Leslie Harwell, Managing Partner at Alante Capital

Though a small team, Alante Capital is a mighty one. Karla Mora, founder and managing partner, is joined by managing partner Leslie Harwell, with sustainable fashion veteran Eileen Fisher serving as chief advisor. Between the three women is a long and impressive history spanning backgrounds in finance, investments, supply chain reform, social and environmental impact (specifically addressing the apparel industry), and more.Their strengths come together to form Alante Capital, a venture capital fund investing in innovative companies that radically improve environmental or social sustainability within the textile & apparel industry. Read on to find out which scalable solutions are key, and how to best implement them in a company:

Karla Mora, Founder and Managing Partner at Alante Capital

From an investor’s standpoint, why is sustainable fashion a smart impact investment?

The apparel industry has a complex supply chain, complicated consumer dynamics, and underdeveloped waste management infrastructure. The industry is just on the cusp of exploring how technology can improve both sustainability and profitability.

Think about reducing overproduction (H&M had $4.3bn of unsellable inventory last year!), raw materials sourcing strategy in the face of climate change (polyester is a petroleum product; climate change is affecting cotton harvests), and changing consumer behavior that has meant massive growth in resale and rental markets (both of which are part of the sustainable consumption equation).

There are diverse business models choose from, and it is a relatively unsaturated market. Renewable Energy and Sustainable Agriculture have seen a lot of traction – but other industries, like apparel & retail, are in the midst of upheavals driven by technology, technology that can also drive social and environmental benefits.

When you invest in a company, what criteria do you look for?

Talented team solving an important problem or with a brilliant consumer solution. If there are not yet revenues, there should be a clear product-market fit and clear evidence that paying clients will be on-boarded in short order. Also, evidence of ability to execute is crucial.

Leslie speaking at an impact investing forum for Nexus

What would you consider as the “scalable solutions” the fashion industry needs most urgently?

  • Recycling technology to turn post-consumer waste to fiber
  • Viable, non-petroleum alternatives to synthetic fibers
  • Software to enable on-demand and/or demand-driven manufacturing
  • Logistics and software to enable and scale clothing rental

Many major brands and retailers are now looking to implement sustainability and corporate social responsibility into their operations and supply chain. However, we know that because supply chains are far more opaque in large companies, tackling sustainability can sometimes feel like taking on an 8-headed monster. What advice would you give to major brands and retailers regarding implementing realistic, manageable solutions, and maximizing their social impact in a real and authentic way? 

Shifting consumer behavior, increased demand for clothing and climate change have escalated pressures on traditional production methods. We work with apparel companies to understand the challenges they face in sourcing and producing clothes sustainably, and together explore how emerging innovations can help to address these challenges.

Our advice:

  • Pick a clear and communicable sustainability goal that compliments your brand identity and is deeply integrated into the products you sell. By having the strategy integrated into your product and communicating it effectively with transparent data to back up claims, it will be authentic and less likely to be considered greenwashing.
  • Tie it to a target timeframe for accomplishing the goal.
  • Identify what changes can be done immediately, in the short-term, and in the long-term. Are there industry initiatives to join? Readily available inputs that can replace your current inputs? What new promising innovation is emerging that could help you accomplish your sustainability goal and set your brand a part of the competition?

Tell us about the impact you’ve made at your fund. What impact accomplishments are you most proud of?

We’re just getting started!

Though we haven’t begun investing, we are proud of the role we’ve played to connect promising startups with early capital and mutually beneficial relationships with future customers and brands looking to integrate their solutions.

We’re also proud of the advisory board we’ve built, and how well we’ve been received by both mainstream retailers and apparel brands and the new guard disrupters. Our thesis spans hard science, consumer behavior, software, and design. In order to be successful, we have to have a diverse ecosystem. We feel like this is what differentiates us from other VC and impact funds looking at this space, and we have a great base – but it will be and should be a constant part of our evolution!

Karla with Alante Chief Advisor Eileen Fisher

How has your involvement with SVC helped you and your company?

We’re just getting to know SVC, but we’re hoping that SVC will bring us both pipeline and help us show the Social Venture community why supporting portfolio approaches for early-stage systems change investing is a great way to catalyze change in an industry.

To learn more about Alante Capital, visit their website here.

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