If you order a new T-shirt or dress from Aeon Row, when the package arrives, the startup wants you to pull an old shirt out of your closet and send it back. You’ll get a discount on your next order, and the company will turn your tattered clothing into fresh fabric for its line.
“We want to help our customers create a healthy relationship with their closet,” says Griffin Vanze, founder of Aeon Row. “By offering customers discounts when they recycle their worn-out clothes, we can encourage them to make purchases only when their clothing is worn-out.”
Vanze was working at an environmental nonprofit when he started thinking about how to help deal with the growing problem of apparel waste–and the fact that, while living on a nonprofit salary, he couldn’t afford to buy clothes from some sustainable brands on the market because of the markup on their fabric.
“I started digging around, and the two ideas just kind of clicked,” he says. “What if we could recycle fabrics, and is it actually cheaper to do that?”
The startup partnered with Recover, a company that recycles cotton clothing. First, Aeon Row sorts out any clothes that can still be used. Then, worn-out clothes are sorted by color, the fibers are broken down, and finally mixed with polyester made from recycled water bottles (the polyester blend makes the fabric strong enough for new clothing).
The end result is more affordable than standard cotton fabric, Vanze says. It’s also more sustainable: Recycled cotton avoids the water, pesticides, and dyes used in virgin cotton.
Aeon Row works with a knitter in Los Angeles to make the fabric, and a factory in Everett, Massachusetts, cuts and sews the clothing.
Each item of clothing in the new line is designed to be something people will want to keep. “Basically, we start with an iconic piece and then iterate on it to give it some unique details that make it stand out on its own,” he says. “But still not be that piece where someone sees it and goes, ‘Oh, you’re not wearing that one again.'”
Ultimately, the company hopes to help the fast industry move away from “fast fashion,” epitomized by cheap, throwaway retailers like H&M or Forever 21.
“[Fast fashion companies] have pitted customers’ desires against their own common sense, instilling this constant feeling of FOMO to create a feedback loop of increased consumption,” he says. “We can’t go back from that, so we want to write the next chapter of fashion.”