a no-brainer as they are the force behind other programs we admire for brands like Patagonia, REI and Eileen Fisher. Now we can guarantee keeping our clothes out of the waste stream.
M&B: Can you give us some statistics on your environmental impact?
Michael: We are committed to using organic, recycled and regenerative fibers wherever possible. In 2017, 0% of our cotton was organic. This year, over 95% of it will be and 98% of all products will be made with responsible fibers. Also, our Heavy Bag Tees have saved 24M gallons of water.
M&B: Your clothes are made to last. Many of your competitors are making their clothes to be disposable so their customers will come back and buy more. Are you concerned that your quality and durability will limit sales?
Michael: Today, customers want to shop brands that prioritize responsibility. As customers become more aware of the clothing industry’s impact on the planet, they seek out brands like ours who give a damn and share our mentality that we don’t need more – we need better items that last longer.
M&B: As with any kind of new concept that addresses environmental concerns, do you find you have to do some “missionary” work? How do you educate your consumers about the environmental effects of your products vs the alternatives?
Michael: Most customers think “sustainability” is the answer but frankly, it’s marketing bs. We have built 5 pillars of responsibility, taking into account not just the materials of a garment but also the people who make it, the facility they make it in, and the impact that has on the planet.
M&B: Tell us a little about your new “Restitch” Initiative.
Michael: Restitch closes the loop on our circular responsibility model and creates an easy solution to keep more clothes out of landfills. Currently, 85% of all apparel ends up in landfills, including what is donated. Our goal is to eventually take back everything we’ve ever sold to keep it in market longer.
M&B: What advice do you have for new startup entrepreneurs?
Michael: Celebrate the victories and don’t forget to look back at how far you’ve come. It’s easy to compare your business to others who have more funding and have been around longer. That can be motivating but also discouraging. Also, stay gritty and scrappy even when you get big.
Opportunity is everywhere. The biggest megatrend today is the change in the consumer’s preference for sustainable products. Taylor Stitch is a great example of addressing and leading that movement. As Bonnie likes to say, “If you really want to change the world, put a buck on it!” In other words, find a way to monetize on doing the right thing!
Find out more about Taylor Stitch at www.taylorstitch.com.