Responsible Impact

Responsible Impact Episode 108 – Part 1- The Future of (Sustainable) Footwear, with Chloe and Stuart of Thousand Fell

Shoes are arguably the most difficult fashion item to make – even before you attempt to make them in a way that is simultaneously durable, affordable, and sustainable – but Thousand Fell’s founders, Chloe Songer and Stuart Ahlum, (@ThousandFell) were ready to change the game. In a special two-part conversation, they share with us their background in training programs with international brands and manufacturers, and their commitment to ushering in the future of sustainable footwear with ingenuity and heart.


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Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (7s):
Where sustainability within fashion is headed, we believe firmly or strongly, is end of life management, and responsibility for material at end of life.

Natalie (46s):
Welcome back to Responsible Impact, the show where we discussed all things sustainability and e-commerce. The impetus of this show, this podcast, is the recognition that as players and e-commerce MagicLinks has standing in the same room as many other actors with considerable collective impact on the environment. The way we all consider sustainability in the aggregate and then, the way we specifically own our respective movements towards sustainability is crucial to actually moving the needle towards good.

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (48s):
I say this because the conversation with Chloe Songer and Stuart Ahlum, the founders of the shoe company, Thousand Fell, was noteworthy in that it made eye contact with just about alllllll the interwoven facets of sustainability. They too are looking all the way around the room as it were. So this is a special two-part conversation, and I’m excited to present it to you. This is part one of our conversation with Thousand Fell:

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (1m 13s):
So, I’m Chloe Songer –

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (1m 15s):
– and I’m Stuart Ahlum –

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (1m 16s):
– and we’re the cofounders of Thousand Fell. We met seven years ago in China. I was living in Wuhan, Stuart was living in Shanghai, previous to that he was living in Thailand. We did the same postgrad program in Asia, and then we lived and worked in Shanghai at the same time. And both of us kind of really early in our career got, just got the chance to spend time in and out of factories and close to the means the sourcing and production, and kind of started our career, you know, near consumers and near consumer brands.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (1m 52s):
Yes. Spent a lot of time in between Shanghai, Dongguan, and Fujian working in footwear factories and setting up sample rooms and sourcing, and full-scale production. And so we leverage a lot of that when launching Thousand Fell, and, and Chloe kind of framed up something pretty nicely, but early in our career, we saw how the manufacturing process was run. And so when thinking about the changes that we wanted to make within larger retail, having that background, and that understanding, has allowed us to really tackle this mission of ending textile waste and doing it through circular retail and closed-loop systems.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (2m 32s):
So that’s kind of our genesis; its where we met and that’s it! That’s how we started the company.

Natalie (2m 45s):
You mentioned being in Wuhan. So with all of this with COVID – was that particularly – I mean, you must know people who were there?

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (2m 48s):
Yes, this year has been absolutely insane. Around Christmas time – so yes, I spent a year in Wuhan. I actually worked at the Wuhan University of Technology, which has been embroiled in some of the drama with the COVID virus and research. It’s an amazing city and Stuart and I both, you know, we spent three years in China and we love, you know, Chinese people and Chinese culture.

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (3m 23s):
It was interesting. I left five years ago and nobody ever asked you about Wuhan until this year and now I’m like the local expert!

Natalie (-):
And here I am doing it, too!

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (3m 30s):
I know! I absolutely loved my time in Wuhan and I had really close friends, one in particular who I would consider a life/best friend. Because well, one was not an international city while I was there. I had a tight-knit group of international, ex-pat friends, but I really was pushed to join a local community and to make, you know, awesome local friends in it helped that I spoke the language, but it’s an incredible city with an incredible group of people and it has been really tough to see what happened to them earlier this year.

Natalie (4m 0s):
So I saw that you guys had worked with Gap’s Rotational Management Program. Where there any sort of takeaways from that, that informed what you’re doing now, or was it mostly your experiences in China? Talk to me about that.

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (4m 24s):
Totally. So I actually did the management program, but Stuart and I, well to back up – we are now dating – and we were together during that time and we were also working together in a couple of side projects during that, but maybe we should just dive in to tell you the full story?

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (-):
Let’s do that.

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (4m 26s):
So we met and I was living in Wuhan; we both did Princeton in Asia. Stu was in northern Thailand. We both wanted to figure out retail consumers and extend time in Asia. And so we both moved to Shanghai. And in Shanghai, I was working for Alexander Wang Group on an awesome new brand called Arete Studio. And it was a small team launching made in China, designed in China luxury label, which was fantastic because I got to be really early on in a kind of luxury fashion business and see everything from the sourcing supply chain, you know, sales, marketing fashion week, and really got to be on the BizDev side of a retail business and, and, and realized that that’s what I wanted to do.

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (5m 6s):
And I’ll kind of let Stu come in and fill in his part, but what I do, what I did from there, is I had a mentor tell me – I had been super interested in sustainability base on my background, growing up in California around environmental activism, environmental policy that had been involved with before and – and mentor of my told me, if you wanted to change the fashion industry, you need to learn how to move units and you need to learn how to build a big business and you’ll affect more people. I was so interested in high fashion. I never imagined that I would go to Gap, but Gap has a fantastic management training program.

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (5m 51s):
You know, if you’re trying to enter the retail industry, I would highly recommend looking for a training program at a big business because you’ll learn best practices. And you understand really what a macro level, how “to think business” across markets and across kind of, you know, skill sets and business functions within, within the corporation. And while I was there, Gap had launched in San Francisco, Gap had launched Aero. This is about 2015, 2016, which was their innovation lab.

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (6m 50s):
And they’d poached the head of innovation from Patagonia and he was awesome. They were doing token investments into awesome bio fabrication: cellular agriculture, agriculture companies, so Bolt Threads, Modern Meadow. And it blew my mind – like lab-grown leather, lab-grown spider silk, like what the future of retail and fashion can be, if you didn’t have to rely on cotton fields that used so much water or, you know, animals for leather in tanneries. And so at that time, and Stuart will jump in in a minute and tell you his background, but he had access to supply chain sourcing and R&D facilities for footwear, and we started just looking into new materials and testing different things and it’s a passion project.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (6m 51s):
We joined materiO’ in Paris, materiO’ connection in New York, and started just testing mushroom leather, apple leather, cork – like try to make sandals and shoes and sneakers out of so many different types of things. This sort of started with a kind of an obsession or a fascination with new material innovation. And as we got deeper into this journey, we ended up meeting an adviser of ours from the recycling space and starting to think “fuller-picture” or wholistically about the progression of sustainability within fashion.

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (7m 22s):
And where sustainability within fashion is headed, we believe firmly or strongly, is end of life management and responsibility for material and end of life. So we’ve kind of flipped with Thousand Fell, our mission is now how to in textile waste and really using that material innovation to design for recycling. But, now you fill in how you bring the big, big expertise.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (7m 41s):
Yeah, I dunno about that. But so we, as Chloe framed up, spent time in Asia I was in Shanghai, and started actually on my career, helping international consumer brands enter into the China market. And so we worked really closely with brands like SK2, and Skull Candy as they, as they looked at the China consumer and how they were shopping differently. And it was mobile-first, which was like, so revolutionary, you know, seven years ago, it kind of came full circle here too, but  seeing all of those best practices and really being interested in consumer and then at the same time, there’s a really, at least when I was there, a really robust entrepreneurship scene in Shanghai.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (8m 22s):
So it got really involved with a couple of guys that we’re launching footwear a direct to consumer and spend a lot of time down in Dongguan as they were manufacturing products. And it helped them launch in, in the US and we sold predominantly wholesale, but into a retailer’s like Nordstrom’s in Saks and Stitch Fix and learn a ton about the footwear space and the footwear consumer and these, and this price point product category, that people were buying, you know, two to four times a year and just kinda burning through these 10,000-step a day, basic, basic sneakers.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (8m 55s):
And so really interested in, in, in changing the way that people were consuming and putting product on a closed-loop. And so, you know, it’s really tough to donate. Footwear its really tough to resell Footwear and there were some, there are some great companies that are in the high-end resell market, you know, the stock X and goat and, and, and stadium goods. But, but for your everyday shoe, it was really hard. And so this solution we found was putting that on a loop and making sure that we could recapture product that we could, that we could break it down into its component parts and do fiber recapture and do like-for-like recycling so that we were putting fabric and fibers back into new shoes.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (9m 35s):
And so we built that full system here and it really was informed, again, by consumer behavior in the early days in the footwear space and how it was manufactured. And then as Chloe mentioned, the early partnerships we’ve had with some really great mentors of ours in the waste management recycling space.

Natalie (9m 51s):
I mean, you guys are probably the only footwear company that I’ve seen – and granted I’m not an expert – but that I’ve seen who discuss breaking it down into its component parts. I know that it becomes just sort of a wholesale, like the sum is greater than its parts thing, and then like that it’s like, “Oh, well that’s one complete show that you can’t take it apart, and nothing about that can be reused.” I think that’s really revolutionary. I mean are you, are you aware of anybody else who’s approaching it from that mindset?

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (10m 15s):
I think it’s definitely something that the industry at large is moving towards and you’re seeing it with Ellen MacArthur Foundation and with the UN Sustainability Goals and that, and the, you know, the Global Fashion Pact that everyone signed in France last year. Circularity is a big tenant of, of the industry solution towards sustainability going forward. I just think those time horizons are, you know, 10 or 15 years out. And you’re seeing larger brands like Addidas launch pilot programs, and you are seeing Nike doing early take-back programs where their regrind, but it is not at scale and it’s not in entire industry-shifts yet.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (10m 52s):
And I think it’s hard with, with larger supply chains to do that. And then I think, I think where we’re headed in and kind of the next challenge for us is that take-back or recapture is one thing, And being able to send a shoe back, it’s one thing, but actually being able to recycle it and showing customers what that product journey looks like is this is kind of a new frontier. So we really are leading in that space.

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (11m 15s):
Yeah. The difference we’ve seen, it’s a big focus for us over the next year, it will be like consumer education and customer education and market development on what does recyclable mean. And because there are many different versions, you can call something recyclable technically, but then take it back and do what a lot of businesses do where are you burn the product and waste to energy. Or you can take it back and you can maybe down cycle part of it, like just take the rubber and down cycle it into like Trax or construction projects and then burn the pieces that you can’t pull apart or recycle or that were, you know, compromised by adhesives or cement because footwear is really complex.

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (12m 55s):
You’re taking a 100 odd parts. I actually forget the number in the average number of parts in a shoe, but taking a hundred-odd parts and you’re cementing or gluing or heat fusing them together, melting them, together. And the problem with recycling as you need clean material feeds and you need tonnage waste in those fields to hit profitability at scale. And so it’s really a design thinking exercise. How do you redesign products to be able to easily pull apart to have as a few material feed’s as possible to have adhesives and attachment points that don’t impact recycling. And then how do you take back that product at the end of life in and incentivize both consumers and brands to try to collect back that product. And then how do you put that old fiber back in the new product? So it’s a whole new system that we’re piloting looking at building. I think we have like a fantastic Gen One shoe and were the only shoe like this that we know of on the market or in development.

Natalie (12m 59s):
Being able to break things down on the backend of influences where you source them from them in the first place. You’ve got some really great things like palm leaves, you’ve brought like aloe, different rubbers, I saw you have quartz involved in your shoes. Can you speak to sourcing for your components?

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (13m 12s):
Yeah. So it’s, it’s like a couple of different stakeholders and we have a couple of different factors that we consider in sourcing. So the number one first and foremost is can it be recycled? And an oftentimes what that means is that is it, is, are there no blends? So its really hard from a mechanical recycling point of view to blend, or to recycle, blended like cotton-poly or you know, like spandex or nylon. And like it gets really tough to pull those individual fiber feeds apart. So we’ve, we’ve focused on making sure that we’re sourcing things that are 100% rPET, 100% cotton.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (13m 49s):
-And making sure that we can actually recapture that in there and then mechanically recycle it. The other consideration is that we really want to make sure that we’re reducing any and all virgin materials that are going into it. So if we’re using rPET, making sure that it’s recycled, if we’re using cotton, making sure that it’s organic and if not organic, then making sure that its, it’s recycled as well. Making sure that the component parts that we’re using were swapping out a virgin plastic for industrial food waste that we can compost, which is huge for us.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (14m 23s):
And so there are certain things to that, that impede recycling. There’s a reason why we do Aloe Vera as opposed to metals like silver and copper that a lot of people use for anti-microbial or for anti-smell. It’s really hard to recycle those metals. And so we’ve done natural coatings on there that don’t impede recycling, but at the same time also keeps our carbon footprint low in the beginning of the supply chain. And so being really focused on renewables, being really focused on recyclables and then, and then making sure that those feeds can be circular.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (14m 56s):
So what’s really great about RPT for Footwear, in particular, is that we (A) we don’t recommend that you watch our shoes don’t do that. Microplastic pollution is a real thing. So it sheds, which was not good but don’t wash ours, but what’s nice is that you can turn on rPET like 20+ times. And so we can recapture that we can grind it back down and we can get rPET fibers, and then we can reintegrate that back into our supply chain at a yarn level and into the textile level, which is so valuable. And the same thing with rubber, we can recycle it and recapture into crumb rubber in and put it back in.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (15m 29s):
And so we’ve been, we’ve been really thoughtful (A) to target these material feeds that are already kinda at scale from a recycling point of view. And you can imagine the car tire industry, recycling rubber. PET with the plastic bottles, cotton with early fiber, and in clothing recycling. So being able to work into these feeds is really important and then making sure that that we’re sourcing the best.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (15m 59s):
Like our rubber supplier is unbelievable, it’s a company called Yulex. They do all have the rubber supplying for Patagonia’s wetsuits, and wetsuits are notoriously harmful and have heavy environmental impact, and the Yulex team has been unbelievable. They are carbon neutral and the rubber is just incredible. So we’re making sure that we’re working with some of the best in class best-in-class partners.

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (16m 22s):
The thing that we noticed was that, you know, a lot of these, a lot of these mills are really interested in innovating and changing. And so there’s been a lot up early push to do R&D, and material testing, and development into recyclable and into sustainable materials. I mean, it’s what the industry is demanding. And so we’ve been able to find some really great partners that have started early on in doing that research. The tricky thing is that, and Chloe alluded to this, is that footwear is such a technical process and it’s really, it’s really intensive.

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (16m 54s):
So you’re like stretching things over lasts, and you’re stitching them and there’s a lot of tension, and then your putting them in and out of heating and cooling chambers, so the material has to be really durable. And so that’s a whole otherR&D process that we had to go through in order to source these. But the sourcing part of the business is really tough. And I think what was nice is we were able to leverage our industry experience in order to achieve that.

Natalie (17m 24s):
Yeah. You know, this actually broaches a question: So of all of the things that you could have started off making with these wonderful values in mind, it sounds like footwear was one of the more difficult ones to achieve. Why footwear versus something else? And then also, why the sneaker versus other kinds of shoes?

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (17m 42s):
Yeah. I can jump in and talk about why footwear and I think you’re absolutely right. So footwear is by far the hardest product in retail to manufacture and it translates as equally as difficult to recycle. And I think what’s so interesting about it is that we wanted to come in and make real change and, and are the challenge was how do we do a, you know, the most difficult product category and at the same time, how do you do a product category that probably has the most impact on waste?

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (18m 14s):
And so you have 17% of landfill waste is textile waste. Footwear is disproportionately wasteful. It accounts for a 10th of production, but a quarter of all waste. And so it’s big, it’s a big problem in the industry.

Natalie (18m 28s):
That’s nauseating. Okay.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (18m 30s):
So hard it’s again, it’s so hard to recycle and it so hard to donate it. And so it goes straight to landfill. The other thing they are to is that its it’s a 10,000 step a day shoe now, and this is what everybody is wearing. They were wearing it to work. They are wearing it on the weekends and we’re seeing people buy upwards of eight to 10 pairs of shoes a year in, in the US in really the sneaker category it and we likened it to an intimate and you know, like lingerie in that people are kind of burning through and there’s no good aftermarket. So its really the perfect product to put on the, on a closed-loop.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (19m 2s):
But I can let Chloe we kind of jump in.

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (19m 3s):
No, yeah, no I was just gonna say you’re sh when you hear the number’s it’s staggering, 2.4 million pairs of shoes are so in the US every year. So that’s eight per American. And in this product category the first user is the last user. Its really hard in textiles and general to actually donate. We can’t donate forever. It’s one of the reasons there are textile wastelands in developing countries and it, at some point we have to be accountable for own waste and they can’t continue to ship it off and footwear has uniquely hard too donate because as Stuart just mentioned, it is like an intimate.

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (19m 39s):
If a shoe smells even slightly inside, it’s a sign of a bacteria, or if the back is worn down at, it will affect the second user’s gait. So there are lots of things that have to be right in the shoe in order for it to legally be able to be donated. And generally, particularly with sneakers, these are daily wear products that you’re tearing through that get brown, smelly, whatever, and the average consumer’s buying two to three pairs a year, and they really have an eight to 12-month lifespan if you were wearing them frequently.

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (20m 12s):
So that’s why so many more shoes are going to landfill versus, you know, coats or handbags or the things that you can make last and keep in your closet for five to 10 years. Sneakers are a fairly consistent repeat purchase and the perfect product category to start to tackle. And the other kind of problem, there’s an environmental side. You know, it’s really easy to switch your t-shirt, supply chain line from like a cotton-poly blend to organic cotton or a us US-based cotton. That’s a really easy supply chain swap.

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (20m 42s):
But the thing, when you look at the main component parts of footwear, it’s rubber plastic, and leather, and those are three of the worst offenders when you look at the HIGG Material Index. Leather is the single worst material in the fashion industry from a carbon, energy, and water point of view – and land-use point of view. And that’s everything from the land use used to raise the cattle to the deforestation kind of linkage as well as the tanning process. And I think Stuart mentioned this, but the chemicals that go into tanning: chromium is a well-known carcinogen.

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (21m 16s):
And you know, the tanning process has a high impact both on the workers and the land around the tannery. And then post-life or afterlife: you might think leather is natural or biodegradable because it’s, you know, skin, but once you’ve tan something you’ve mummified it and leather can take eighty to a hundred years to break down in a landfill. And so, and then, and then rubber and plastic can take up to a thousand years to breakdown and they contribute to again and then heavy metal runoff in microplastic pollution from landfill runoff.

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (21m 47s):
So there’s a lot of problems with the component parts of footwear as well. So if you’re going to try to make a big difference, you might as well start with the most wasteful product category. And then it’ll be easy to like tack on hoodies. T-shirts socks, whatever you want later. But if we’re actually interested in making a difference and not interested in having an easy business model, advocate you know where we need to just start.

Natalie (22m 43s):
I have profound respect for you both for basically saying that you wanted this specific thing because it was the hardest. I’m talking to you though, of course, after you’re off and running. I mean your shoes are very successful. Everybody seems to love them. Your site is beautiful. You have your supply chains up and running. I have to imagine that when you were staring down the barrel of making a choice or picking an easier route at the beginning and perhaps looking for backing, but that was maybe a little bit of a different, different feeling. Was that a difficult process for you with or are you comfortable speaking to that?

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (22m 45s):
Yeah, no. I mean every single time we talk to a prospective partner investor, we get asked why sneakers.

Natalie (22m 51s):
I thought I was being original-ish!

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (22m 54s):
Especially because the sustainable footwear space has ballooned in the past two years and it’s fairly crowded. And there are so many brands claiming to be Sustainable Footwear that especially if you think about it from kind of an investment point of view, people want to invest in the leader or a market leader or white space and you know, (A) there’s this argument that the Footwear will never be a winner, takes all markets. It’s a huge mass of global industry and is not going anywhere, we’re always going to need shoes. There might be different trends or style trends that come and go, but footwear, in general, will be there, and we’ve only barely scratched the surface at the percentage of footwear made globally that it is actually truly sustainable – and then that’s on top of that recyclable.

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (23m 37s):
So there can be many winners in sustainable recyclable footwear in our minds. But then it was, it was much easier because we had from working, especially with Stuart’s background in footwear, we had already really deep connections within footwear supply chain sourcing and our biggest advantage early on with, you know, we were fairly young in our career, but we were able to bring together an awesome team of industry experts from Keds and Cole Haan and Nike to help us build this. And s don’t think it would have been as compelling within any other product category.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (24m 18s):
I love our team. I can’t say enough good things about it. And I think it’s so interesting and, and anybody listening who is an old shoe dog I think will recognize this and laugh at this, but like its kind of this really tight-knit community. It’s like everybody knows everybody in footwear, it has only a couple big players. Everybody’s either worked at like Nike, Adidas, Cole Haan on New Balance, and like Converse and Keds. And so it was really interesting to tap into that and in, to be honest with you, I know Chloe mentioned in the past couple years, people have people have been talking about sustainable footwear and that’s a good thing and I’m really, I’m really thankful for that.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (24m 60s):
But man, it as an industry that has not really undergone a lot of innovation in the past, like a hundred years, right? Like everybody still has their Chuck Taylor All-Stars that look at the same as they did in the 1920s. That’s crazy! And so its really ripe for disruption in and what’s so interesting is when we went out to talk about our vision, it’s like the people that work in this space and know the space intimately and very well, loved the idea because its something that I think everybody had been whispering and talking about for a long time on how to do it.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (25m 30s):
And it really is the new frontier for, for production and for the way that companies and brands should be operating. And so I think that was, that was a comforting and a big and important win for us early on, we was getting people that were experts bought into the vision and the mission. And it’s really funny that you mentioned like how daunting it was early on. I’m going to say two things. One. I think if I knew everything that I knew today, when I first started, I would have been way more intimidated.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (26m 4s):
So ignorance is a little blissful, you know, which is good. Right, right. So we were like kind of blindly optimistic like, Oh yeah, we can totally do this. And didn’t even understand half of the things that we’d have to do. I’m going to credit that a little bit of like dumb luck there. I also think what’s nice and what we started doing a founder’s is hind sighting and doing it on a quarterly basis, and starting a little bit more frequently to do it on a monthly basis, to really see how the business has grown and the milestones that we’ve hit.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (26m 38s):
And I think it gets really easy for any founder in any company and any start-up at all to lose sight of the progress that you’ve made. And it’s like, you’re so busy doing 1,000,001 different things and putting out a ton of small fires and operating the business and the daily operational tasks that it requires that you lose sight of like a lot of the progress that you’ve made. And so we’ve really started celebrating those milestones and it’s been nice to look back and go like, man, like this goal of a year ago was to kind of be where we are right now.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (27m 11s):
And it’s amazing that we’ve done that. And look how far we’ve come, you know? But in the middle of a hectic Thursday to be like, “what sort of progress or have you made?” I don’t know. I might be less, not “optimistic,” but like less clear-minded about it. So it’s good to have that, that point of reflection.

Natalie (27m 30s):
I think you’re saying that is a really fascinating, almost like a philosophical difference and it’s formed a little hypothesis in my brain, so I’m going to spit it out and you can tell me if I’m on the right track. I think a lot of people, particularly in a very competitive field, whatever it might be fashion, footwear or not, in order to feel like if you’re going to survive, that competitive nature means that you are trying to look as far into the future as you can. And what you’re describing is, is a nice balance where you have some retrospectives. And I think that that might inform the sense of mission and really have of verified place, right?

Natalie (28m 17s):
Like you’re a very self-reflective as a company and your product is self-reflective and it knows where it wants to stand in history. Cause you’re also looking at history. Am I misconstruing or taking it out of context?

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (28m 20s):
No, I think that’s beautiful. I would say a couple of things. One, I think something we know about ourselves and especially know now in light of COVID and what we’ve been through the past four months is that we as founders, a superpower of ours is definitely that we’re thoughtful. I think we have put a lot of ourselves into this business and especially because we spent so many years building that on our own before even taking outside investment;

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (28m 50s):
we have a tendency to plan and think, and really want to share. And so I think I would definitely say you’re correct. And write on that, that is feedback that we get really often, but then the retrospective piece, looking back versus looking forward, it’s so interesting you call that out because there is this push and pull, and I think that’s actually something between Stuart and me: We spend a lot of time thinking about even who we are as founders and the difference between the two of us, and I have to hindsight, but my background was also in a retail business where we spent the majority of my job with hindsight.

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (29m 24s):
Hindsight, in sales, quarterly, monthly, weekly // weekly, monthly, quarterly // annually, and you know, looking at a really, really tied to year-over-year growth and knowing what happened and where we needed to go. And so I’m, you know, really focused on where have we been? What are we trying to do? And I’ll let you explain your take!

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (29m 55s):
Yeah. I’m doing a better job looking back, but I shoot from the hip and just try to get s**t done and I’ve come to realize and done a better job realizing what do we need to do that and pushing us to do that. And then when we need to maybe collect our thoughts a little bit and gather our troops, right?

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (30m 27s):
There’s this need to like build, build, build, go, go, go, go, go. And can’t do too much of one of the other. You just can’t. Like, we can’t be so tied to the past that we’re afraid to act and handcuffing ourselves, but we can’t just keep pushing without thinking about it and coming back to the basics: mission, vision. Why are we doing this? Let’s reset. Especially when you’re tied to things that move so quickly, like social content is going out every day and were testing TikTok or this, that and the other. Things are now moving so much faster than I think we could have ever imagined, and it’s really, really important that we continue to come back and zoom out and look at both hindsight and then future plans.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (31m 13s):
And the other thing I’ll say too is if you hind-sight regularly, what I’m realizing as it allows you to act quicker because you have more confidence in what you’re doing, it’s like a really good example of this was the social justice movement when it hit and how we responded to it. And I think I look back at the business and I think I’m the most proud of that in the past year. And it took us a much longer to figure it out how we were going to respond to COVID, you know, by several days, but we had to think about what it meant to be a business.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (31m 45s):
And we knew that – starting with COVID – we knew early on where we stood when it came to sustainability and to environmental activism and environmental justice, like we had that ironed out and hammered out. And if anybody was like, what do you think about this mission? What do you think about, these initiatives around environmentalism? And we totally knew where the brands do it and how to speak to it, but we didn’t know to how to talk about was virology and epidemiology and global pandemics. And you know how to really talk about mass like social injustice and racial injustice and what that meant to the brand and how the brand is spoke about it.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (32m 22s):
I think we were able to really readjust when COVID hit, we were able to think about what sort of business we wanted to build and how mission-driven we wanted to be around this idea of building a better tomorrow and treating people like people, and that being really central to Chloe and I and to the business that we were building, the teams that we were working with. That when the social justice movement was really just starting, we were able to really quickly think about and know how we wanted to respond and understand, I think really quickly, how social justice is inextricably linked to, to environmental justice and, and vice versa and, and to bring in a community around that and amplify voices that were experts in that where, where we might not have been experts, but to use of our platforms to talk about that.

Stuart Ahlum of Thousand Fell (33m 12s):
And so I think, I think all of that came from being really clear on the community that we were building, the mission that we had around building a better tomorrow and having hindsight of that and being thoughtful about that as COVID spiked, and in being able to see kind of similarities with, with that need to really be authentic and respond to the social justice movement.

Natalie (33m 35s):
I mean, we had some things similar within MagicLinks, like we were like, Yeah, no question, right. This is the right thing to be doing. And this is unacceptable that people are treated this way, but you bring up a good point that there are a lot of companies that really stumbled. I mean, I’ve watched a number, of organizations that I know, some of them just outright dropped the ball and it was a little bit like, why did you need to take time to think about this? We put out a blog post as a company, when all of this was going on, saying civil rights are human rights.

Natalie (34m 9s):
There was a human rights professor who had mentioned, “you know what’s so strange to me is they call it civil rights in the United States, because everywhere else in the world, it’s human rights.” And so it’s almost like, and I don’t know if it was intentional and a lot of racism in America of course, was very calculating and cruel, but to call it civil rights, it makes it feel like it’s something that the government needs to grant you, and that can be codified on a piece of paper. It doesn’t feel like it’s something endemic to you by virtue of being a human being. Like people are asking for more of their government instead of what their government is overdue and, you know, remiss, for not already having provided and secured.

Natalie (34m 50s):
Now whenever I can, and people talk about civil rights, I say “Oh, it’s human rights.” It’s a human rights issue.

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (35m 53s):
And the link there, and I think this is what Stuart was trying to express, was when we sat with our team, and our team is very young and very diverse, to talk about how we were going to respond and also just like, how is this affecting our team? Yeah, it’s so linked because climate change and environmental justice, isn’t a political issue. In my opinion, it’s a, it’s a human rights issue and so is social justice and equality and climate change and climate problems – And even the landfill and landfill waste and landfill runoff in textile waste disproportionately affect lower-income communities and affect your quality of and your health – and that’s a human rights issue. And so it’s just a really natural fit for us and for our community to lean into and to talk about and something we are going to continue to work into kind of our brand DNA, as a core mission for us.

Natalie (36m 9s):
Be sure you’re subscribed to catch part two of this conversation. There’s a whole bunch of that Chloe and Stuart discussed, which I’m thrilled to share with you. Maybe take advantage of some time today to look back so that you can be clear-eyed when you look forward to what matters in your life.

Chloe Songer of Thousand Fell (36m 13s):
Credits this episode go to Haesil Shin, Brian Nickerson, Ed Gross, the funniest unpaid soda spokesman around, Jessica Solash, and naturally, Chloe and Stuart check out their shoes at and keep them in mind when deciding who to support when voting with your dollars. We’re also taking guesses on what the hell the meow at the end of the show is about. Drop yours at

Natalie (36m 37s):
All right, gang, I’m Natalie and I’m out. Til the next time.

Mystery Cat (36m 45s):




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