We are all works in progress; even the successful women you see owning it on Instagram faced stumbling blocks along the way and continue to work hard to stay at the top of their game. In this series, we're sitting down with the people that inspire us to find out: How'd they do it? And what is success really like? This is "Getting There."
Kristy Caylor is the founder and CEO of For Days, a zero-waste clothing company with a pioneering closed-loop system — meaning that everything gets recycled and reused, so nothing is sent to the landfill. Once customers decide an item doesn't suit them any more, they can return it to For Days through the company's swap program. They can even send in old clothes from other brands — think single socks and ratty T-shirts that can't be donated or resold — and For Days will find ways to reuse the textiles.
Before that, Caylor founded another clothing company, Maiyet, which infused luxury with sustainability. She spoke to TMRW about her passion for sustainable fashion, how she's trying to revolutionize the industry, and her advice for being a successful entrepreneur.
TMRW: What drew you to sustainable fashion?
Kristy Caylor: I've been in the fashion industry for about 15 years. I grew up at The Gap — I spent about five years there in very entrepreneurial roles ... everything from product development to design to marketing to strategy to real estate. It was really robust and quite formative. I also spent time in our supply chain. It was then that I saw the magnitude of production for the industry as a whole. Whether it was the Philippines, Vietnam, China — it was really eye-opening, the impact our industry was having on people and the planet. I thought the industry could be more transformative, and I started thinking through fashion as a tool for impact. For me, it felt like the future.
What inspired you to start your first company?
What I was seeing in fashion as a whole — and this has changed a lot in the last five to seven years — is that people generally thought anything sustainability-oriented was going to be really ugly — or, it's going to be hemp clothes and sold at the flea market. Maybe if you're lucky you'll get into Whole Foods. And I thought, well, that can't be the future. With Maiyet, it was about changing that perception through aesthetics — literally showing the world what sustainability and impact could look like. Instead of selling to Whole Foods, we sold to Barneys and Saks.
But, there were still problems. We still had too many seasons. There were too many returns. At that point, I thought, I think we have a problem with the industry as a whole — with waste. We throw 85% of textiles into landfills annually. Why are we doing that? I started learning about regeneration and circular economy, and you've seen that play a significant role in agriculture, with food, but it was harder to figure out for fashion. We have these beautiful raw materials that end up in the trash. Is there any opportunity to regenerate them? How do we incentivize the customer? For me, that was the core unlock.
Our relationship to ownership as customers has changed in a lot of product verticals. We no longer need to own things forever. In fact, that can be kind of a drag. Things pile up in our homes and getting rid of them can be hard. Yes, you can resell lightly used goods, but the majority of our closets are not re-sellable, and so they pile up. I look at my own life and it's T-shirts and pajamas and single socks — all the stuff you don't know what to do with. I was like, I think that's where we start.
And that's why you created For Days. What are some of the challenges you came across in getting the company off the ground?
Well, in our business in particular, because it is the closed loop, that didn't really exist. We couldn't just go out and copy someone else, or borrow something that had already been created. We had to build everything to support this process — designing products in the most sustainable way, creating a customer experience that made it easy, building infrastructure to take the stuff and make sure it gets to the right next spot, and doing it in a way that's affordable for the customer.
How do you think the pandemic has affected how we're looking at fashion?
When you go through mass fear about health and safety, you start to think about your priorities, and I do think sustainability has emerged as a very important topic for many people. So in some ways, that's been a silver lining. I also think, just plainly, we've all been sitting in our homes and we're looking around at all the stuff we have, and asking ourselves, what is all this?
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a fashion brand with sustainability in mind?
Be mindful about design and be mindful about your material choices and know your suppliers really well. Be mindful about what you produce. There's no perfect equation so you have to realize that progress is amazing and improvement is constant, and just keep going.
What is your favorite thing about being an entrepreneur?
Creating solutions to problems. Thinking about the future. When you're your own boss, you're also the first one in and the last one out and the one on the hook for everything, so it comes with responsibility and burden as well. But I think the opportunity to chart new territory and think outside the box and create is a gift.
What's the secret to being a successful entrepreneur?
It's having a really strong vision and sticking to it, and knowing the path to getting there is not going to be what you expected. And being very resilient, very gritty. Asking for advice and help when you need it, which is sometimes very difficult for female entrepreneurs, but something I've learned to be better about. Build a strong support system, because you're going to need it, and don't be afraid to lean on it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.