This morning I met with Jason and Jeff, co-founders of WearPACT, the sustainable underwear company. They met and started WearPACT while MBA students at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Jason is showing off their awesome compostable shipping bag that I was so impressed with. Even the glue on it is compostable! Pure genius and proof that where there’s a will there’s a way.
They sent me off with a free pair of boy shorts, event though I wanted to buy them, which I’ve found to be a very comfy indeed. They’re a thinner, silkier cotton than the boy shorts I’ve bought elsewhere, and come with a cute print bag that’s handy for storing jewelry and such.
OG: Tell me about the name WearPACT.
Jason: Well, first we called it ActionPACT when we were just going to do men’s underwear. When we added women’s, we needed a name that would work for women too–we thought ActionPACT was too macho. We had Yves Behar do the branding–essentially you’re wearing a pact between yourself, your underwear and the cause you’re supporting with your purchase. 10% of sales of each pair go to a charity-Oceana, Forest Ethics, and 826 National.
OG: This is remarkable, as most companies who donate a portion of sales don’t give more than 1% of profits, so 10% of sales is massive.
Jason: To build something sustainable, it has to be beautiful and work on all other aspects too. Then we also worked within the constraint of it being environmentally and socially responsible.
OG: Like Method, with tho they led with gorgeous cleaning products that work great, and the eco benefits are core to the product, but not trumpeted to the consumers?
Jason: Method was a huge brand inspiration for us, we really like them.
OG: So why underwear?
Jason: Jeff was hunting for sustainable and quality underwear, and I just wanted to start a green business of any kind. We looked at the category and couldn’t find an existing eco market leader, and saw that luxury underwear is a growing segment, with room for growth. Men’s and women’s underwear sales grew in 2008, in general it is a healthy category.
OG: Like the underwear index indicated?
Jason: Exactly! Also we wanted to focus on what people actually need, and well, we all need underwear. Plus there’s clearly room for innovation in the category.
OG: How hard was it to find Planet Access Company? I’m impressed they even exist!
Jason: We were introduced to PAC by Horny Toad–Gordon helped start Planet Access. It may have been solely Horny Toad’s fulfillment center at first, have since become a valuable fulfillment for many small and conscious companies.
OG: What were the biggest obstacles you faced as a startup?
Jason: I’m pretty familiar with startups, I’ve worked on about 6 so far, so we have a company attitude that we will be derailed weekly, and just need to work through these challenges. Potentially company-destroying problems come up all the time, but we just have to plow through them.
For example, we were starting up last summer, and when the financial crisis hit in Fall 2008, some of our investors backed out. So we started on a much smaller budget than we’d originally planned. We knew our floor–essentially we had to be able to pay for the first run of production and get the website up and running. So, we made sure we at least had that much.
OG: Do you see WearPACT expanding the product line in the future? Do you see yourselves eventually becoming the eco Victoria’s Secret, but for men and women?
Jason: We’re not trying to be anyone but PACT–we’re brand new, so volume is tiny right now. First we’d like to dramatically increase sales. We don’t want to deal with fashion whims but do like to come up with one or two new pairs per quarter. We’re still learning about what our scale will be, and trying to expand beyond the eco-consumers without compromising our values. We and our customers to buy beautiful underwear that fits great, looks great, but also has this eco dimension. We want to design a product that people are excited about, that’s sexy and fun but not trashy.
OG: What are you looking forward to at Opportunity Green?
Jason: I’m really looking forward to meeting like-minded people in sustainable businesses that we might partner with someday.
OG: You’ll check out Yves’ panel, of course?
Jason: Of course!
OG: Anything else you want to tell readers?
Jason: Buy lots! We’re offering a 25% discount to Opportunity Green attendees. Just enter the discount code “OG25″ when you place your order.