If you’re like the average American, you buy more than one piece of clothing a week, but you don’t actually wear it—80% of what we own just sits in our closets, and we each toss out around 70 pounds of clothing each year. Meanwhile, clothing brands keep frenetically churning out new styles, using massive amounts of water and energy. Fast fashion is bad for the environment, and it's not even making us happy.
A new startup called Carte Blanche, now crowdfunding on Kickstarter, wants to reinvent the way women’s clothing gets made by vetting each garment through the crowd. Customers follow along during the whole process—from sketch to fabric to fit—and then vote on what gets made. In theory, they’ll end up with something they’ll want to wear for years.
"I suppose you could liken our addiction to buying $5 T-shirts to our addiction to fast food," says Carte Blanche founder Monica Noh, who hopes to convert more people to her approach to a wardrobe: A handful of well-loved, long-lasting pieces in rotation. "We’ve grown accustomed to the idea that we can buy and discard clothing for so little money."
Noh’s approach is closer to slow fashion—customers spend time immersed in the design process, build an attachment, and then the pieces are carefully sewn by local craftspeople in New York City.
Though the collection of dresses costs more than what you’d find at a discount chain, they aren’t really that expensive, thanks to the business model. (Each dress ranges from $129 to $179, well below what you’d pay for something similar from a boutique.) Since Noh is selling directly to customers, she decided to eliminate typical retail markups. The company also keeps costs down because crowdsourcing guarantees each garment they invest in will be a success.
"Crowdsourcing allows me to draw resources away from less popular styles and focus time, money, and energy into producing only the most successful ones," Noh says. "We eliminate guess-work in the design process and show the customer the materials we've chosen, how each garment has been designed, and where we're producing them so we only make what we need and virtually eliminate overproduction."
That’s in contrast to the typical large clothing brand, which tends to end up with unsold products even after investing millions in trying to predict the trends—losing money, and also contributing to even more textile waste.
Unlike the big brands, Carte Blanche is also manufacturing locally. "Manufacturing overseas is actually quite costly—it’s now only 5% cheaper to produce in China than the U.S.," Noh says. It’s also easier, since she doesn’t have to go back and forth with a distant factory to see samples or make changes. And it's something that Noh believes in personally.
"When I started Carte Blanche I knew I didn’t just want to create more stuff, I wanted to build a collection thoughtfully and work with people who really care about the art of creating garments," she says. "There’s a small but very resilient community of garment industry veterans here who are wonderful craftsmen and really take pride in the work."