Back when I was starting this business, I learned a lot about what is wrong with the world of making sustainable outdoor clothing.
I attended sustainability conferences, listened to talks by Patagonia, worked with a sustainability consultant, and researched everything I could find on the Sustainable Fashion Forum. My biggest takeaways weren’t what I expected. The changes that would make the biggest impact weren’t finding new sustainable materials, producing locally, or creating the most biodegradable items possible… as I had initially thought. Although these are all very important initiatives - they wouldn’t solve the real problem: the fact that we are creating and consuming more than our natural resources can handle.
The takeaway was clear: the real answer to sustainability was to make fewer pieces of sustainable outdoor clothing that work better, and make sure the person who buys your items will absolutely love them into the ground.
Embracing True Sustainability in Outdoor Clothing: Quality Over Quantity
Since then, I’ve oriented all my decisions with Tera Kaia around this core idea. I focused on creating Basewear designs that would increase the item’s longevity, allow customers to create a meaningful nostalgic connection to their Basewear, and offering ways to repair them when they eventually wore out for just a bit more life.
All of this worked. What ensued was the creation of this community of outdoor women who absolutely love Basewear. By relentlessly adjusting the fit based on feedback, and continually making improvements to improve the longevity of our items, I can proudly say that we've created something that authentically lives up to my beliefs about sustainability. I can't tell you how many times I've heard the phrase “I literally never take this thing off.” Our customers are living proof that you can live a life of great adventures with only one or two bras.
There's room for improvement, of course, and as soon as we find a non-plastic fiber that can stretch we'll be sure to make the switch.
Sustainability vs. Profitability: A Balancing Act
Now for the hard part. The lesson I learned in all of this: none of these efforts resulted in profitability. By creating less, that lasts you also create a very strained business model. Our financial economy just isn't built around the pillars of sustainability - it's designed to exploit resources for profit.
There’s a reason why big outdoor clothing companies don’t focus on creating less: it means people consume less, and spend less. The earth can breathe easily, but there won’t be enough sales to make payroll.
The entire clothing industry relies on seasonality: creating items that you will get tired of at the end of a season, and replace with something new. This is how most clothing companies are able to become so huge, create tons of new designs each season, and generate tons of profitable revenue. It also leads to an equally huge amount of waste: discounts, pro deals, and eventually a landfill. Big outdoor clothing companies are no different, they have the same model of seasonality, and produce huge amounts of stuff each year, just to discount it, and then eventually get rid of it.
A Six-Year Journey: Balancing Sustainability and Stability in my own Outdoor Clothing Company
This leaves me with a huge dilemma that I have been trying to solve for the last 6 years: how do I stay true to my sustainability beliefs, while creating a stable, profitable business?
I haven’t unlocked this puzzle yet, but every year I get a little closer. This year felt like a huge breakthrough with the advent of the Early Access Basewear Membership. Memberships have made a huge difference in my ability to predict what sizes to order, and how much we will sell through. It got me thinking about creating an entire business model around the idea of producing only for members.
Join the Movement: Supporting Sustainable Change
By switching to a fully member-funded production model, we would make only what was needed: no more and no less.
This journey has been tough, and I know there is still a long way to go. TK would never have made it this far if it wasn’t for all of our wonderful customers wearing their Basewear out in the wild. Side note: Seriously, you guys are a customer service dream, and our all-women run team reads all the notes in your Basewear packages - it makes our day.
If you feel similarly about sustainability, love your Basewear, and would like to help support this journey, I encourage you to consider becoming a member. The perks of membership are way higher than the cost, and it means you are truly supporting a movement of change.
Welcome to the Journal: official blog of Tera Kaia Basewear.
Here we tell stories about the outdoors, sustainability, and life through the lens of outdoor women. Get the latest on TK events, and a "behind the seams" look at everything that's going on with our brand.