We just released our 2030 Sustainability Strategy, outlining our commitment to circularity. This is huge for us and the fashion industry at large. The way we see it, we have no time to waste, and we have every opportunity to do things right.
Circularity means designing products that will last — forever! Going well beyond responsible production, everything we make will live on through repair, resale, and recycling. Our goal is to keep our products in use and outta the landfill. To get there, our team will pioneer innovation and take risks to explore innovative materials and new technologies to make our products better. Sustainability requires constant evolution. And we will continue to protect our workforce by going beyond fair labor to invest in the livelihoods of the people who make our products. As we grow, they grow.
While we’re in the midst of some wildly uncertain times that are pushing businesses off course, we wanted to release this plan to make our values crystal clear, so that you know we’ll always stay true to them, even in the most challenging times. Our Director of Sustainability and Sourcing, Megan Stoneburner, took some time to walk us through what circularity will look like at Outerknown…
What are Outerknown’s 3 main 2030 commitments, and why are they essential, together?
It is extremely evident that the apparel industry’s systems are not working, nor are they servicing people or the planet. The current linear model is everything but sustainable and has created a supply chain that is fragmented and fragile. To foster the change our industry needs, Outerknown is fully embracing circularity. We plan to fast-track sustainable solutions by pioneering emerging technologies while continuing to ensure that we are advancing worker rights, safety, and improving livelihoods within our manufacturing communities. We must treat each life with respect to fully respect the planet — this work is all interconnected. When we make decisions as a brand, it is important to step back and observe how this world is beautifully woven together to truly understand our impact.
What’s the issue with our current system, and why is circularity critical to the future of fashion (and, really, our planet)?
Our industry was built on a model that simply won’t sustain. We extract resources, turn them into materials and products, and then after ten wears (on average), we discard these garments by sending the vast majority (over 80%) to landfill. This model creates an excessive amount of waste that pollutes not only our landfills, but also our waterways, air, and atmosphere with toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases. The realization our industry needs to make is that waste is an asset. By designing into a circular system that keeps our products in use longer, uses safe chemistry and renewable energy, and recycles products and water used in manufacturing, we can eliminate waste and reduce pollution. Our planet is hurting, and we need to make these changes now.
By 2030, how will circularity take form at Outerknown?
We are looking to embed circularity in everything that we do, from sourcing recyclable and circular materials to designing products for durability and eventual recyclability, as well as building out repair and resale programs. To bring this vision to life, we will reduce our use of virgin fibers (both synthetic and natural), incorporate more recycled content, and use chemistry that is safe for workers and the environment. This thinking will apply to trims as well. We will openly communicate the durability and expected life of our products, so our customer can better understand the quality, cost, and how to extend the life of their garment. We will have an end of life plan for new designs to ensure they can be repaired, recycled, or composted while building the infrastructure to take back garments for resale, repair, repurposing, or recycling. Last but not least, we will invest in and support the R&D of 15 circular innovations to help us and the industry at large achieve circularity.
Is the entire industry starting to shift toward circularity? How will Outerknown foster industry-wide alignment?
Outerknown was founded to inspire the apparel industry to do things differently — to prove that you can protect people and planet while building a successful business model. We are not here to take over, but rather to partner and encourage other brands to join us. There have been a lot of pioneers before us, but now is the time for collaboration. We need a comprehensive plan that rallies the entire industry, drives convergence, and encourages our global community to partake. We have ten years to cap global warming at two degrees Celsius, so there is absolutely no time to waste. We must move quickly and together. Our 2030 Sustainability Strategy is an aggressive plan. We will be exploring some uncharted territories, and we will share our progress transparently through our own platforms and industry working groups so that other brands can learn from our experience. I’m excited to start this new journey and contribute to a world that thrives alongside our customers, partners, and peers.