Can eco-friendly clothes be made at an affordable price?
This is the ultimate question in the industry, and one of the biggest frustration points for people who want to participate but cannot afford steep price tags. There’s also the worry that can you actually make clothes ethically at a reduced priced?
One California company hopes to be able to do that. Instead of slicing away profits from manufacturers, they’re cutting out the middlemen. That means the goods are sent directly to the customer from the factory floor, says Quince founder Sid Gupta.
“That’s where we are making a savings and building a revolutionary supply chain. We skip all the steps — and all the carbon emissions, I might add, in between. ”
Since they don’t have to hold large amounts of inventory because it’s being made in the factory and shipped out, Gupta explains that they were able to transfer those funds to the supply chain and materials. That means Quince can afford to use organic cotton in their sweatshirts and sweatpants, for example.
“We don’t think of ourselves as luxury, we think of ourselves as premium, and focus on long-term wear.” In addition to durability, they’re checking the boxes when it comes to certifications: These third-party partners include the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and Oeko-Tex, Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), and Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) to name a few. (Note, sustainability veterans may contest the depth of some of these standards, but they’re a starting place for fashion brands. Currently 80% of Quince’s organic cotton comes from GOTS-certified supply chains or BCI.)
As for leather, a material that can divide public opinion, Gupta says they choose factory partners “who put ethical, environmental, and labor standards at the forefront of their business – those who work to reduce the amount of water used and who pay fair wages. It’s why we spent the first two years of building the brand focused on choosing the incredible factory partners we have.”
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Though they’re far from done on their sustainability journey, Gupta iterates, they’re trying to incorporate as many materials possible — as quickly as possible. “It’s a work in progress, but our business model is what’s enabling it.”
For Gupta though, Quince fundamentally solves a few key problems for consumers: it curates the selection, making it easier to shop; it promises a certain level of quality and responsibility in the supply chain that isn’t available on e-commerce marketplaces like Amazon and eBay; and it cuts down on price, making clothing more affordable which is a real sticking point in the world of sustainable fashion.
Much of these learnings and adaptations to Quince stem from Gupta’s own experiences of shopping online, he says, arguing that there have been three waves of shopping on the Internet: first, the advent of the Internet itself, which allowed for e-commerce; second, the D2C model; and third, the marketplaces like eBay and Amazon.
But the problem with Amazon, for example, he notes is that it doesn’t ensure you’re getting the best product at the best price. “Its search results are monetized, incentivizing those who can pay more to stand out at the top of the list. So I spent 45 minutes, for example, looking for a skillet on there, but got so confused by all the reviews and what to trust, that I just went out to Target and got one.”
As Quince starts to dabble in more product categories, like home, it aims to keep the shopping experience, while incorporating as many eco-friendly materials. “This we think is phase four of the Internet will happen: the factory to consumer in a curated way.”
To make it happen, Gupta raised $8.5 million in 2019 from the Founders Fund, 8VC, and Basis Set Ventures, and rebranded from “Last Brand” to “Quince” with updates to the site, a broader selection of items, and new verticals.
The realization to start the company, he says, came from a hotel stay. “When you stay in a nice hotel, you enjoy the nice towels, sheets, bedding. But then why don’t we do that in our homes? Why do I sleep on not-so-great sheets the other 364 days of the year?”
Quince hopes to change that by marrying premium quality with an eco-focus at mid-market price points so more people can enjoy those “everyday luxuries.” Can they truly do it, without compromising on the social and environmental standards? That will be the ultimate test.