A Cheeky New Underwear Brand With A Big Mission by Forbes – Entrepreneurs

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Knickey is a new organic cotton undies brand.Knickey

This new women’s underwear brand has a clever logo: buttcheeks. Aptly called Knickey, the startup wants to give another much-needed choice to women when buying the all-important underpants. Cayla O’Connell Davis spent years working in sustainable fashion and learning about global cotton supply chains, before starting her own company.

She’s adamant on one thing — cotton:  “So much of the underwear market, about 60 percent of the stuff on the market, is made using synthetic fibers. These are not healthy,” she says from her New York City office.

Nor do brands know where or how their textiles are procured. That’s what Davis had been working on correcting before taking the plunge on her own brand: an environmentalist at heart, Davis fused her passion for fashion with sustainability by working with CDP, a non-profit that monitors the carbon footprint of companies.

“I love fashion. I want to see solutions to waste and environmental problems in the industry. I want to be able to participate in the system and feel OK about it.”

With that data-driven knowledge, Davis then saw how brands can actually build a traceable supply chain, or an alternative model to manufacturing. Working with Under The Canopy, a popular bedding and home goods brands, Davis liaised with manufacturers in India and an organic cotton cooperative, the Chetna cooperative. These contacts proved fruitful as she looked to build her own company; having not visited India, one of the largest producers of organic cotton in the world and a hub for all textile manufacturing. Instead, Davis was able to rely on the vetting process by these established brands to build her own set of contacts with ethical producers and hire auditors where necessary..

“I hope to make it to India before April to see all this first-hand,” she clarifies.

Describing herself as a “cotton evangelist,” Davis is honed in on making organic cotton basics right now. Bamboo, she says, is a complicated material with so much of bamboo being processed with the help of chemicals. That’s why she’s more keen on expanding the offering of organic cotton undies and possibly adding, bras or bralettes. “We’re always open to bioplastic materials and other innovations in the industry like cellulosic fibers,” she says. “Right now, a lot of it is expensive, and that’s our hang up. We want to be affordable.”

Knickey has limited competitors, despite the surge of interest in organic cotton; Colorado-based Pact, for instance, has been selling organic cotton basics for over three years, but it remains to be one of few such mission-driven underwear brands. Knickey will be comparable–though offering more fits and sticking to women for now; each Knickey underwear is priced at $12, with bundles that can drive the price down to $6 a pair.

Keeping costs low and so competitive isn’t easy, Davis admits. “As a company, we are taking on a lot of that liability because we’re buying it in volumes that enable us to be competitive at those price points.”

Brands such as Pact, which source from the Chetna cooperative, much like Davis’ previous employer, Under the Canopy, have to commit to buying large quantities of organic cotton far in advance of the harvest. This commitment, which can be years ahead of manufacturing, enables farmers to ensure that they’ll have customers for their crop. But such volumes mean more upfront capital. Davis will have the same challenge: she says she’s already gone through the first batch of inventory ordered during the holiday season. Plus, to obtain organic cotton certification, not only does the fiber have to be traced and certified, but so do the facilities who process them, turning it into usable threads. Each layer requires traceability, auditing, and certification, which come with their own costs.

With a small team and an army of contractors, Davis hopes that they can keep costs low and continue to bootstrap the venture for as long as possible, giving them enough cash flow to finance inventory.

“I want to make it really lean and mean, maintain that equity,” she says. “But we will have to consider that since we’re growing faster than we had anticipated, we may have to pump some money into it to keep turn rates competitive.”

Clearly, a good problem to have for a new entrepreneur and perhaps a sign that consumers are still loving the direct-to-consumer model. Davis says her early customers have spanned age brackets from their 20s to well into their 60s, gravitating to different styles but collectively excited by the mission of the company.

Like many other eco-friendly clothing brands, Knickey is also offering their customers one more advantage of buying from them: easy and free recycling. Though a savvy business move, as women clean out underwear drawers to possibly make more space for Knickey undies, the brand is encouraging the repurposing of old textiles. Working with a New York non-profit (which Davis’ abstained from naming), she wants all old undergarments to find a new home — either as insulation, mattress filling, or some other industrial use. “But they shouldn’t end up in a landfill.”

As someone who’s spent much of her young career on contributing to a more ethical economy, Davis is excited to see the interest in sustainable fashion, though she’s not as sure about the much-used term, sustainability.

“I hate the term sustainability, it’s so nebulous. It can be very misleading to people to speak so broadly about it,” she says, referring to large fashion brands. “We try to be very specific and have a citations page on our website. Helping to educate the consumer as much as possible.”

It’s still a mixed bag, she admits, despite all the enthusiasm and chatter around backing more people and planet-friendly supply chains in a new era of transparency.

“It’s about time, I’m so happy that larger, more popular brands are taking part in this conversation about sustainability. It’s what needs to happen to make more system change,” she says. “But there are a host of problems that come along with that. Customers have to be wary of greenwashing. And it’s not always out of trying to mislead customers, but some brands just don’t know enough about it yet.”

January 29, 2019 at 08:57AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs