Two years ago, Tom Cridland decided to start a sustainable clothing business on a meager $8,000 government loan. Today, the eponymous label--adorned by celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Craig, Hugh Grant, and Ben Stiller--is profitable, and counts roughly $1 million in annual revenue.
Now Cridland, 25, wants to support business owners in the developing world. On Thursday, the British fashion entrepreneur announced the launch of "The Entrepreneur's Shirt," a roughly $100 garment guaranteed to last for as long as 30 years. Ten percent of sales will be split between two non-profits: Young Enterprise, which aims to help young people get jobs in the U.K., and Deki, a provider of micro-loans to small business owners based in countries including Uganda, Malawi, South Africa, Ghana and South Sudan.
While $100 for a t-shirt sounds pricey, it makes sense when you consider the quality of the garment. It's made from Italian cotton sourced from Biella, Italy, and includes double shoulder seams. A silicon treatment is also added to prevent shrinking.
Cridland was originally inspired by Deki's entrepreneurial roots. "They started with only £2,000 [$2,600], and grew through getting people to give entrepreneurs who were going out of business, and living in poverty in Africa the chance to continue their work," he said. "Micro-grants can go a lot further, because they [business owners] can reinvest the grant again and again [as the business grows]."
Deki provides loans of about $200, on average, to business owners who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford funding. Loans are typically paid back over a period of 12 months.
A sustainable approach to fashion
The business, which Cridland operates with his co-founder and girlfriend, Deborah Marx, aims to combat the notion of "planned obsolescence" in the fashion industry. Brands increasingly want customers to buy lesser quality clothing consistently--often at the expense of the environment.
Today, we consume some 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year, according to The True Cost, a documentary about the perils of the fashion industry. Meanwhile, almost 20 percent of global industrial water pollution come from the dying and treatment of textiles, the World Bank estimates, while factory workers often suffer from poor working conditions.
Cridland's garments don't come cheap. A t-shirt, sweatshirt, and jacket sell for about $47, $87, and $333, respectively. But the entrepreneur insists that there are long-term advantages to shelling out.
"Over the course of the next 30 years, how many fast-fashion produced t-shirts would you have to go out and buy?" he asks. "[With ours,] you'll look better while saving money in the long run. You're doing good in terms of protecting our natural resources by not contributing to the needless cycle of consumption and waste that currently exists in fashion."
The company works with a third-party manufacturer in Portugal, a family-run business that has been making clothing since 1964.
Of course, at just-two-years old, the upstart faces many challenges in crafting and selling a truly durable garment. The margins, for example, are relatively low: It costs around $26 dollars to manufacture a 30-year garment, which the business then sells for $47.
The shirts are so expensive to make, in fact, that "no third-party retailer has agreed to work with us," Cridland says. Customers, meanwhile, can be dissuaded from the sheer cost; the business sold just 500 of its limited-edition jackets. Overall, 40 percent of Tom Cridland sales come from the U.S.
Cridland currently pays his manufacturers in euros, rather than pounds, adding that the business took a massive hit following the U.K.'s decision to leave the E.U. in June. He estimates a loss of about 15 to 20 percent of sales over the summer months.
Still, the opportunity is great. Fashion is a roughly $1.75 trillion global industry, about $380 billion of which is spent in the U.S. alone, according to the most recent Joint Economic Committee Congressional Report. Cridland insists that, unlike his other competitors who manufacture sustainable garments at even higher price points, he's focused on a demographic that may have some "financial and emotional problems," and isn't necessarily environmentally conscious to begin with. He hopes to sell around 1,000 of the Entrepreneur's Shirt, which comes bundled in packages of 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7.
Nigel Olsson, the 67-year-old musician best known for drumming with famed singer Elton John, is one of several celebrities to endorse Tom Cridland clothing. "Feeling good about the way you look is key," Olsson tells Inc. via email. "Tom's brand is unique to me because it's stylish and comfortable and fits great all the time."
He also points to the relatively accessible price. "For people all over our world who can't afford to buy a shirt every week or month, it's amazing," he added. "The 30 year shirt is a brilliant plan. I hope I'm still around to prove that it works!"