By Kristi Soomer, Founder & CEO, Encircled
Editor's Note: We help founders everyday make smarter decisions to grow their fashion brand into an ethical, sustainable, profitable business. A part of equipping founders with these skills is to tell the genesis stories of the already successful fashion brands shifting norms in the fashion industry for people and planet. Here is the story of beloved ethical and sustainable fashion brand Encircled. As usual, it started with a problem.
Coming Full Circle - How It All Began
Encircled started in 2012 with one product, The Chrysalis Cardi.
At the time, I was working in management consulting and travelling over 100,000 miles per year. The idea for the Chrysalis Cardi came to me while I was packing for a trip and my suitcase broke. I had to stuff everything into a much smaller bag, which opened my eyes to the fact that I was bringing way too much stuff. One of the items I had packed was a circle scarf. It made me wonder:
Though I had an MBA and a background in finance and economics, I had no fashion experience. But what I did have was a steadfast vision to create designs that offered an environmentally friendly and ethically conscious alternative to fast fashion. I immersed myself in fashion design books, took an illustration course and a basic sewing class. I visited fabric shows and started drawing out product ideas, which I taped to the doors and walls of my condo.
The first sample of the Chrysalis Cardi was made on a sewing machine I bought from Craigslist, with scraps of fabric from a store on Queen Street West in Toronto. It was wonky but the idea worked. Working with a local pattern maker, I perfected the concept, and worked hard to find a factory in Toronto that would make the Chrysalis Cardi come to life.
The name “Encircled” came from the idea that fashion can be full circle. I wanted to create versatile, high-quality and eco-conscious clothing, and do it in a way that honored the environment and respected workers’ rights.
Since those early days, Encircled has grown from one item to over 30 designs that are sewn within 35 km of our studio in Toronto. We added a sustainably sourced Rayon from Bamboo fabric blend to our designs a few years in, and then expanded to include the closed-loop, produced Lyocell last year.
In 2018, Encircled became a Certified B Corporation, joining the exclusive group of 2,500 companies worldwide who have met the highest standards for social and environmental performance, legal accountability and public transparency.
How We First Sourced Our Eco-Friendly Fabrics
In the beginning, textile sourcing was a challenging process. I didn’t have the capital or the knowledge to knit my own fabric locally so I went to a few fabric shows and ended up flying to a fabric expo in Miami. I found many US fabric suppliers, but soon realized that importing fabrics would be extremely costly. Through that show, I was referred to a fabric supplier that we still work with today. I found my other main fabric supplier through a trade list from the Toronto Fashion Incubator. The fabric I use is very high-quality and leaves a small carbon footprint, compared to other fabric suppliers.
As we started to grow in size and scale, we’ve been able to knit more in Toronto. We now knit about half our fabric between Toronto and Montreal.
What We Use Today
As a business owner, I believe in progress over perfection. I always focus on choosing fabrics and notions that maximize the quality and functionality of Encircled’s designs, while practicing conscious compassion for the planet. We’re not perfect – and no fabric is perfectly sustainable – but we are committed as a company to always improving, learning and growing! Follow us on the journey to learn more!
If you are navigating the confusing supply chain struggling to secure sustainable fabric, ethical factories, and just generally be confident you are making the right decisions to grow your business, we can help. Join us on Deadstock District to connect to a community of fellow brand owners and fashion professionals and learn how to grow your brand for people, planet, and profit.