A newsletter about branding, startups, and mission-driven companies aiming to make the world a better place.
👋 Welcome to For The Love, so happy to have you all here!
Today we’ll be discussing:
Brands taking materials full circle
A roundup of new launches this week, including sunscreen with a soundtrack
A new friend to keep you company until you can see your real ones
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✌ For The Love of Doing Good
Given consumer’s rising interest in mission-driven brands, it probably won’t come as a surprise that reducing waste can also be big business (we’re talking billions). This year two clothing resale companies have gone public — ThredUp for $1.3 billion, and Poshmark for $7 billion.
In 2018 13 million tons of textiles were sent to landfills. Increasing the lifespan of a clothing item can obviously make a meaningful impact on the planet in addition to the hearts and wallets of consumers.
Just this week Nike launched Nike Refurbished. They’ll take back your “gently worn, and slightly imperfect kicks,” refurbish them and resell them at a discount at select stores.
But what about those more-than-slightly imperfect kicks? Or that white T that’s no longer so white?
“The problem is with products that are high-frequency basics, where the first user is often the last user, resale and rental aren't good options. So then what it really needs to be is recycling. And that's really what Thousand Fell is focused on,” Stuart Ahlum told me.
Stuart is the co-founder of Thousand Fell, “the first recyclable sneaker.”
They realized that using recycled and sustainable materials is a great start, but could make an even larger impact if those materials didn’t end up in a landfill once they were worn out.
“Our core mission and vision is to end textile waste. And we really started approaching this through the lens of material innovation. It needs to be something that's not just more sustainable on the front end, with carbon and materials used, but full responsibility towards end of life, and so full circularity.”
“We started with footwear because people are burning through sneakers...It's something that people are wearing for six to eight months, and then they kind of fall out of rotation...so really trying to figure out, how do you drive a different relationship between customers and their footwear?”
This dedication to circularity needed to be built into their business model and product from the start. Stuart explained:
“We were able to go line item by line item within the footwear and strip out a lot of the stuff that was traditionally really difficult to recycle — a lot of adhesives, a lot of heat welding with TPU (it's a mishmash of like 15 different types of plastic). And we were able to streamline that down into rPET (recycled polyester), rubber...and then we cut all petroleum from the line. So it's all bio polyols (corn waste and castor bean oils). And then replace a lot of those plastic parts with food waste (coconut husk, and sugarcane).”
For anyone who saw John Oliver’s recent piece on recycling or lack thereof, optimizing your product to actually be recyclable is a huge step forward.
“We were essentially able to build really clean material feeds...and then tested to make sure that we could recycle everything and that it was super durable and it didn't break down.”
Where I find things usually start to get a little opaque is when a brand says they have a recycling program, for instance, H&M’s cliffhanger “The textiles are then sent to the nearest recycling plant, where they’re sorted by hand.”
Umm...then what? I guess you’ll have to wait until next season to find out what happened to your 3 year old socks post-sorting?
So I asked Stuart what happens when you return a pair of shoes.
“It becomes Thousand Fell shoes. And that was a really important distinction for us. About 80% of an old shoe goes in a new shoe, we have some things like foams, which are really tough to recycle...But you can down cycle that into insulation. We really wanted to be able to take old shoes and put them into new shoes and really close that loop.”
It’s important to understand the materials aren’t 1:1.
“80% of an old sneaker goes into a new sneaker, but only about 30% of a new sneaker comes from an old sneaker. The reason why is that every time you're running rPET through the recycling process, the quality goes down a little bit. And so you've got to introduce slightly higher quality rPET…And then you're able to kind of create a blend that brings that quality back up to usability.”
As you may be realizing, this circularity thing is not so easy, especially when it comes to scalability.
“Circular design thinking is really cool and sexy as material innovation, but the 10,000-pound gorilla is how do you get this stuff back at scale and at cost? What are your pick-up nodes, what does the LTL trucking look like? And what we found was that the real cost driver, for a lot of it, is shipping. And there are really clever ways to get those collection prices down, as you open up in person.”
The other challenge is obviously cost for the consumer. Integrating these innovations drives up the price.
“Our core audience is like 18 to 24, so if we're ever getting shade thrown on social, it's like, why would I buy this when I can buy $70 Converse stands.”
Well, that’s where the incentive to recycle comes in —for every return, a customer gets $20 credit towards their next purchase, getting Thousand Fell pretty close to that Converse price.
The other benefit to this? Return customers.
“I think a lot of the focus in the DTC and startup space is like, what's your customer acquisition cost? And that's definitely important...But what really drives a healthy business is retention and repeat. And can you get someone bought into that business so that when they're done with their product, they're buying another. We're proving that there's real top-line value to having these recycling programs — you're engaging a customer in a much deeper way. So we think that when you stack it up towards a cost of a second acquisition, it's actually rather affordable. And it makes a lot of sense.”
Thousand Fell is not the only brand that’s dedicated to this. For Days, is a line of basics (another category that also often ends up in the landfill). 100% of their products are recyclable and they have a return program where they work “with post-consumer mechanical recyclers to turn that product into new fiber, new yarn, and new materials.”
They also offer credit on future purchases, and will even take clothes from other brands. Not all of them can be upcycled, but they will ensure it won’t end up in a landfill.
Goldune, an e-commerce platform focused on sustainable products, is tackling all those little things that often fall prey to “wish cycling” — ie. you wish they would be recycled alongside all your plastics, but that’s all it is — a wish. Founder Azora Zoe Paknad explained:
“I'm focused on things I don't feel like anyone else is handling, like phone cases — these little minutiae.”
There are currently around 50 items on their site that customers can send back to them and get a code for $15 off their next order.
Unlike Thousand Fell, it’s not just one product they’re recycling so the process is complex, and what happens to each item depends on a number of factors.
“It definitely depends on the product...sometimes things need to go to special compost facilities. That's one tricky thing, not everyone has access to that kind of facility. And it's sometimes more trouble than it's worth to send customers on the wild goose chase for a cork recycling place. So we'll take it back, and we'll handle it.”
Other times they’ll work with the brands and manufacturers to upcycle the materials into new products.
Importantly they’re dedicated to taking the onus off of customers to make sure sustainable products are earth-friendly throughout their lifecycle.
Similarly, Thousand Fell, while starting with sneakers, wants to expand beyond their own product and make circularity accessible to more companies.
“We're focused on delivering circular solutions to retail at large — that's really the core of what we're doing.”
And according to Stuart, the timing couldn't be better. Over the past year, there’s been the “realization that individual action can lead to big change. And I think a lot of that's being applied to sustainability. I'm hearing a lot less of, ‘Oh, I'm just one person, what difference does my decision make’ to ‘I'm excited to get involved and do something, even if it's small,’ which is great.”
🔥 For The Love of Newness
Poolside FM, “an online radio station, playing an infinity pool of summer sounds,” just released Vacation — “leisure enhancing” sunscreen. And if you act fast they may still have a job for you, but this one’s taken.
Plus is “personal care for a happier planet” from the minds behind your favorite star-shaped pimple patches, starting with body wash in dissolvable packets.
Simple Feast is a new line of plant-based meal kits, all organ, and locally sourced.
In what might be the most flagrant example of nepotism in DTC history — Made By Nacho is a new line of cat food “Made by a cat for cats only.” Bobby Flay just happens to be the owner of that cat...I’ll let you decide which of them is actually making the food.
The Huglist is a new app to keep you updated on when your friends are fully vaccinated so you can schedule hugs (or anything else your fully-vaccinated heart desires).
🔍 For The Love of the Details
I’m not against having digital friends. Who didn’t have a cute little Tamagotchi teach them that perhaps they weren’t ready for parenting?
But when did they turn so…creepy?
First off, can we talk about this company’s logo? Are we to believe that this pink-haired young woman hatched out of an egg like my cute little Tamagotchi?
Or is this actually a what a Tamagotchi looked like and we didn’t know it because the tech of our youth only gave us black and white, and 8-bit graphics?
I don’t remember my Tamagotchi being so intense. Didn’t it just beep when I forgot to feed it?
“I’ve been missing you” makes me want to turn on airplane mode as a precautionary measure.
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Written by Aja Singer, a brand and creative strategy consultant interested in all things startup, mission-driven, and community. Born in Canada. Based in Brooklyn. You can also find me on Instagram and Twitter.