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Founder Interviews

The Story of Trace Collective

The Story of Trace Collective

Kickstarter

Aroa

Aroa

Co-Founder

Trace Collective

Trace Collective is a fashion brand driving environmental regeneration through fabric sourcing and radical transparency. We produce unique, timeless pieces handcrafted locally at the highest environmental standards so our community no longer has to choose between values and style.

🇬🇧 London

📅  December 2018

🏆 2 Founders

💵 Kickstarter in progress

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Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi there! I’m Aroa and I’m one of the founders of Trace Collective, a sustainable fashion brand driving environmental regeneration through fabric sourcing, circular production and radical transparency. My cofounder Antonia and I started working on Trace Collective about a year ago, after over a decade of combined experience in the fashion and social innovation industries. We were painfully aware of the huge impact that our clothes are having on the environment (the fashion industry produces more carbon emissions than shipping and aviation combined, and it’s the world’s second largest water polluter!) and didn’t find any brand out there that ticked both our values and style boxes.

More importantly, talking to our colleagues, friends and to industry experts, we realised that, at a time when making more conscious choices is more important than ever, the term sustainable is starting to wear out. People don’t trust sustainability claims as they used to (partly due to unabashed greenwashing from fast fashion companies), don’t understand how their purchases connect to a larger picture, and associate sustainable with boring and plain. We wanted to re-image sustainability, re-design it with our community and push it farther. A fresh reset. Our leading question was: can our clothes actually become a driver for environmental regeneration?

I think neither of us imagined themselves starting a fashion brand, but we saw a gap and an opportunity to show that there’s another way to do fashion, and another way to buy. Trace Collective makes timeless, comfortable pieces of menswear and womenswear that are versatile enough to take you from the office to that dinner with friends.

We went for style, comfort and high quality, producing to the highest sustainability standards and telling our customers every single detail about their clothes. Zero compromises. What that means is that not only you can get clothes that look good, but that with each of our pieces we save on average 2 years of drinking water, 2 years of bulb energy usage and 5kg of CO2. That’s 90% less water than an average item of cotton and 50% less energy.

We do all this through really careful and detailed supply chain management (from sourcing to production to transport) and you don’t have to take our word for it: we use blockchain technology and smart labels so our data sits on an incorruptible ledger that’s verified by a third party. So when you scan our labels, you see all the info in a fun and intuitive way, including a map telling you where our clothes come from, and who made them, and you can play around and reconnect with the incredible stories behind them.

We’re a really small team, formed by us two, the founders, and most recently our wonderful designer Clare Payne, and two interns without who we wouldn’t be here. The scope of work to bring this collection to live was incredibly vast. From design, to fabric sourcing, to finding the right suppliers, audit and blockchain partners, developing an online presence and communications plan, managing social media, working with press, shooting our lookbook and preparing our Kickstarter… those are a few of the things that we covered this past year, being 2 people most of the time.

We started Trace Collective with a lot of passion but almost no capital, so we haven’t able to outsource any of the main chunks of work, or to build the team to spread the workload. What this means is that every single day is different, and that we all do a bit of everything. In general, Antonia leads more on the branding and creative aspect of the brand, and I lead more on the business development side. But ultimately we take all decisions together and a lot of work is tightly interlinked.

Most days in the morning you’ll find me in front of my laptop, preparing presentations and excel sheets or writing articles or blogs, or answering emails. I try to use my mornings as focused time to do chunkier work that requires deep focus, and actually try not to check emails until I’ve squeezed in 2-3 hours of solid work. My afternoons are more flexible, it’s when I take all my meetings and telephone calls, so you can usually find me walking my dog while I call a supplier or having a coffee with usually pretty inspiring people.

Tell us about the process of creating your products.

This is the first time me or my cofounder Antonia have worked on creating a product, and we had to run a full collection, so it’s been a great learning journey! Our designer Clare Payne was instrumental in this process, she brought to the company incredible insights on the industry. Antonia and I worked closely with her both on the aesthetics of the collection and on the supply chain management. Because of our core sustainability strategy, many of our design choices were limited and we had to find workarounds to the normal solutions of the industry.

To give you an example, we only use 3 different fabrics due to their regenerative properties, so the fabric type led the design of the clothes. We also don’t use elastics as those are derived from plastic and not biodegradable (which all our clothes are), so we had to find workarounds to find the same functionality. Other things we took into consideration at the design stages was the full life cycle of the production, thinking in particular about durability and recyclability of the garments. Our design was built on a lot of research and we had to go through many iterations to get to the final clothes that you see today. It was a huge learning curve for all of us.

How did you launch the Kickstarter campaign?

Our Kickstarter campaign launched a couple of weeks ago and will be live until December 10th. As a new brand launching in Kickstarter we faced very specific challenges, as we had to identify and build our audience quickly before we started preparing our Kickstarter page. So no, we did not have big lists or channels to spread the word, but we did a lot of prep in the coming months with the audience that we did have and through our personal and professional networks, and managed to have a great start – we reached 50% of our goal in our first 48 hours. Since then progress has been slower, but we’ve got a lot of press attention and nice collaborations, and are now working our way through social media ads.

What are your sources of inspiration?

We love podcasts, we always try to listen to them when walking to the office or travelling. Here’re some of our favourites:

In terms of newsletters, the truth is we don’t love getting emails (does anybody?), but no-miss ones are Kyle Westway’s weekend briefing, the Morning Briefing from the New York times, and Nicholas Kristof’s newsletter. Always thought provocative and they keep us up to date with critical conversations. 

But possibly by far the greatest source of inspiration for us are books. We wrote a blog post a while ago with some of our favourite books – some are recent inspiring reads, and some others are old loved ones that actually shaped our careers. Have a look!

Do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs?

Four things.

  1. Do it. Don’t spend too much time thinking about it by yourself or waiting for the perfect moment. Get out, start having conversations with different people, getting feedback on your idea, and start testing. Probably your end product or service will end up quite far away from what’s in your head right now, and the sooner you start the earlier you’ll get there. Plus, there’s nothing more incredible than bringing to live something that’s truly yours. So, why wait?
  2. Collaborate. Our biggest learning has been how powerful it is to sit down with like-minded companies and devise how we can work together for both our aims. This may be truer in the social entrepreneurship space, but I think it applies to any kind of company. Ask for help, feedback, and offer help and feedback. Get out of the daily grind to see who’s doing similar stuff and how can you collaborate instead of replicate, and who’s working towards the same goal and how can you help each other. Don’t be a heropreneur. 
  3. Take care of yourself. I really don’t like this widespread idea that entrepreneurs need to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, shower in coffee and be sleep deprived. Which also feeds into the former point of the heropreneur. That only leads to burnout and to becoming a difficult person to work with. The truth is that your idea and your company are going to always be in your head, from the moment you wake up until you go to bed. So it’s up to you to put checks and balances in place, make sure you do activities that help you disconnect, and make sure you keep a healthy personal life. There will always be problems to keep you glued to your phone and sick worried, but in my experience it’s only when taking a step back that you find the answers to these and put things in perspective. So remember to take care of yourself and show up for the people who love you, because they’re the ones who’ll carry you through this.
  4. Give back. You’re putting something out in the world and with that you have an immense power to make a difference. So think about how can you tweak your model, your product or your service, so it makes the world a bit better. Think about your environmental and social impact, and always aim to do better.

How are things today and what are your plans for the future?

After our Kickstarter closes on December 10th we’ll keep on taking pre-orders until March, which is when our first production run will be ready from shipping. If you’re Europe-based, you’ll be able to find us in pop-up markets and sustainability events in some of the major cities, we have an exciting calendar planned! 

Besides that, we’ll also move to our new release structure, where we won’t follow collections and seasonality but do special collaborations with leading designers and drop unique pieces every few months. 2020 is a really exciting year for us as we’ll also be opening our first investment round for a very special new launch in September. So lots happening, stay tuned!

Trace Collective is a social company, which means that besides of the impact achieved through our supply chain, 50% of our profits go to environmental regeneration and sustainability awareness projects, so we’re really looking forward to growing our charitable strategy next year.

Where can we learn more?

You can learn more about us in our Kickstarter page, our website, and our social media profiles on Instagram and Facebook. We’re also on Twitter and LinkedIn but not very chatty over there! And if you want to talk about our products, transparency, or the fashion industry, pop me an email at [email protected]

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