In 2016, Brooklyn-based Alex Crane made samples and went to a trade show in Manhattan to start his clothing brand. It was a humble start with a few designs made from natural materials. And then, “thanks to the Internet and some truly amazing folks, we started to grow,” he says. Now the company aims to make all their clothes biodegradable by 2025.
Crane who always wanted to start a clothing brand didn’t think of himself as a natural entrepreneur. Crane who grew up in San Francisco, moved to Rhode Island to attend Brown University. While a student, Crane jokes that he ‘“sort of talked [his] way into the RISD apparel department.’’ After graduating, Crane moved to Brooklyn and took a job designing bags at Jack Spade for 3 years.
It was there, he says, “I realized everyone was just pretending to have the answers…so I figured I was just as qualified as anyone else. And now I’m fully hooked. I love data, I love spreadsheets. I love running a business just as much as I love designing clothes.”
The Lines Bo Shorts were one of the very first samples he created, and they’re still in the collection today. In fact, they’ve become the brand’s all-time bestseller, he says. “It feels good to make pieces that stand the test of time.”
That’s where Crane’s passion for sustainability comes in: it’s all about longevity and materials that can go back in the soil.
“I love natural materials and I really don’t like synthetic materials. Natural materials are more alive, more breathable, more evolved. Synthetic materials feel like what they are: oil and plastics. 100% linen fabric is beautiful, but linen-polyester blends lose all the magic. So, from a design perspective, the choice is easy. And then, once I fully understood the environmental cost of synthetic materials, I became convinced that we had to free the industry from dependence on oil and plastic-based fibers. Everything we make should biodegrade back into the Earth.”
And that’s the company’s goal: by 2025, Crane wants all their clothes to be fully compostable with attention to every detail, including dyes. “We’re close, we just need to work on the natural dyes,” he says.
While many stalwarts in the industry are shifting to recycled fabrics, Crane is sticking to his guns: fibers that come from Earth, are typically grown or harvested by farmers, and will thus, break down into soil.
“I see a lot of ‘recycled polyester’ these days and I think the word ‘recycled’ gives people comfort. But, truth is, that’s not much to brag about. It takes a lot of energy to recycle polyester. Every wash adds microplastics to our water supply and ultimately the ocean and, when you throw it out, chances are very high that it will end up in a landfill.”
While there has been progress made to make recycled fabrics more ecological, Crane is committed to a different kind of circularity: he wants to compost those famous Bo shorts and then use that compost to grow next year’s flax crop.
“Imagine using compost made from our clothes to plant new crops!”
Grown organically with no venture capital funding to date, Alex Crane has built a brand through sales, and now finances inventory purchases through bank loans and lines of credit, he explains.
His aim is quite clear: to help shift the apparent industry away from synthetics, to make clothes that allow people to feel light and breezy, much like its tagline, and build a brand that has a global community.
Using “less is more” as his design philosophy, the clothes are simplistic, classic silhouettes, with emphasis on the materials and the feel. “It takes discipline to do less. So, once I find a truly good material I know I’m on the right track.”
While the company showcases most of the classic natural materials: cotton, flax, hemp, wool, there are innovations also in their manufacturing. For instance, their Campo wool sweater is 3D-knitted in St. Louis, Missouri. The 3D-knitting, he says, not only reduces textile waste while only using the material that’s needed, it also creates a longer lasting garment with a stronger weave and fewer seams.
Plus, he’s on the lookout for new natural materials. “The natural world is very good at creating renewable, biodegradable materials. Right now 65% of all clothes are made from synthetics and only 1% are made from natural materials. If humans want to keep making new clothes, we need creative ways to regenerate our materials. One exciting example: I think mycelium leather will replace animal leather in the next decade.”
Some may disagree with Crane’s outlook, arguing that there is not enough arable land, water, or natural resources to rely wholly on crops such as cotton and linen for clothing, but he’s determined to craft a brand that defies those naysayers.