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Kristy Caylor believes that people need less stuff in their lives.
This is already a pretty trendy philosophy in 2019. Organizing consultant Marie Kondo taught us how to tidy up and say goodbye to things that no longer spark joy in our lives. However, Caylor’s focus is directed on clothing consumption, sustainability and the circular economy surrounding it. Caylor is the cofounder of For Days, an 100% organic T-shirt line designed to empower customers.
“THIS IS NOT A T-SHIRT” is written in all caps on the landing page of the For Days website. Rather, it’s part of a lifetime membership-based model that aims to eliminate landfill waste. I got the chance to chat with Caylor about how she is changing the fashion conversation from the top down, the power that a closed loop system has on clothing and how consumers are fully empowered to accumulate impact over closet clutter.
Deborah Sweeney: Did you have a fashion background prior to cofounding For Days?
Kristy Caylor: I’ve been in the industry for close to 15 years and having both an engineering and creative background, have always approached the industry holistically. After business school, I went to the Gap brands, where I launched and grew various businesses in the United States and Asia markets. While I was living in Japan, I spent time in our factories and was deeply impacted by the magnitude of our production. We were just making so much stuff. The social and environmental repercussions were clear and I couldn’t believe how disconnected I was. I felt strongly that if I had this reaction, in time, customers would as well.
When I came back from Japan I took over Product (RED) for Gap to try and do more with my skill set. (RED) was really the first of its kind: a product-driven, mission-oriented business. What struck me was that we were making millions of T-shirts in China to help the cause of AIDs in Africa, and I thought ‘Why aren’t we making all of our T-shirts in Africa to help Africa?’ From that point forward, I was convinced that we should question the status quo and move our industry forward more rapidly than we were. I left Gap and cofounded the luxury brand Maiyet in 2010. At that time, fashion and positive impact were in perceived opposition. I felt we needed to change that conversation from the top down and the most effective approach would be to compete at the highest levels of aesthetics. We set up a global artisan supply chain in 14 different communities throughout the world and sold to luxury department stores like Barneys, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.
The integration of message, product, and experience resonated and we succeeded in setting a new tone in fashion. However, the dependency on the wholesale model was difficult, especially for such a small brand. With markdowns and returns, I was still making too much stuff. I was convinced that we needed a new model, something bigger with industry-wide implications. Something that empowered customers to change their relationship to their stuff. A model that aligned profit and sustainability incentives. At the highest level, For Days was my reaction to the question ‘What does the future of commerce look like?’ I set out to build it with Mary Saunders. She is my cofounder and longtime co-conspirator. She was on my first team at Banana Republic and then joined Maiyet after getting her MBA at Harvard Business School. She’s a brilliant operator and we are both deeply committed to changing the world.
Sweeney: What is the mission of For Days?
Caylor: The mission of For Days is to change people’s relationship to product with an access model that eliminates clothing waste and closet clutter. We believe access over ownership is the future of commerce. We aim to reverse the devastating environmental effects of the fashion industry. There is an over-production of inventory with no end of life solution. Our current model of produce, purchase, pollute doesn’t make sense. It isn’t sustainable or efficient. We are challenging the status quo, creating a new model and leading customers and the industry toward a better future.
For Days launched with a wait list in May 2018, and has been growing by double digits monthly. We opened up our wait list in September 2018, but maxed out our membership base so we just recently reinstated the wait list.
Sweeney: For Days offers a series of tops for its members with an emphasis on T-shirts. Why T-shirts?
Caylor: We decided to launch with T-shirts because they are one of the most historically iconic items of clothing. T-shirts are inclusive of age, gender and culture. We liked starting with a heritage product and applying a very modern and innovative model. The average American buys 10 T-shirts each year and throws away six, so there’s room for us to make a real impact. We recently expanded our product offering with vintage fleece joggers, hoodies, and polos. We’ll continue to introduce new categories with the goal of eventually being able to service your full basics wardrobe.
Sweeney: Can you walk me through how the For Days membership works?
Caylor: Our membership model gives continuous access to a range of fresh men’s and women’s 100% organic, GOTS-certified basics made in Los Angeles. Members start with a trial kit. They can try up to 10 items to find their favorites. You decide what to keep and send back the rest to set your membership. Join once and then swap forever. Whether you rip, stretch, stain or wear out your clothes, order a new item any time for eight dollars. Put the old item into the prepaid mailer and send it back to us. All returned For Days product gets sorted, sanitized, broken down, and blended into fresh new yarn. A 50/50 blend of new and recycled fibers is then used to create new For Days product.
Sweeney: I see the phrases like “closed-loop system” and “circular design” used in reference to For Days. Can you explain more about these concepts and how they tie in with your business model?
Caylor: A closed loop system means that materials stay in the system with a goal to maximum utilization, maximize value, and minimize waste. We design for circularity meaning that when we create a product, we designate what we are going to do with it at the end of life. Rather than producing something and hoping for the best, we start with specific materials and strategy upcycling those materials upon return. Because we are empowering customers to receive and return rather than purchase and pollute, they are effectively closing the loop.
Sweeney: Do you use specific types of materials or blends to make the tops?
Caylor: We want to be sure the product is good for our members, good for the planet and good for our ecosystem, so we use 100% organic GOTS-certified cotton. Conventional cotton uses 25% of the world’s pesticides and pollutes water. Using GOTS-certified cotton and dyes ensures that the product is safe for your skin and safe for the producers. As we upcycle the returned cotton, having “feedstock” with integrity guarantees a better upcycling result. All the shirts are produced in Los Angeles, California, and we currently work with recycling partners to break down the returned product and create new yarn.
Sweeney: What’s a major business challenge you’re dealing with now, and how are you working to overcome the hurdle?
Caylor: Being able to meet the consumer demand was an early challenge, and something we’re being challenged with again now. We decided to reimplement our wait list for membership to ensure the best possible experience for both our existing and new members, and make sure we’re able to deliver the product they want, when they need it.
Sweeney: What sets For Days apart from other sustainable clothing companies?
Caylor: This is a new OS for living. We reward our members with insanely great product for making insanely great life choices. People want to be empowered and inspired. We are focused on aligning values, transparency and innovation across products, pricing and experience. Sustainability alone is not enough. It’s about the total package.
I also think shifting the verbiage from consumer to user, from ownership to access, will radically change our relationship to ownership. Our closed loop system is community driven. Old becomes new, new becomes old when our members actively participate. Each person becomes a little center for circularity. This is progress. For Days is about the future and the promise for something better.
Sweeney: What kinds of initiatives do you hope to spearhead by the end of 2019?
Caylor: Ultimately, For Days is a platform for circular consumption. If others design for a closed loop system, we welcome that participation and collaboration. We can imagine most of our lives operating this way, where things can come and go as we need them, without creating waste.
April 12, 2019 at 08:33AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs