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In 2018, Kristy Caylor and her co-founder Mary Saunders started closed-loop clothing company For Days to combat the rampant wastefulness of the approximately $1.5 trillion global fashion industry. Rather than selling customers more clothes than they know what to do with (the goal of many fashion retailers worldwide), For Days perpetuates an up-cycling system that keeps clothes from piling up in homes and landfills.
The idea is simple but revolutionary: For Days’ SWAP program allows customers to switch out any piece of clothing at any time and for any reason, and every item that’s sent back will be recycled. The company’s use of high-quality, sustainable materials makes the whole process possible, and its commitment to reusable packaging and company-wide carbon offsets further minimizes waste.
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“I could do everything from writing a business and financial plan to discussing creative components”
Caylor’s journey to co-founding For Days began over 15 years ago; after graduating with degrees in industrial engineering and painting, obtaining a certificate in fashion design, then receiving her MBA from USC’s Marshall School of Business, Caylor started her career at Gap. Her diverse educational background allowed her to jump in with both feet.
“Gap’s a really well-established, well-oiled machine in so many ways,” Caylor says, “and I had such an unusual skill set, so I could do everything from writing a business and financial plan to discussing creative components. I got to be a little entrepreneur in residence there and launch and grow businesses. It was such a cool experience.”
After a couple of years as merchandising manager of Banana Republic’s petites division, which grew into a $100 million business under Caylor’s leadership, Caylor stepped into her new role as the Japan senior director over merchandising. The position took Caylor to Tokyo for a year, during which she not only experienced an invaluable “cultural 180” in terms of customer engagement and company dynamics, but also started to realize just how little social and environmental responsibility the fashion industry was taking.
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“My mind was blown because the decisions we were making as a business on the front end … actually had a cost”
While abroad, Caylor also visited China, and a trip a couple of hours outside its major cities emphasized the scale of the fashion industry’s detrimental impact. Caylor encountered a faux city replete with fake restaurants, a fake post office and dormitories full of workers. These factory cities were built to keep up with the demand for product output; naturally, the tremendous fashion industry played a significant part.
“My mind was blown because the decisions we were making as a business on the front end to just drive revenue and margin at any cost, actually had a cost that we weren’t really considering in the way that I thought we should be,” Caylor says. “I think it’s one in five or one in six people in the world work in a fashion or fashion-related business, so it’s mind bogglingly impactful. And I thought we had to start connecting the dots and taking more responsibility.”
Caylor was already well-versed in making beautiful products and selling them to customers, and she was ready to apply her talents to more purpose-driven pursuits. In late 2007, she began to lead Gap’s (RED) initiative. Founded by Bono and Bobby Shriver in 2006, (RED) partners with the world’s most powerful brands to combat the biggest health emergencies, which include the AIDS pandemic and Covid-19.
“We really started to align our sourcing strategy with our top-line purpose and mission communication,” Caylor says. “We built a factory relationship out of Africa, and it taught me so much about supply-chain innovation and customer communication.”
At that point, Caylor was also running all of the accessories for Gap — a $300 million business. Maintaining the brand’s success on that massive scale was necessary as Caylor continued her mission-oriented work through (RED). “(RED) was like my side hustle,” she says. “I had to run a huge business in order to get things to work on (RED). And I was still in that machine of cutting three cents off of a plastic ballet flat to make our hard targets. And I was like, ‘This isn’t how I’m really going to change the world.’”
“I was like, ‘Luxury must be different'”
So, in 2010, Caylor decided to co-found her own company: Maiyet, a sustainable luxury-fashion brand. Coming off her recent experience with supply-chain innovation, Caylor wanted to empower supply-chain partners to make eco-conscious choices. Filtering those ethical decisions through a different aesthetic lens — luxury instead of the “crunchy” clothes associated with sustainable fashion at the time — seemed like an ideal place to start.
Caylor thought running a luxury-fashion business would allow for greater sustainable impact. “I was like, ‘Luxury must be different,’” she says. “It’s definitely going to be more efficient, and we’re going to have a closer connection to these brands. And it wasn’t different. It was the same situation, just more fabulous and beautiful. And when I started digging into the why of that, I began doing a lot of work around circular economy.”
Caylor’s investigation into circular systems reconfirmed the industry’s underlying problem: its mission to sell vast quantities of merchandise, no matter the social or environmental costs. “We have a linear business model that only knows how to make money,” Caylor says. “We sell people more and more stuff, and it goes in one direction. We aren’t taking responsibility for it.”
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“‘I don’t think customers want to own clothes forever anymore'”
But Caylor was also happy to discover incremental change in some instances: Clothing-rental companies, for example, appeared to be resetting an appetite for retail and endorsing sustainability at the same time. Rent the Runway, co-founded by Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss in 2009, was one of the top contenders. The shifting consumer demand made Caylor reevaluate what might be important to retail customers.
“I was like, ‘You know what? I don’t think customers want to own clothes forever anymore,’” Caylor says. “We have piles of clothing in our homes, and they’re hard to get rid of. Why do we own it forever? Let’s monetize that and actually use that for future purposes. And I realized that was kind of the space I wanted to walk into because I thought incentivizing the customer and creating a new, circular relationship around the product would actually enable the sustainable model that I wanted to create.”
Image Credit: Courtesy of For Days
For Days makes that sustainable model a reality — giving customers quality basics they can feel good about purchasing, and when the time is right, feed back into the closed-loop system. “I think that we’re in an exciting moment where customers care more about sustainability than they ever have before,” Caylor says, “and brands are meeting them there.”