Everywhere Apparel wants to recycle your clothes.
"The way we like to talk about our company is that we're a full-stack materials company," co-founder and COO Irys Kornbluth told GreenBiz. "We start from the very bottom, which is the fiber level. We're innovating new types of fibers that can be used for yarn spinning and translated all the way up into finished goods."
While one side of Everywhere’s business is very focused on materials innovation and development — it holds a patent on a new type of material that it’s working on commercializing — the best way for the company to figure out the viability of those materials at scale is for it to make its own products with them.
"So, we do all of the development and testing on our own products," Kornbluth said. "That's really, I think, a proof point for other brands to adopt our materials."
Its materials include a 100 percent recycled cotton fabric, trademarked as CirCot. Everywhere created a closed loop system for it, in which it collects worn shirts, mechanically shreds them and starts the yarn to fabric to garment manufacturing process all over again.
Everything about our product from the labeling to the fibers to the finished packaging is 100% recycled. That's first and foremost where we're placing our biggest commitment.
Everywhere is small — with about five staff — but it wants to be mighty. It already works with hundreds of brands — plus their vendors — and it’s working to scale its consumer-facing T-shirt business.
As the company’s COO, Kornbluth manages all of its product creation, manufacturing and integration of the materials into both its own supply chain and into the supply chains of other companies.
I spoke with Kornbluth, sitting in a knitting mill during our Zoom conversation, about working with brands to use better materials, Everywhere’s business model and the challenges of starting a company with a potentially long supply chain at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Read more of our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, below.
Deonna Anderson: For people who are unaware of what Everywhere Apparel is, can you just give me a quick rundown about what it is that you all do?
Irys Kornbluth: Everywhere is a material science company. We innovate new materials out of 100 percent recycled inputs that are designed to be deployed on existing machinery. So, nothing that requires extra equipment, or proprietary machines, or that has to be produced in a plant that Everywhere owns. We're focused on designing solutions that brands can implement right now in their supply chains.
Anderson: Can you explain a little bit more about the inputs? How do you source your material exactly?
Kornbluth: There's a few primary inputs that we use. The biggest one is recycled cotton. Obviously, there's a huge amount of cotton waste on the planet that comes from a variety of different channels: post-industrial, which would be like cut waste coming off of factories; pre-consumer, which would be like deadstock, unsold materials that are sitting in retail stores or just never made it to an end consumer; and then obviously there's post-consumer waste which we have a ton of. A lot of those fibers are cotton.
So, we mostly have been pulling cotton from post-industrial sources, which is cut waste coming off of factories. However, about a year ago, we launched our post-consumer collection program. If you go on our website, individuals can participate and send us some of their items. Or, as a business, you can recycle with us on an enterprise level.
For example, if you run a big music merchandise company and you happen to have eight pallets leftover in the warehouse that are just collecting dust, those types of customers can come to us, and we can provide solutions for recycling those materials back into new materials that can be used again. We touch on all three streams, but I would say mostly we're working with post-industrial waste through our products.
Anderson: Why is it important for you all to have those different streams?
Kornbluth: Everywhere is mostly a B2B solutions company so we're really in the business of working with brands and corporations that are trying to reduce their environmental footprint and providing solutions to help them meet those goals. On the direct-to-consumer side, we're pretty light — we wanted to create a product where everyone could access our technology. We thought the best way to do that would be to make T-shirts basically because everybody wears T-shirts, everybody has a torso [laughs]. So, you can buy our T-shirts online at a retail consumer price point. But, really, most of our business is behind the scenes buying tens, even hundreds of thousands of these units for a larger program.
Anderson: There’s something mentioned in your information pamphlet that I wanted to bring up. It says that no supply chain is perfect. I think that's a really important point. But it also noted that you all are constantly trying to improve it. I'm curious about what that improvement has looked like over time for you all.
Kornbluth: We as a company are very focused on the material science behind what we create. Our first mission is that nothing we make is not made from 100 percent recycled inputs. Everything about our product from the labeling to the fibers to the finished packaging is 100 percent recycled. That's first and foremost where we're placing our biggest commitment. That kind of goes all the way down to our materials development, as well where the materials that we've patented are designed for recycled inputs specifically and for creating high-quality products out of recycled fibers. So, that's our mission.
I think as far as our supply chain, we launched our company really in the beginning of COVID [laughs], so the logistical side has always been a bit rocky from the start for that reason. But what COVID kind of did to us is it forced us to really double down on production in North America. So, we do a lot of our sourcing and production here in North America and actually most of it here in the U.S., which is awesome.
Getting to work hands-on and face-to-face with our manufacturers is super critical for understanding A, what needs to be improved about the supply chain and B, understanding how to improve the product quality. In that process though, I think we've been really encouraged — it's been great to see how the big brands that we work with manage this. Kudos to them. A lot of them have these amazing compliance teams and programs to oversee — and they're used to overseeing vendor operations around the world, which we do touch on in the materials side but not as much cutting, sewing, fabric finishing.
We have gotten more into doing things like working condition audits. We just did a SMETA Sedex audit [a social auditing methodology that enables businesses to assess their sites and suppliers to understand working conditions in their supply chain]. Generally, we kind of look to the guidance of our brand partners if they require specific types of audits and all that and comply with that. I think that we as a company are very much focused on the materials side and now we're starting to build on that and create the social enterprise side or portfolio of the business where we're paying attention to those types of topics.
Anderson: I know you can’t name names — because there are some nondisclosure agreements in place. But can you give readers a sense of Everywhere's scope and the types of companies you work with.
Kornbluth: I can tell you we work with two of the most well-known luxury brands in the world. Those are the ones we're under NDA with. We do a lot of work for Bulleit Whiskey inside the Diageo group. We've done work for Amazon. We've done work for Google. Those have mostly been selling them product.
We're really, really trying to make it easy for people to recycle.
Hopefully that gives you a little bit of the scope. Overall we have a few hundred clients ranging from globally recognized brands all the way down to small- to medium-sized businesses looking for 50 garments for their event or whatnot.
Anderson: A few hundred clients and you all launched like not that long ago … That's pretty significant.
Kornbluth: Obviously, some of the partnerships require a lot more hands-on effort than others. Typically what the small businesses are looking for is a better T-shirt, so they'll come and buy T-shirts from us since it's a pretty efficient sales process. But the brands — we're really looking to guide them into these new materials solutions, so it takes some time to do that depending on the customer.
Anderson: At this point, how many T-shirts do you all make on an annual basis?
Kornbluth: Right now, we're scaling our T-shirt business. I would say on an annual basis we're making a few hundred thousand. We're poised to grow that number. I think the way that we're looking for companies to partner with who have — like I said before — those large employee bases or they have a lot of swag or gifting programs. Those are the types of customers that I think we can really make an impact with. One of the things that we do is we provide those customers with an impact report on a quarterly or annual basis that shows them how much water reduction or landfill reduction their purchase decisions had just from shifting away from a conventional or organic cotton T-shirt into a recycled T-shirt.
Anderson: Mm-hmm. I mean, your shirts also come with a label that tells people how to recycle so that also has an impact, right? Is that included in your reports at all?
Kornbluth: Yes, and for some of our biggest clients, we actually operate their enterprise recycling programs. So, if they have employees who maybe get promoted and they get a uniform or they maybe leave the company, or they just wear down their uniform, they can return it through us. We recycle everything and we keep everything going in as much of a closed loop as we possibly can.
That's one thing that we're huge on as far as our ethics as a company. We really don't believe that any product should be put into the world without some strategy for recycling it or re-commerce. So, something as simple as just having that QR code label in the product that gives the user instructions on how to recycle it is really a huge step forward from where we're at, because 99.9 percent of clothes on this planet don't have any instructions on how they can be recycled. That's why we're in this big conundrum here.
We're huge on that and we really push that QR code recycling program together with our partners, too. We can customize those landing pages per our clients' needs and make it more about their sustainability story, their company as well.
Anderson: That reminds me of one more question I have. Does Everywhere recycle garments from other companies? Is that a thing you all do? Like, if I had a cotton shirt but it wasn't from Everywhere, could I send it to you?
Kornbluth: Absolutely. That can also be used for feedstock for us [laughs]. When we recycle with people or when end consumers recycle with us, we don't ask them to sort or separate. We take on that responsibility. I think that's super important because we just need to get people motivated to recycle and think about new ways they can deal with products they're trying to get rid of. I definitely resonate with that position. I was just looking at recycling some bedding. When you go down the rabbit hole it's like, yes, there are ways to recycle that product but nothing is very clear. It's not easy. We're really, really trying to make it easy for people to recycle.
To answer that question, you don't have to recycle Everywhere stuff. It could be anything from your closet.