Lessons from the Cornell Business Impact Symposium

Hi all! I know it has been a while, but I wanted to take this opportunity to update you all on an exciting experience I had on Saturday. This weekend, I attended the Cornell Business Impact Symposium, where there was a panel on sustainability in clothing. The panel consisted of Summer Rayne, founder of Source4Style (now LeSouk), Elise Ballegeer, founder and designer of the Elise Ballegeer clothing label, and Lisa Park from J. Crew. All of these women were experienced in and were dedicated to pushing the industry towards a more sustainable future. With the clothing industry being the second largest polluter in the world next to oil and gas, this panel helped discuss some of the most pressing issues in sustainable clothing. This post will walk you through what I learned, and hopefully inspire you to think about what it means to buy responsible clothing.

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Perhaps one of the most important pieces that I took away from the panel was the best steps forward. Every option mentioned for brands to improve their environmental impact was something already done by TerrApparel. This included utilizing recycled or organic materials. All of our products are made form 100% recycled fabrics. Designing products for recyclability was also emphasized, which means no blended fabrics and construction methods that lead to limited waste when separating materials at the end of its life. TerrApparel uses only 100% polyester in its products. We also refuse to use nylon as a base for our products due to the energy, chemical, and water intensity of the recycling process when compared to polyester. Finally, the panel discussed that brands must support the recycling of their products. It is not responsible to constantly push replacements for your products and ask your customers to keep throwing the old ones out. Ensuring that your garments can last as long as possible, and having a responsible and easy way for customers to dispose of their garments is crucial. Our Recycle Program looks to do just that. It was extremely gratifying and reassuring to know that everything the experts in sustainable fashion were suggesting is already implemented and integrated into our identity at TerrApparel. It can be easy for me to feel that we aren’t doing enough at times; to feel that we are not successfully accomplishing what we set out to do. This panel showed me that, in fact, we are doing everything we can.

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The panel also showed me that every problem we are facing at TerrApparel is not unique to us in the sustainable clothing world. Significantly reduced margins, low willingness to pay on the part of the consumer, and low awareness as to the benefits of sustainable clothing are all industry wide issues. Naturally, these are all compounded for us as we are a new brand without a track record and with low production quantities. This panel inspired me to keep educating individuals on the impact their clothing has on our planet. That, while our products may cost slightly more than a regular garment from Kohls or TJ Maxx, it is worth it. It inspired me to educate consumers that while the garment may be made from recycled materials, it is not any lesser of a product. Summer Rayne at the panel discussion highlighted that much of the media coverage on sustainable clothing and sustainable solutions in general has often been out of pity. They created a stigma in the mind of consumers that eco-friendly products couldn’t possibly have the same level of quality, but that consumers should feel pity on them because the products are doing good things for our planet. Summer and the entire room agreed that this is not only wrong, but is detrimental to the adoption of sustainable clothing by the general consumer.

Ultimately, the panel reaffirmed the direction of TerrApparel, motivated me to create and share additional educational content for our communities, and proved that it is possible for us to positively impact our world as long as we keep pushing forward. If you would like to know more about what I learned at the panel, feel free to call me at (860) 558-1663 or email me at matt@terrapparel.co.

Until sometime soon,

Matt