Jake Sargent is a fashion entrepreneur and earth-minded venture capitalist at Soft Matter Ventures, a seed stage fund investing in sustainable fashion, food, and consumer goods. He’s also the founder of Atmos Magazine, a magazine linking climate and culture through the lens of creativity. Here, he shares with us his viewpoint on sustainable fashion from an investor’s standpoint, and why this space has so much to offer. Read on to see what he looks for in sustainable fashion investments, and some of the standout stars in the industry:
From an investor’s standpoint, why is sustainable fashion a smart impact investment?
Fashion is an enormously wasteful industry – we produce approximately 100 billion articles of clothing per year, and two-thirds end up in the landfill or incinerated within 12 months of being made. Apparel is also incredibly resource intensive – it takes 2,700 liters of water to grow the cotton required for one t-shirt. On the synthetics side, the apparel industry released 706 billion kg of greenhouse gases annually for polyester production alone.
Apparel is a smart impact investment because a spectrum of stakeholders – from consumers, to independent brands, to corporations – understand the rate of destruction is not sustainable and are directing resources to innovative solutions.
When you invest in a company, what criteria do you look for?
In the sustainable fashion space, I am looking for new distribution models, material innovation, and innovation in the supply chain.
In my experience it is difficult to scale a sustainable brand or marketplace without true innovation in one of those areas. While consumers care about sustainable fashion, it is not single-handedly driving purchase decisions for most consumers – so you need that innovation piece to be competitive in the market.
What would you consider the ”scaleable solutions” that are the fashion industry needs most urgently?
There is a renaissance happening in material innovation – with several exceptions, the fibers and materials needed to make the fashion industry sustainable at scale are not yet commercially available (but will be soon).
A couple better known examples are Bolt Threads, which is creating a bioengineered microsilk, and Modern Meadow, which is growing leather from cell cultures rather than from animals. We covered both in the climate and culture magazine I just launched, Atmos (www.atmos.earth).
There are also innovations in dyeing – including Colorzen, which has developed a solution to dye cotton with 90% less water and 95% less chemicals. On the distribution side, there are companies like Renewal Workshop that are working with brands including North Face to develop marketplaces of refurbished clothing.
Many major 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 fast fashion companies, tackling sustainability can sometimes feel like taking on an 8-headed monster. What advice would you give to major retailers in regards to implementing realistic, manageable solutions, and maximizing their social impact in a real and authentic way?
There are several corporations that are really leaders in this space and make a lot of investments into early stage material innovators – a couple examples are Adidas and H&M. H&M actually has a commitment to use only recycled or sustainably sourced materials by 2030. This might be an act of self preservation – an acknowledgement that consumers will turn against fast fashion if they don’t evolve their supply chain, but I think more retailers need to adopt that mindset.
The idea for Atmos (www.atmos.earth) stemmed from my work with Softmatter. It’s apparent that in addition to laying the groundwork for a more sustainable economy by investing in innovation, we also need to invest in cultural shifts – and one of the best way to do that is through media. Atmos is covering food, fashion, art, music, and human stories about the environment. The vision is for Atmos to play a small role in bringing climate to the forefront of culture, to make it part of our everyday conversations, and to inspire and provoke.
Tell us about the impact you’ve made at your fund. What impact accomplishments are you most proud of?
Two of the investments that I’m most excited about are in the material innovation and fiber space. Evrnu has created a technology to close the loop on cotton textiles – their process breaks post consumer cotton garment waste down to a cellulose and extrudes it into a regenerative fiber. Mango Materials has created a process to turn waste methane (from a waste water treatment facility, for example) into a compostable and marine biodegradable polyester yarn. Both companies are on the brink of scaling with major brands.
How has your involvement with SVC helped you and your company ?
Deal sourcing, due diligence, and relationships. Having a community of people that support each other in working towards a shared mission is invaluable.
Join leaders like Jake at our annual conference this November 13-15 in Berkeley CA, as we convene to “Welcome the Next Economy”.