If you’re like most socially- and environmentally-conscious folks, you think about recycling, driving less fossil/more electric, buying organic, and seeking out fair trade products. But if you’re like most, you haven’t started thinking about how your shirts are made. After all, you don’t eat your shirt, and it doesn’t spew emissions when you wear it (note: we are making an assumption about personal hygiene there, but we have faith in you).
Kidding aside, Jonas Clark and Amanda Rinderle are about to change the way you think about the shirt on your back, and you may just be wearing your sustainability on your sleeve in the future.
Their company, conceived and launched at Yale’s School of Management (SOM), not only recently won a Yale Shark Tank competition and top honors at reSET’s Social Enterprise awards, but has also gotten exceptional traction in its Kickstarter campaign to launch its first shirts. (Support of $110 for the campaign puts one of their historic batch of shirts in your wardrobe.)
Why the buzz? We sat down with Tuckerman & Co’s founders, both MBA candidates at SOM, at a coffee shop close to campus to get to the bottom of it for you.
WB: Why Tuckerman & Company? How did all this get started?
Jonas: In the simplest terms, we’re a mission-driven clothing company. We want you to look good and to feel good about what you wear. Our first product is a line of shirts made differently than any other dress shirt available today, in the most sustainable, socially-conscious way possible.
Amanda and I met seven years ago and are now engaged; I was working as a Resident Dean at Harvard, and Amanda was at FSG, consulting with educational institutions. We came to SOM together, with the intention of starting a mission-driven business.
WB: This may go without saying, but why do our shirts need to be on a mission?
Jonas: We asked ourselves that same question when we started out; we wanted to launch a venture at SOM that made more than just a financial impact. As data-driven MBA types, when we looked at the data on clothing production, we were blown away. When you dig in, the apparel industry has the second biggest environmental footprint after the oil and gas industry. The apparel industry is enormous, but there’s very little awareness of its environmental impact, so we believe there’s a great opportunity to make an impact with Tuckerman.
The growth in fast-fashion and disposable clothing and the impact of conventionally grown cotton have an enormous, and largely unpublicized, effect on the environment. Making the cotton for a standard dress shirt alone involves using a little over half a pound of pesticides. And that’s just one aspect of the environmental impact; there are a whole host of fair trade issues involved in sourcing fabric, buttons, and interfacing (the material that keeps your shirt collars and cuffs stiff).
We can’t move the needle without consumers, but we’re following consumer trends and companies that have already had a great impact on the food and beverage industries. People are more aware than they’ve ever been, and have an increasing desire to understand how the products they buy are made.
WB: How do you take this general awareness and translate it into action in apparel? Why does the world need a new kind of clothing producer?
Amanda: Almost 20% of American adults, 41 million people, now identify themselves as “leading lifestyles of health and sustainability.” They spend about $290 billion annually on eco-friendly and sustainable products, and that spending is projected to grow at a 15% rate. They’re also willing to pay a premium for these products and are loyal to them. So there’s a real market for the type of products we’re making.
Although there are plenty of mission-driven brands when it comes to other categories, if you want to support a mission-driven brand in apparel, you’ll have a much harder time finding one. Patagonia has been a model in creating a “clean” supply chain in outdoor clothing, but there aren’t many options in the rest of the apparel industry.
But our Kickstarter campaign is the real test; our call to action is to back the project and get a real production run of shirts going. And so far we’ve cleared our $20,000 funding goal pretty easily, so the results are confirming that we’re on to something with Tuckerman.
WB: One last question. The Shirt. When will it be in backers hands? How will the magic happen?
Amanda: When our Kickstarter closes, we’ll place our fabric order from our mill in Italy, and they’ll start weaving. At the same time, we’ll send out sizing requests to our backers so we have them ready for manufacturing.
The mill projects 90 days to finish the run but we’re hoping to try and negotiate to speed up the delivery when we visit. The fabric will be delivered to Fall River, MA when finished, and we’ve got factory time booked for production of our shirts. We’re hoping to deliver product to backers in February 2015.
If you’d like to hear more about Tuckerman straight from Tuckerman, have a look at their winning pitch (below) from the recent Yale SOM Shark Tank competition.