Chloe Songer and Stuart Ahlum, cofounders at sustainable footwear brand Thousand Fell, are not just immersed in the “upstart” world of circularity, they’re obsessed with it.
“Our main mission and goal is to make the circular economy easy,” said Songer, who added that while the brand is not fully circular — it’s far closer than most of the industry.
Starting off on the right foot for Thousand Fell, which launches today, involved diligence in research and openness to cross-industry collaboration.
Within minutes of sitting down with WWD, Songer and Ahlum started talking the dirty truths of the fashion and footwear industry.
“We see sustainability 1.0 as the beginning of supply chain transparency (e.g., Everlane); 2.0 we see is material innovation (e.g., Allbirds, Rothy’s), but 3.0 we really see is taking that material innovation and using it to design for circularity,” said Songer, as Ahlum agreed with an affirmative.
“Sustainability 3.0” at Thousand Fell begins and ends with product material, meaning the components are chosen for their end-of-life potential. The shoe (which is visually similar to that of Common Projects) is not leather but is the result of an 18-month material journey to design a vegan alternative using natural rubber and plant-based innovation Yulex.
The core material is a woven 100-percent recycled polyester treated with a water-borne resin made from corn oil. Recycled polyester is found in three places on the shoe: the base of the upper, the liner and the laces. The team tested 10,000 steps a day for eight months to ensure durability.
And if the branding for Thousand Fell looks like direct-to-consumer beauty brand Glossier, Equinox, Stella McCartney, it’s because their team tapped the same agency who powered the branding.
Instead of relying on virgin plastic, the brand uses “super ingredients” as substitute, tapping food waste, such as coconut and sugarcane palm tree leaf that is sourced locally in Brazil. As an example of how each component is used again, the heat-wicking and cooling castor bean oil foam will be upcycled to construction projects, as the two shared.
“Gen Z and young Millennials have high expectations for style, brand, social responsibility — and price,” said Nisha Dua, general partner at BBG Ventures and a lead investor in Thousand Fell to WWD, mentioning that “affordable brands with this ethos at their core will win.”
“We believe the gap between interest and action suggests that there’s a big opportunity for sustainable products that are priced for the average consumer,” reiterated Dua. Thousand Fell’s investor and advisory board members count executive experience at Marc Jacobs, Cole Haan and Ked’s among others.
Funding to date has not been disclosed, but the brand names Veronica Chou as first investor in its angel round and head of the advisory board (Chou recently founded Everybody & Everyone); while Emily Lam-Ho, who runs impact investment fund, Empact 28; AVG and Jackson Partners are also investors.
Partnering with shipping and logistics company Ohi, the brand will open microfulfillment centers in New York at launch and will roll out San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2020 to ease the impact of shipping directly from its manufacturing center in Brazil.
As for the name, “Fell” is an Old English word for animal skins, and “Thousand” means multiplicity. “It’s about material science,” said Ahlum.
When WWD asked what differentiated Thousand Fell in the market, Ahlum said: “I think it’s a couple of things, starting with this optimism for building a better tomorrow.” To which Songer asked: “Is the differentiator ‘no landfill,” or can we really lead with the transition to the circular economy?”
Answering her own question, she said: “That’s a hard one to lead with, but that’s what we really want to champion.”
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