IPO Corner: Sustainable Fashion

Ever hear the name John Wooden? If you are a sports fan, the answer is yes. John Wooden, according to many, is one of the most prolific basketball coaches to ever grace the court. Nicknamed the “Wizard of Westwood”, when it came to his craft, he lived by one creed: dominate. During his tenure as head coach of the UCLA Bruins, this meticulous mind led his team to victory in a record-breaking ten NCAA national championships, seven of which were in a row.

John’s name may also ring a bell if you’re a fan of his books, where he imparted his wisdom upon the world… one of our favorite pieces of advice from him involves change. To paraphrase, he asserted that change doesn’t cause us to stumble, rather, it’s our resistance to change which is our downfall. Change is inevitable, the sooner we adapt, the better off we are… and the winds of change are blowing again, this time, bringing in a wave of Gen Z, and it’ll change fashion forever.

No Bootlegs Allowed

Recently, Instagram released their Trend Report for 2023, and it gave us a glimpse inside the future of fashion, and a better understanding of what this generation plans to do in the world as they come of age. Partnering with WGSN, Instagram set out to gather information about what people ages 16-24 find most important. While the report covered plenty, at the top of the list sat activism, fashion sustainability, and climate.

Now, it’s important to know with this demographic, they don’t compartmentalize their lives. While the aforementioned list has separate items, Gen Z will see them holistically. When they say they want sustainable fashion, it had better work at a protest. When they say they want climate accountability, they won’t buy your shirt if you lie. If they say they want activism, they won’t shop your boutique or buy your car if those two things aren’t in line with their beliefs.

It makes sense, though… think about it. These kids grew up on the internet, they understand that no man is an island unto themselves. So, what were the main takeaways? Basically, these folks can and will take matters into their own hands. To make sure they get authenticity, they plan to work the cloth themselves… building, and partnering with sustainable brands able to prove that they are exactly who, and what, they say they are.

Now that we have this base information, we can focus on what’s going to constitute authentic sustainable fashion. It has a few characteristics. In summary, sustainable fashion must exercise care for the environment, ecosystems, animals, and people involved from start to finish. It’s no longer enough to talk about sourcing a single fabric and calling it a day, practicing what we preach is attractive now.

Now, not only does that single fabric need to be sustainably and ethically sourced and produced as it passes through human hands, it shouldn’t hurt animals, plants, or the water and soil as it goes. They want to see animal-friendly clothing made of fabrics that play well with those same little critters, as well as the earth. They want to see your warehouse workers safe, compensated appropriately, and cared for when they are ill. The sustainable fashion of Gen Z won’t be window dressing.

Coming Toward The Pipe

One way that fashion may become more sustainable as time progresses is through 3D printing, which is no longer cost-prohibitive and new. Companies are already wading into the waters of 3D printed sustainable fashion, companies like Simplifyber, Inc., which recently secured $3.5 million in seed funding from At One Ventures and others to further technology that they hope will one day be the go-to method for fashion production.

This little company is coming out of the gate at a full gallop, led by a veteran of the fashion industry with over 20 years under her belt as a designer and director for names such as Alexander McQueen, Vera Wang, and Calvin Klein. Co-founder and CEO Maria Intscher-Owrang knows what she’s talking about, and she’s out to eliminate the wase and inefficiencies of everything from garment conception, design and development, to runway… all the way until the garment is in front of the wanting consumer.

Since she has an insider’s perspective, she knows what needs to be trimmed to make her venture work. She created a process that removes manufacturing waste, and she only uses sustainable materials. She has special molds for her footwear and garments, into which she injects the liquid that will become her final product. Goodbye sewing, weaving, cutting… in goes the liquid, out comes soft, biodegradable items that feel like cotton.

Think about how much time is cut out of the process since products are on-demand, and there’s no need to stock hundreds or thousands of items. A customer puts through an order for ten of an item that they need for a wedding shower that weekend… no problem. Pour the plant-fiber-based liquid into the mold, dry and remove, send it off. It’s done quick, and pricing can be competitive, broadening the base of potential customers. It’s important because it’s a pain-point of other sustainable brands, solved.

If we had to give one takeaway… it’s that, for Gen Z, if your business won’t provide what they consider authentic sustainable fashion, they’ll do it themselves. These folks are used to falling asleep in group video chats, stuff doesn’t intimidate them, and most certainly… a little LLC paperwork won’t scare them. They are sick of hollow symbolism, and they demand to see things made for, and by, normal people who look like, sound like, and have convictions like them. Come back next week, we’ll have more from the forefront of the IPO world.