Sustainable Fashion: Five San Francisco Startups Reinventing the Way You Shop

Founder stories
Sat, Jan 25, 2020 8:49 PM
By Ibrahim Cisse

When you’re associating fashion with cities in the US, your mind is invariably going to land upon New York and Los Angeles. Even Nashville and Miami come into play if you’re doing more of a deep dive. One city that generally won’t come to mind is San Francisco.

Though, really, with its immense startup culture, the city has nothing stopping it from disrupting the fashion industry. In fact San Francisco has already been making waves with sustainable fashion. Find the startups that are currently transforming the way people purchase their clothing. 


If you’ve never heard of Merino Wool, here are a few facts you should know:

  • It comes from Merino Sheep

  • Its fibers are softer, more delicate, lustrous, and sensitive than most other fabrics

  • It’s a highly sustainable resource

With the above points in mind, Allbirds co-founder – Tim Brown – could not understand why this remarkable material wasn’t being used for footwear. Tim teamed with his eventual co-founder, Joey Zwillinger—an engineer and renewables expert to bring this to life.

Due to the Allbirds’ co-founders’ foresight and inspired thinking, they’ve manifested a new type of shoe that utilizes natural materials. This direct-to-consumer-based company is also focused on the betterment of the world. They’re about providing people comfort in a way that’s beneficial to both communities and the environment. Conversely, flashy logos or overly intricate details rank low on Allbirds’ list of priorities.

Instead, Allbirds is focused on sustainability initiatives. For instance, returned and lightly used Allbirds are given to communities consisting of people in need.

Even more impressive? This B Corp utilizes 90% post-consumer recycled cardboard for shoeboxes, shopping bags, and mailers.

Careers Opportunities at Allbirds 


Everlane operates under the guidelines of what they call Radical Transparency. Meaning, Everlane only works with the most ethical factories around the world—subjecting them to rigorous compliance standards. The startup expects a score of 90 or above based on factors such as fair wages, reasonable hours, and environmental responsibility.

Furthermore, Everlane has listed and provided a description of every single factory with which it does business. Cofounders Michael Preysman and Jesse Farmer have given their customers a clear picture of the beginning-to-end process of every item of clothing they purchase.

To further highlight its dedication to sustainability, in 2018, Everlane pledged to stop using virgin plastic by 2021, both in packaging and in clothing made of synthetic fibers.

Also, on October 24, 2018, Everlane launched something called ReNew. They used 3 million recycled bottles to create a line of outerwear.

Careers Opportunities at Everlane

Trove (Formerly Yerdle)

Leading brands, such as Patagonia, REI, and Arc’teryx, work with Trove to cultivate white-label channels that manage the resale marketplace. More specifically, the startup builds and operates resale programs for those brands.

The primary focus of Trove is to provide a platform centered around repurposing clothing and creating a circular economy. Fast fashion is directly contributing to wasteful manufacturing methods, and these reselling and repurposing techniques are integral to offsetting those compounding issues.

Trove was founded by Andy Ruben, who served as Wal Mart’s first-ever chief sustainability officer.

Careers Opportunities at Trove


Instead of tearing through clothing in fast cycles, Cuyana is promoting the value of lean closets for women.

In other words, with their expertly-crafted, ethically-sourced products, the co-founders of this startup – Shilpa Shah and Karla Gallardo – want consumers to focus on quality over quantity.

The philosophy of Cuyana is embedded in the very basic idea of fewer, better. It’s a minimalist approach that produces clothing that’s both manufactured durably and with a keen sense of timeless fashion-forward thinking.

Careers Opportunities at Cuyana

Denim Unspun

Think about the amount of clothing that doesn’t leave the shelf—even the clearance racks. It’s inevitably wasted and seemingly ends up in an abyss, completely wasted, and a contributing factor to the influx of global carbon emissions.

Conversely, a startup like Denim Unspun is employing automated, localized, and intentional manufacturing practices to reduce carbon emissions.

With its digital customization platform and a highly reputable hardware team, Denim Unspun is realizing its revolutionary technology. Essentially, with these predictive tools that utilize algorithms and robotics, this startup is making customized jeans that it believes to be the best fitting on earth.

In more Layman’s terms, the idea is to produce jeans on an as-needed basis, with body-scanning technology, instead of mass manufacturing. They’re partnered with San Francisco-based sewing company, National Apparel, who puts the jeans together with Denim Unspun’s custom patterns. 

If you noticed, the above supply chain is short and local—a contributor to the startup's global emission-reduction efforts.  

Denim Unspun was co-founded by Walden Lam, Beth Esponette, and Kevin Martin. The company emphasizes local manufacturing.

Careers Opportunities at Denim Unspun


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