Collaboratory Notes From The Field: Mo Elliott

Levi Strauss & Co.
August 3, 2017

The following comes from Mo Elliott, the founder and president of Fayettechill and one of ten fellows selected to participate in the inaugural class of the Levi Strauss & Co. Collaboratory. As part of this fellowship experience that brought together entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs in the apparel industry to collaborate on sustainability solutions for their organizations, Levi Strauss & Co. connected the fellows with our leaders, outside experts and employee mentors to imagine solutions for reducing their organization’s water impact. In May, we announced more than $350,000 in funding to implement their project ideas. The ultimate goal? To build a more socially and environmentally responsible apparel industry.

At Fayettechill, we believe in the power of the natural world and its ability to inspire, heal and energize. We try to hit the “pause” button whenever we can and get outdoors where we can think about what is most important. We have always been inspired by the mountains, rivers, trees and wind around us and are committed to making our products in a way that they are mindful of the environment, durable and comfortable.

When we dove into the challenge posed by the Collaboratory – to reduce our organization’s water impact – we focused on the product that we all wear when we head outside, cotton T-shirts (which also happen to be one of our top sellers!). Our goal is to produce and tell the water-savings story of T-shirts made with 50 percent recycled cotton fibers, which use less water to make because they rely on less virgin cotton.

As a first step, we developed unisex T-shirts using a blend of 50 percent recycled cotton and 50 percent recycled polyester. We wanted to test how the manufacturing process worked using this type of yarn with a factory in Los Angeles, CA. We also wanted to see how our customers would react to a material blend from an upcycled supply chain that includes recycled cotton.

We designed red, white and blue shirts and graphics so that we could run our test in conjunction with the July 4th holiday when many of the outdoor enthusiasts who love our brand take off on outdoor adventures. For this initial pilot, we only produced a small quantity and sold them through our flagship store in Fayetteville, Arkansas. (Apologies to all you online shoppers – you’ll have to wait until spring 2018!)

We ran this test so that we could see how our customers responded to the product and the message that they required less water to make than our traditional top selling blend of 50 percent organic cotton / 50 percent recycled polyester. The response was positive. Customers shared that they were unaware that you could recycle cotton and use the recycled fibers to make new T-shirts. We were able to reinforce our brand’s commitment to present sustainable apparel options. And, we sold out the test products in two weeks!

This test run was an amazing journey from getting inspired at the Collaboratory Workshop weekend by the idea of water savings, to concept and design (which took place in this room). We were able to manufacture a more sustainable product in the U.S. and educate our employees as well as spread the word about the water impact of apparel to Fayettechill fans. It was a start and catalyst to the kind of manufacturing and marketing we want to continue for seasons to come.

So, what’s next?

You can expect to see this recycled cotton blend (with an improved “hand” – aka softness) in our lineup of Limited Edition tee designs for 2018. Based on our projected order, we will be saving 1,584,800 gallons of water compared to our traditional T-shirt blend of 50 percent organic cotton /50 percent recycled polyester.

Stay tuned to Unzipped for additional project updates from the Collaboratory fellows.