Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Jackalo is a line of long lasting and comfortable sustainable kids clothes that parents can trade when outgrown to be renewed, resold, or responsibly recycled. In this fireside chat, its founder and CEO, Marianna Sachse, opens up about reducing children’s clothing waste and encouraging parents to be mindful when it comes to purchasing kids clothes.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Reflecting on her journey with Jackalo, Marianna highlights her experience in implementing circularity into her clothing business.
What inspired you to start Jackalo?
I started Jackalo out of frustration. I had been lucky enough to get a lot of hand me downs for my son until he was around 3 or 4. However, I noticed we stopped receiving so many items after that age, especially pants.
When I started buying pants for him, for example, I realized that this was because pants are not well made. They fell apart really quickly and didn’t even last until he outgrew them. I felt silly learning that I was investing money into clothes that weren’t lasting and realized the amount of waste I was creating. I felt there needed to be a better solution.
Kids are also pretty picky about what they will wear. A lot of clothes aren’t designed in a way that aligns with what kids have in mind. Adults are used to finding a size that fits them. But, the design techniques that are used for kids to make things fit are elastics with buttons on the inside. It’s innovative, but it’s uncomfortable for them. Kids will refuse to wear things like that or hard clothing.
I was determined to find a solution to a clothing waste problem that I knew lots of other parents were having. So I wondered—How can we make something that’s long-lasting and meets kids’ super high standards for comfort and doesn’t contribute to fast fashion?
How would you know kids are uncomfortable with their clothes?
My kids were around 3 or 4 when they started expressing a pretty strong opinion. Kids know how to communicate—they will reject things, even if they don’t have the words to express it. For example, they’ll physically pull things off that they don’t like or they’ll cry. There’s a lot of ways you can tell when a child is uncomfortable, even if they’re not verbally expressing their feelings.
What conversations did you have with your friends and other parents about sustainable kids clothes? How did that influence your decision to create a solution?
I definitely have an intentional community around this. Among the people that were in my broader circle of parents, nobody particularly likes clothing waste. They would find ways to avoid creating waste. They would use informal networks and pass down kid clothes to close friends who have younger kids. There are also online stores that are focused on the resale economy like ThredUp.
I also thought a lot about alternative models and how they would work. We had to start with the idea that the quality of kids clothes is subpar. A third of parents in the US put their kids' clothes in the trash. Everything is designed for speed and disposability with the cheapest materials and production processes. Consumers don’t mind because they know their kids are going to outgrow the clothes. This is a feedback loop where quality, sustainability, and ethics gets worse and worse. I wanted to go back to old-fashioned quality and high standards of production, and do everything I can to keep clothes in use for as long as possible.
How is Jackalo different from any other clothing brand?
We stand out in product quality. We think about length of use and end of life from Day 1. We consider what will happen to our products when it can no longer be used.
When you’re designing for durability, you ask yourself, “Do I go for the most durable material out there?” I was looking at different polymers and materials. However, you also have to think about what happens to clothes if it’s ruined in another way (eg., spills, rips).
So, I had to make a decision. Do I go with these kinds of materials that are durable, but not necessarily sustainably produced? Polymer means it's coming from plastic. I use organic cotton most of the time. If I use any other material, it will be a natural material that is compostable and produced in a way where the dyes don't render it un-sustainable.
I use fabrics that may not be as long lasting as petro-chemical based polymer; however, we add in features that increase durability and adjust to how kids grow. I chose to think about the features that make clothes long lasting such as reinforced knees, extra length in the leg, and strong seams. I chose a material that is comfortable enough for kids and is made from fibers that can be recycled or composted. For example, all our pants are about an inch and a half longer than the standard pants. We use an elasticated drawstring that stretches our clothing, so kids can wear them longer.
I acknowledge that things may tear—it’s impossible to design kids clothes that are tear-proof while being sustainable. The design features that I’ve added make repairs easier. It’s easier to patch the garment in a way that’s not going to make the garment uncomfortable for kids.
How do you communicate with customers on what to do with outgrown clothes from Jackalo?
I’ve incorporated circularity into the business model from day one. I operate a tradeUP program for all of our garments. When a kid outgrows a garment, we encourage parents to send it back to be renewed, resold, or responsibly recycled. Any garments that are in good condition get put up for resale on our website. I say good condition loosely because I will make sure we do the work to refurbish it and ensure there are no stains.
When parents trade UP their garments, they get credit that they can use for future purchases. They can use that credit to purchase clothes that are pre-loved or try new clothes. People will often do a mix and match of buying new and pre-loved items.
When people ask what to do with clothes that aren’t made by Jackalo, I offer a mending book people can purchase. It teaches people how to mend, so they can learn how to fix up any garments. I also encourage people to use the For Days Take Back Bag, a company that focuses on recycling waste, because they’re keeping clothing out of the waste stream. They work with 260 partners to prevent waste from going into landfills. I partner with them, so you can buy Jackalo clothes on their website. If you buy a bag on their website, you can also get $20 in credit, which you can use to purchase Jackalo clothes.
How do you encourage busy parents to be intentional with the clothes they purchase for their kids?
I automate reminders and instructions on the website. A few months after someone makes a purchase from Jackalo, we remind them about 1) our tradeUP program and 2) whenever I’m about to do a drop of pre-loved items. This ensures that I can get some pre-loved garments back before I do a drop. I will sometimes add an incentive to participate.
What do you think about your production cycles as a small business owner?
It’s very different for a smaller boutique fashion brand. You typically only produce two cycles (Spring/Summer, and Fall/Winter). A huge issue with larger brands is that they completely ditch everything from the previous season. There’s always a new collection coming and older products released barely weeks before are discounted 70% on their website. This undercuts the economy of boutiques because people are attracted by the discount timeline.
We think of our styles as evergreen and there’s no reason for them to be heavily discounted at the end of the season. I’ll only do large discounts if I only have one size of a product left. For example, I always make sure that I have clothes for teenagers, but sometimes, those items don’t sell as well. You’ll sometimes see them discounted on the website for 50% off. But, I’m not doing these discounts to undercut the boutique—it’s only if we’re down to the last field.
Why focus on circularity and how can others start?
The circularity piece is a lot more complicated. When I started this company, I wanted it to be a circular company from the very beginning where people can trade and buy back clothes when they’re outgrown. When I launched, I didn’t have a system and I built it over time. When creating a business, think about business fundamentals like your minimum viable product. Don’t start with a complicated system—make it as straightforward as possible. Once you find the easiest way you can start, build your more complicated system around it. Most importantly, it’s okay to start and learn as you go.
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