How to start a sustainable fashion brand from scratch

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Disclaimer: Although I’ve spent the last decade writing about fashion, technology, and sustainability, it occurred to me earlier this year that I had no first-hand experience in clothing design. Or make sustainable design decisions. Or using technology for these purposes. To remedy this, I embarked on a journey to launch an experimental fashion brand using CALA, the world’s first operating system for fashion. (Yes, you read that right.)

Fundamentally, CALA works with a number of brands, including FabFitFun and Y, IWO (aka Yeah, I Work Out) and is made up of a team of experts from Yeezy, Kith, Balenciaga, Rick Owens and Fendi. . The company has completely redesigned the experience of launching or scaling a brand through a digital lens, and is helping with everything from brand building to product design, assortment planning. , website development, e-commerce management, merchandising, pricing, marketing, fulfillment, your name what. While some brands come to them for one or more solutions, I needed all the help I could get, so I committed to a nut soup capacity with them.

Along the way, I learned a lot about the many challenges of launching a fashion brand and trying to figure out how to responsibly design a clothing line in 2021 and beyond. To give you a taste of how exactly this can be done, I have chronicled the entire trip here.

What’s in a name?

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It turns out that everything. After the CALA team gave me my first glimpse into using their platform, we went into a brainstorming session to think about important branding elements, starting with the name (naturally ). Even though I had lots of things on my mind, the CALA team helped me understand that when it comes to a name, it’s not correct what sounds best is also what is available for the brand, what can be easily searched and found, and what best matches the brand’s ethos. Turns out, branding a name can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars (if you do it yourself) to a few thousand (if you engage with a lawyer). Fortunately, I had randomly deposited the name “Drip City” some time ago, so to save on legal fees and time, I chose it. (To be fair, I realize I’ve cheated on the first task before.)

The beast that marks

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From the typography to the color scheme and logo, branding is both super important and super complex. I have definitely tested the patience of the CALA team more at this point than at any other point in the design process. We started with a moodboard full of ’90s nostalgia and vintage Earth Day graphics, which we easily put together on the CALA platform. While I continued to take a serious tone because of how durable it all was, the team continued to remind me that this brand should reflect my aesthetic, which is just as wacky as it is academic. As a result, the film Bio-Dome has become a real point of inspiration, bringing out subjects of sustainability wrapped in humor. Sincere thanks to the stars of the film: Pauly Shore, Stephen Baldwin, Joey Lauren Adams, Kylie Minogue and Rose McGowan.

After going through many iterations of logos, permanent and seasonal colors, fonts, and even social media badges, I ended up with a solid branding book that probably would have cost close to six figures if I had worked with one. traditional brand agency. No detail has been overlooked, including the best color combinations and ways to position (not position) the logo.

Put the “Design” in Designer

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With the brand out of the way, it was time to move on to the product itself. To accomplish this, I worked closely with CALA’s Senior Director of Operations, John Renaud, to choose three fairly ubiquitous items including a sock, t-shirt, and dress. For the sock, Renaud recommended that I use recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET), a type of polyester produced from post-consumer plastic waste, such as disposable water bottles. (companies like Everlan and Uniqlo have been using this material for some time.) The end result was a gray sock made from 97 percent rPET and 3 percent spandex, along with a blue / green version made from 75 percent recycled PET, 22 percent virgin polyester and 3 percent spandex. Each pair equals about six plastic water bottles! My goal with the dress was to work with a factory owned and operated by a woman; Fortunately, we found one in India that uses dead fabrics, so Renaud and I mixed and matched them, eventually having to change the shape slightly to accommodate the amount of factory stock of our chosen colourway. As for the t-shirt, CALA paired me with a graphic designer who took the inspiration I uploaded to their platform and turned it into what it is today: a blank template made up made from 65% recycled cotton (cotton yarn that has been taken from old clothes, then shredded, cleaned and combed to make them like new) and 35% rPET.

To wrap up

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On the packaging side of things, I learned a ton. First, warehouses often require that each item be individually wrapped for quality control and hygiene reasons. This means that it is difficult to get rid of the packaging for each individual item. Designers like me who can’t afford to create their own sustainably made packaging that is then returned and reused have to think about how to achieve sustainability in packaging in a different way. For both socks and bathrobes, we asked factories to use what was nearby to avoid having to ship polybags around the world. For the T-shirts, the factory sourced recycled plastic polybags made in the United States and shipped them to its facility. The neckband on the sock is made from recycled cardboard, and products are packaged in 100% recycled corrugated boxes in the fulfillment center (a last minute surprise expense, but well worth it).

Lost in the Web

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While I love web design, development is a whole different animal. CALA came with an amazing developer, who made all my dreams come true with floating products, random menu icons, space for my research, thoughts to live in blogging, a community forum for anyone to share ideas , a Star wars– an inspired “About” page, and even a product description box inspired by food labels. After breaking through a few other unexpected hurdles (pricing, marketing, warehousing, and setting up a bank account), we were finally ready to go.


I have come to the conclusion that fashion design is both a skill (which can be learned) and part of an inherent talent, and that it is essential to have a team that can fill the gaps in the matter. education. In particular, being sustainable and responsible is even Following complex and convoluted than I initially thought. Durable materials aren’t always better, what advertised isn’t always what you get, and it can be really, really (really) expensive. The pandemic has added additional hurdles, including travel restrictions, factory closures and shipping delays. Being a responsible designer today means researching relentlessly, asking too many questions, opening two-way conversations for the community to teach you, and sometimes having to settle for what you can afford to do best.

Let me be the first to admit that sometimes it was difficult to move forward because I was so overwhelmed with research, trying to figure out what was best for the planet and thinking about the costs before. even being able to focus on what looked good. I’m happy where we landed. We need an army!

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