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Zady Releases a Private Label Collection and With it, a Model for Sustainable Sourcing

And, no, it's not stupidly expensive.
A Zady sweater. Photo: Zady

A Zady sweater. Photo: Zady

Last November, e-commerce site Zady released the first item of clothing it produced in-house: a wool pullover simply called "The Sweater." Now the start-up is building on that foundation with the launch of a full private label collection.

However, calling the line "full" may depend on your definition of the word. The range includes just nine items, all of which are women's tops woven in cotton, linen, wool and alpaca. But as far as workload is concerned, the project was certainly a hefty one. When Zady launched in August 2013, it stocked small brands and made a point of showing shoppers every step in their supply chains, since clothing production is too often an opaque process that's damaging to both the environment and its human inhabitants. In creating their own clothing, Zady's team members wanted to do so in as sustainable and transparent of a manner as possible.

They knew that was a huge undertaking, CEO Maxine Bédat says, which is why they started with a single sweater. (Bédat's co-founder, Soraya Darabi, departed the company last month but is staying on as an adviser.)

"It was definitely a test," Bédat says. "We didn't know whether it was possible, we didn't know [if we could do it] at a price point that kept it at a good value and we didn't know whether people would like it."

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It was possible, the team learned, and people did like it: the pullover sold out in one day. From there, Zady worked its way toward a full collection item by item — or, more accurately, material by material. Each demanded its own research into low-impact manufacturing options.

While walking me through the collection late last week, Bédat happily geeked out over alpaca and linen fibers. The former is nature's technical fabric, she says — it's lightweight but warm, thanks to its hollow core. Alpaca feels a lot like cashmere, with some distinct economical and environmental advantages. You can produce more sweaters per alpaca than you can with cashmere goats, which keeps herd sizes small; cashmere production is also contributing to desertification in Mongolia because the goats eat grass from the roots, preventing it from regrowing. Not so with alpacas, which eat across grass like doe-eyed lawnmowers. 

Zady's cotton is organic and its dyes nontoxic, but its price point isn't unreasonable relative to J.Crew or Club Monaco, from which the brand's lead designer hails. A T-shirt retails for $36, and a wool coat (slated to drop in late October) costs $450. An especially yummy sweater in a chunky knit will go for $230 when it hits the site on Nov. 10.

In the interest of transparency, each item comes with an infographic describing every part of its supply chain. Last Thursday, Zady launched a new wing of its website called The New Standard, a resource for information about various fabrics, the process of designing for sustainability and fashion's various impacts on environmental issues like climate change, animals, water, forests and soil. 

"This is how clothing should be made. It's not an eco-project," Bédat says. "Our tag line is 'Re-envisioning the future of fashion.' This is showing how it should be done, and we're showing that it can be done."