Interview by Sandy Joy Weston
Eliza Edge is the co-founder and Chief Rebel of Cahoots, the first-ever closed-loop children’s clothing membership. As a champion of entrepreneurship beyond fashion, Eliza has consulted hundreds of under-resourced businesses on marketing and sales and she is currently an adjunct professor at Bard College where she teaches social entrepreneurship. In this collaboration with “Let’s Keep It Real” podcast, Sandy Joy Weston sits down with Eliza for a socially distanced interview.
Sandy Joy Weston: Welcome, Eliza. How are you?
Eliza Edge: Hi, Sandy. I’m good. Thanks. How are you?
SW: I’m awesome. I am pumped. When I saw all you were doing and what you went to school for and what you’re teaching. I mean, sustainability, I’m all about that. So we’ll get into that later, but just so that you know, I don’t think … I can’t even remember the last time I went into a department store and bought something new.
EE: Love that.
SW: If you could give us one word, good, bad, ugly, doesn’t matter- what word would most describe how you felt in the past 30 days?
EE: Community-Inspired. I know that’s not really a word, but my community has been top of mind, as I’ve been drawing upon these people during these times.
SW: Okay. So who is your community?
EE: For the business Cahoots, we’ve been focusing so much on this Hudson Valley community and finding partnerships that are working towards sustainable business and education. So there’s that aspect of community. On a personal level, I’ve been participating in Black Lives Matter marches here in Kingston, New York, and just really tuning into this entrepreneurial ecosystem that is growing in the Kingston area. I’ve been so thankful for having these people who support us these past few months.
SW: I was just saying that. I know there are a lot of people doing some crazy things out there and I’m like, “Oh please, we don’t need that now.” But where I am, I was seeing the same thing, my community, the people, I think have really risen to the occasion. Even when I go and get my takeout, everyone just seems to step up their game. They’re smiling more. They’re friendlier. Their customer service is off the charts. Now, I’m not saying that’s everywhere, but when I go biking and do all this stuff, people can’t wait to wave and say, “Hi, how are you?” And that gives me hope for mankind. I love that. They’re trying their best to find the beauty in everything.
EE: Yeah, exactly. We all threw on masks and here we are helping one another in a really amazing way.
SW: Do you feel at all the pressure of trying to figure out your business differently during this time?
EE: Oh, definitely. Our business has sort of morphed and taken a different direction, marketing tactic, communication style, etc. In the past 30 days it’s been a struggle to watch this debate about whether schools will open or not. For us it means do kids need styled outfits for school or pajamas to be at home in?
SW: Oh, I didn’t even think of that.
EE: Yeah. When COVID first hit, there were all these families who were getting out of New York City and trying to quarantine elsewhere. So they needed outfits quickly for a couple of months. That’s where we came in and were able to facilitate that. But when it comes to schools opening, kids just don’t really need clothing if they’re not going to be in the classroom.
SW: I wasn’t even going there because I’m thinking kids definitely need clothes, but maybe not as many. But if they are purchasing, wouldn’t it be more likely they purchase through you versus buying brand new?
EE: Oh, yeah. One side is that it doesn’t make sense to buy cute clothes for kids, but I think in a lot of ways, COVID has made our business really valuable in that it’s very convenient. So we provide outfits that get shipped to the doors of parents who are now homeschooling and trying to work full-time. It also offers flexibility. At any moment you might need to move, you might need to send your kid to school. You might need to have them drop out and be home. So renting outfits makes sense. You’re not investing in something. Yeah.
SW: Tell us a little bit more about the business, about how when you get it, it’s not like you just exchange them, but you … I don’t know. They look artsy. I got one. I’m like, I want to wear that stuff.
EE: We call it artfully mending. It’s really what makes us different from anything else out there. Basically, all the clothing that we get back, at the end of the season, or when your kid outgrows it, if it has a stain or maybe a little tailor maybe a larger rip in the knees of pants, it goes through our artful repair process and we make the garments more beautiful and more unique, more special over time. But we’re also ensuring that those garments get second, third, fourth lives. So we’re reducing the need to produce new clothing, which of course, comes with all of these social and environmental issues.
SW: Okay. How do you come up with the ideas? Do you do them or does somebody else? Are you the artsy person?
EE: My business partner does the sewing and the mending aspect of it. And that’s been a journey itself, to figure out how to scale and make that process more efficient. However, I’ve been learning how to do clothing overdye myself, which is so easy. And it basically is taking garments that have a little stain, throwing them in these beautiful, bright color bins with sort of natural dyes and the stain is gone and the garment looks. I mean, personally, of course, I’m biased, I think it looks more beautiful afterward. And that’s something that I’ve been learning to do myself.
SW: I love buying recycled clothes. But when I go out, all my friends always say, “Where’d you get that? Where’d you get that?” Like, you guys don’t want to hear where I get it because it’s used. And they’re like, “Do you mind wearing someone’s used jeans?” And I’m thinking, “Well, yeah, wash them.” I don’t even get that. Would you care? I mean, you, I’m sure you would buy used jeans, right?
EE: For me, I’ve always worn used clothing. And like you, I get so much joy in finding a unique garment in a consignment shop or thrift shop. And beyond clothing, I get satisfaction from repurposing something, whether you’re fixing a tool at home or you’re upcycling plastic containers.
SW: Now I’ve heard that when donating clothes, sometimes if you go to big places like Goodwill, they don’t need it all.
EE: Yeah. The data out there says that about, I believe it’s like 85% of the clothing donated ends up going to landfills in the end.
SW: What, 85?
EE: Yeah. It’s a pretty huge percentage. And then there is this whole issue about clothing being shipped off in containers to more developing nations and in turn damaging these economies that were once circling around sewing clothing and now we’re just shipping in all of our “donations”. We could do a whole podcast on this. I mean, the other depressing thing is that people get tax write-offs for donating clothing.For example, the NFL will make thousands of T-shirts for both potential winning teams at the super bowl. And then whoever doesn’t win the super bowl, all of that merchandise is then donated and the NFL writes that off. In a way, we’ve created incentives for people to just produce more and more junk.
SW: Okay. All right. Well, we’re going to have to get to some joy soon because … So here’s the deal. I know yours is a children line, but us adults out there who want to be responsible. I wear my clothes as long as possible. I like them. I patch them. I’m good with that. All right, cool. Giving them to shelters where they wear them, I’m assuming that’s good because they need it. Do you know what I mean? But what should we do with the rest? Should we go to consignment stores? Is that the best way to do it then versus just donating it?
EE: Shelters are good. There are consignment shops and there are thrift stores that take clothing, depending on the shape your garment is in. If there’s any holes or stains, you could always downcycle it. H&M has bins pretty much in every store where they’ll take clothing and then they turn it into various things like wall insulation and whatnot. But honestly, the good that you can do is to be more mindful about how much you are purchasing and consuming because there really isn’t a great place to bring clothing. So trying new models like renting or just buying from consignment shops is already a great way to reduce your impact.
I also understand it’s hard to be more mindful, especially when there’s a sale going for clothing. But the reality is that the shirt shouldn’t cost $5 because somebody sewed it, it was in a factory, it came from cotton. It’s severely underpriced and that’s a major issue in itself.
SW: I want to know, I want to be aware of it so that we can change up. So even just the little thing of, like you said, trying to rent clothes or before you buy it, do you really need it? Or who else can you give it to, like your friends, your neighbors before you just get rid of it? So I love that. All right, let’s get back to the kids’ clothes. What ages? And do you charge for how long it takes to work on the item or no, just if it’s a shirt, it’s a shirt?
EE: We do newborns to size 8 years. Right now we just charge by the garment. Every season we typically get all of the clothing back. And then there’s no rush to get that fixed. We can save them all up and do big bulks. For example, just the other day I did a big bulk color dye of 100 shirts. It took me an hour or two, but now those shirts are more beautiful. You can’t see the stains. They get a second life.
SW: If I had little kids, I’d be all over this. I can see myself being like, “Oh my God, you just saved my life.” And the kids being so happy they get the new stuff. I mean, I would think the kids love it.
EE: They do love it. I mean, they love getting a little package mailed to them. And all of our outfits are personally styled. So if you love cowboys, you’ll get some cowboys. And our artfully repaired garments become a symbol of being on the right side of climate change and doing good. So if we could wear these tokens, these patches as like the badge of honor, that’s kind of how we would see this aesthetic going forward.
SW: You say you help a lot of businesses and entrepreneurs who are struggling. Is it just in clothing or anything that’s sustainability business?
EE: Before I launched Cahoots, I worked and developed a program for a nonprofit that offers marketing and sales support to under-resourced entrepreneurs in New York City. And through developing that program, I’d consulted with hundreds of entrepreneurs, from food to childcare, to software services, entrepreneurs that fell below 500% of the federal poverty guideline. And figuring out ways that I could share the knowledge of marketing and branding for them to build their own platform and increase revenue.
SW: I have a question here from a young lady. She doesn’t know what she’s going to do with their life. So keep that in mind. She’s newly out of college. She is very into wanting a business that has something to do with sustainability. She said, please ask Eliza how do I find what’s right for me … This is a big question.
EE: I would say to focus on what are the problems that you see out there. If you care about sustainability, is it the masks, the COVID masks that are all over the ground? Or is it something else? Look at these problems. And there are solutions out there that … I think oftentimes this concept of being an entrepreneur or starting a business seems so out of reach for so many people, but really anyone can do it. So if you’re passionate about sustainability, by all means, go out there, run a pilot, find a couple of customers and see where it takes you.
SW: What has been the most challenging thing with Cahoots? Is it the quarantine stuff or is there something else? What has been the most challenging?
EE: That’s such a good question. A lot, but I think the challenging thing for us is to explain in a very short way what we are and how it works and why families should care. There’s so much news and there’s so much that we tell people that they should do. You should use less energy. You should eat organic. And now we’re saying to you, actually, fashion makes up a huge part of your footprint and the emissions that are associated with your personal consumption and you should care about fashion. It’s kind of one more thing that they should care about. So I think that for us, it’s been difficult to articulate and communicate this urgent need to change consumption when it comes to apparel and doing so in a really a succinct way.
SW: Yeah, you’re right. Because when I went online, I didn’t realize until I started reading through it, all that you do. And it’s not just a quick answer. Oh, you rent kids’ clothes. There’s so much more to it. And they have to be willing to take the time to hear, yeah. But once I read it, I want to shout it from the rooftops.
EE: Well, thank you. We definitely could use more shouting from rooftops. There’s a lot going on in the problem statement. Not only is it the inconvenience of shopping for kids’ clothing, but why we started this business and what we’re so passionate about is actually reducing the impact of the apparel industry altogether.
SW: Well, I was going to ask you the most exciting thing of why you love your business. I think you just answered it.
EE: Yeah. That and being a part of teaching this next generation a new way of consumption and that sharing is good and that new isn’t always better. We don’t have to always buy the new iPhone. In fact, things that come with a story and come with a past, maybe not so much an iPhone, but clothing. Your grandfather’s jacket that was passed down. That’s really special. That has stories. So those kinds of things are better than new. So creating the story and educating youth families about their impact is really what I’m excited about.
SW: Before we go, I got some rapid fire questions. You ready?
EE: Great. Yes.
SW: Okay. Favorite color?
SW: Favorite food?
SW: What keeps you up at night?
EE: Oh, COVID.
SW: Okay. What helps you sleep like a baby?
EE: A fan.
SW: What do you do for movement? Do you exercise at all?
EE: I love to run.
SW: A runner. Okay. Do you have any shows that you watch on Netflix or Hulu or anything?
SW: I very rarely watch TV, but my favorite show is, it’s a show called Transparent.
SW: Terrific. Do you have a favorite book?
EE: That is a great question. Oh, man. Clothing Poverty is a great one as it relates to this topic. If anyone’s interested in learning more about that, that’s a good one.
SW: Okay. Hobby?
EE: Running, canoeing, hiking. I love hiking.
SW: Okay. Do you have a favorite day? If you could say, “Sandy, this is what one of my favorite days would look like.” What would it look like starting in the morning?
EE: Good question. Wake up and have coffee. Get outside for a hike. Have a really nice meal with friends and family while we can all hug each other without having to socially distance.
SW: How can our audience reach you?
EE: I’m happy to email, which is probably the easiest way. My email is eliza @cahootsco.com.
SW: Okay. And if they just want to go on and purchase your clothing, what would they do? They just go to Cahoots?
EE: Yeah. So go to https://www.cahootsco.com/ and check out our membership, sign up. Or if you don’t have a family, follow us on social media for everything fashion. And that would be great. Thank you.
SW: Of course. All right. Let’s keep it real people. You’ve got to spread the word. I know you love it. Subscribe to the podcast. You want to share specifically this podcast and rate it and like it and all that good stuff. We got to spread the word. It opened my mind to things that I didn’t mean, to not think about it. Sometimes we just go around our business and we forget. Or we’re not aware. But now that we’re aware, we got to do something. So let’s start with the kids. Until next time, toodles.
THIS INTERVIEW IS A COLLABORATION BETWEEN SANDY JOY WESTON and THE FLORENCE BELSKY CHARITABLE FOUNDATION.
SANDY JOY WESTON
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Author of Train Your Head & Your Body Will Follow & My 30-Day Reset Journal
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