12: Can fashion be sustainable? Interview with Dan Leahy - MakerSights
Dan Leahy is the co-founder and CEO of San Francisco-based MakerSights, the leading Voice of Consumer platform purpose-built for apparel, footwear, and accessories brands.
MakerSights’ mission is to radically reduce waste in the retail industry by helping brands leverage consumer data to make products that people love. Prior to founding MakerSights, Dan founded Savored, an inventory management software for the hospitality industry, which was acquired by Groupon (NASDAQ: GRPN) in 2013. He earned an MBA from Stanford University and a BA in economics from Georgetown University.
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What is the environmental footprint of fashion?
As consumers worldwide buy more clothes, the growing market for cheap items and new styles is taking a toll on the environment:
Fashion production makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams. What’s more, 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year (UNECE, 2018)
The equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second (UNEP, 2018)
Approximately 60% of all materials used by the fashion industry are made from plastic (UNEP, 2019)
500,000 tons of microfibers are released into the ocean each year from washing clothes — the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017)
The fashion industry is responsible for 8-10% of humanity’s carbon emissions – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined (UNEP, 2018). If the fashion sector continues on its current trajectory, that share of the carbon budget could jump to 26% by 2050 (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017)
Some 93 billion cubic metres of water – enough to meet the needs of five million people – is used by the fashion industry annually, contributing significantly to water scarcity in some regions (UNCTAD, 2020)
Around 20% of industrial wastewater pollution worldwide originates from the fashion industry (WRI, 2017)
Moreover, with the increased demand more clothing around the world is being made with polyester, the synthetic fibre derived predominantly from petroleum. The reason more producers choose to use polyester over cotton is that it is hardy and versatile, used to create everything from athletic clothes to faux fur jackets to silky dresses. It’s been marketed as more sustainable than some natural fibres because the production process doesn’t require as much water or land as growing natural fibres like cotton.
However, polyester requires a large amount of energy to produce. In 2015, polyester production for clothing emitted 282 billion tons of carbon dioxide. Additionally, synthetic textiles like polyester shed tiny pieces of plastic with every wash and wear.
These plastic particles, called microplastics, pollute the oceans, freshwater and land and pose a danger to the animals that consume them, inhibiting their growth and reproduction. Scientists in Australia estimate that between 9.25 to 15.86 million tons of microplastics can be found on the ocean floor.
In this episode we are addressing the following questions:
So can the fashion industry be fixed? If yes how? 3:17
What do you see as necessary drivers for change in the fashion industry? 7:26
Is it just a perception, or are consumers really buying more in the sustainability space? 12:51
Coming now to MakerSights - Can you please explain in 2-3 sentences what MakerSights product is? Can you please explain the vision and how you want to achieve it? 16:54
Are you already operating in Europe? 27:53
Have you started off as a sustainable company or did it come along the way? 28:27
What are you doing as a company itself to be more sustainable? 31:06
You received 25m in funding last year in Series B- congratulations! What is the biggest challenge in the next year to scale your company? 35:06
How do you continue to learn in order to stay on top of things within your role? 38:07
Do you have a book recommendation? 39:53
Great quotes from the episode by Dan:
"84% of the CO2 emissions from the retail industry comes from the production of new goods, so if you are not tackling that as part of the problem, then you are kind of tackling a rounding error”
"At the end of the day, if you have a capsule collection that represents 0.1% of your total inventory that's being built of sustainable materials, it's not moving the needle. What's moving the needle is the other 99.9% of your inventory."
"More people care about the sustainability commitments of brands they are purchasing from than ever before"
"We want to allow brands and retail to be much more demand and consumer led than they are supply led so they can be commercially successful while minimizing their footprint"