As someone who strives to be a responsible consumer, Kristy Caylor did everything in her power to make sure she purged her closet the right way in preparation for an upcoming move. She set up a mini boutique in her apartment so friends could give her old stuff a new home and dropped as many pieces off at Crossroads and The Real Real as she could. But after all that, she was still faced by a pile of unusable t-shirts and an accompanying pile of guilt as she contemplated their fate.
"I knew that 85 percent of [clothing] donations get thrown into landfill," she says. "I felt bad throwing it in the trash and it's kind of a valuable raw material, so what could I do?"
What might have been a swiftly-passing moment of guilt for someone else was an idea-sparking experience for Caylor, whose background in fashion had proven time and again that it's an industry ripe for innovation. By that point, she'd already had a wake-up call about "the repercussions of mass production" as a result of spending ample time in Asian factories while working for Gap, and she'd also seen the power fashion could have for good by working on the company's Project RED initiative. After that, she'd gone on to work at Band of Outsiders before co-founding Maiyet, one of the first labels to sell "ethical fashion" not to Whole Foods, but to the likes of Barneys, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus.
It was this history that fueled her asking if there might be an alternative way to approach the t-shirt problem. What if, she wondered, we could give customers access to the basics they wear all the time while also ensuring that those pieces don't end up clogging landfills after they've reached the end of their lives?
For Days, Caylor's just-launched t-shirt company, is her answer to that question. Built around a membership model and the concept of circular design, For Days exists to make closet clutter and post-consumer wardrobe waste disappear in one fell swoop.
That For Days makes product using certified GOTS organic cotton in Los Angeles where workers' rights are decently well-protected isn't unusual for an ethical fashion company. What is unusual, however, is its business model. Rather than asking consumers to "buy less, but better" — a common mantra of sustainable fashion advocates — For Days takes for granted that pit stains, changing color preferences, rips or any number of factors will make modern consumers want to refresh their t-shirt selection with relative frequency.
"The average American buys ten t-shirts a year and throws away six," Caylor explains. "It's a $22 billion industry."
Rather than fighting that, For Days leans into it and tries to make t-shirt replacement as convenient as possible for customers — and promises to upcycle every garment the consumer is finished with.
Here's how it works: For Days customers don't buy individual t-shirts. Instead, they sign up for a membership, which allows them to choose a number of t-shirts (three, six or ten) to have in their closet rotation from the brand at any given time. Members pay an annual fee, which allows them to swap out their old For Days t-shirts for new ones as often as they want for $8 per refresh. In order to receive fresh pieces, customers send in their used ones, which are then broken down into raw materials that are blended with virgin fibers to create new thread that can be made into more clothing.
"It's kind of like the old Netflix model, where you had a certain number of DVDs at a time and you could just exchange them when you needed them," Caylor says. The price structure is intended be accessible for a wide range of consumers, with For Days charging between $38 and $340 a year.
For Days' attempt to use old clothing to make new clothing isn't necessarily an industry first, as companies like Eileen Fisher and G-Star Raw have long been making serious attempts to close the loop with their own products. But the idea that consumers would literally have to give back their old clothing so it could be upcycled, as For Days' model requires, is relatively unprecedented. It all comes back to the idea of a circular economy, where products at the end of their initial lives are transformed into something else of equal or greater value rather than being downgraded or trashed.
Though the dream would be to convert old For Days shirts entirely into new ones, Caylor is honest about the fact that "there is no way to do a hundred percent to a hundred percent without it being bad quality," since the process of breaking down the fibers to create new thread degrades them.
For now, the brand is relying on a blend that uses 30 percent recycled fibers and 70 percent virgin ones without losing quality, and is working on developing a blend that gets closer to 50/50. Still, it's important to note that the brand isn't just taking old clothes and making them into something of lesser value, like insulation, which is how many labels attempt to address waste issues.
"It's a lot easier to turn [old clothes] into paper and insulation," Caylor explains. "That's actually recycling and downcycling, not upcycling. And circular economy principles are all about upcycling. The whole point here is to retain the value of the raw material."
While For Days is too new to really gauge how it'll be received by consumers, beginning with a model that makes both avoiding closet clutter and consumerist guilt easy, it sure seems to be off to a good start.