As leading fashion brands continue their creative battles against textile waste — check out recent innovations by Levi Strauss, H&M and adidas — a new breed of circular clothing disruptor is starting to emerge. These purposeful startups are looking to stop fast fashion in its tracks by building longevity and emotional durability into their apparel.
UK designer Tom Cridland is creating waves, not least among celebrities, with his self-branded 30 Year Sweatshirt. Guaranteeing not just sweatshirts, but t-shirts and jackets, for three decades is an unusual approach in an industry that prides itself on rapid response to ever-changing styles and trends.
Cridland says the answer to this is to design apparel with a classic and timeless feel.
“A white t-shirt, after all, will always be a white t-shirt,” he said in a recent interview. “I just want to invoke a bygone era when clothing was more often made with exquisite care and offer it at a reasonable price point.”
“It’s interesting that we’re offering a 30-year guarantee so people get drawn in to find out more,” he asserts. “When they read more, they will engage with sustainability issues and hopefully be influenced to change their shopping habits.”
Building in the level of functionality required to ensure that each item lasts has taken the company to Portugal and Italy, where it is working with various seamstresses to handcraft luxury clothing. The fabrics themselves are sourced from Biella in Northern Italy.
“Technological advances allowed us to develop a special treatment to protect the garments against shrinking. Should anything happen to your garment in the next 30 years, we will repair or replace it free of charge,” Cridland says.
Since the brand launched in 2014 it has sold more than 7,000 sweatshirts, worn by customers across six continents. The brand is rapidly gaining a celebrity following — the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Hugh Grant, Stephen Fry, Daniel Craig, Rod Stewart and Robbie Williams have all worn Tom Cridland garments. “We’ve taken our modest £6,000 start-up loan and turned it into a business with roughly £600,000 in annual revenue,” Cridland says.
The brand has now come Stateside, expanding to LA last month. Plans are now in the pipeline to launch items that might carry more of an ‘on-trend’ look, but Cridland doesn’t feel this will comprise longevity in any way.
“If it’s well-made, it can actually be recycled, unlike the clothing being made by many fast fashion retailers. People can see this is a labor of love for us and they want to try out different designs or colors. That’s the main point – there’s no planned obsolescence in everyday, non-catwalk clothing.”
Other fresh-faced fashion brands such as Mud Jeans and Hiut Denim are making jeans to last through offering similar circular solutions such as leasing models and free repairs for life. Both companies look to promote the concept of emotional durability — Hiut, for example, encourages customers to join the “No Wash Club” and not wash their jeans for at least six months; and every pair of Hiut jeans comes with its own unique History Tag, encouraging wearers to engage in storytelling through social media.
“If we’re going to build a pair of jeans to last, make sure the stories go with them, too,” says Hiut Denim co-founder David Hieatt.
It’s a view echoed by Mud Jeans CEO Bert van Son: “People like the fact that jeans have character … and they like personal stories. They want to hear from like-minded people what they have been doing, what places they visited.
“We call our customers the ‘conscious explorers,’” he continues. “They are a group of people that are willing to try out new things. They want to discover the world and do good for the world. They realize that are recourses aren’t infinite.”
Mud Jeans recently embarked on a Recycle Tour across Spain, to promote the concept of circular fashion to a wider audience. The occasion also marked the company’s first delivery of 3,000 returned leased jeans to a Spanish reprocessor to be recycled back into raw denim for new jeans.
According to van Son, around 1,888 people are currently leasing Mud Jeans — of those, 80 percent choose to switch the jeans, 10 percent keep them and 10 percent send them back. “This means we’re building long-term relationships with customers,” he says.
“It means that as a brand you create ongoing relations with your customers — the relationship doesn’t stop when the purchase is made. The customer benefits as they only pay for the service they require and receive a better service, since we have a greater interest in providing a product that lasts.”