A team of Penn students in Wharton Impact Venture Associates (WIVA) sourced an impact investment deal into a startup that aims to champion sustainable and ethical practices in the fashion industry.

When people think of the fashion industry, “sustainable” or “ethical” are likely not the first words that come to mind. wearwell, a clothing-subscription start-up based in Philadelphia that offers only ethically-sourced clothing, aims to change the narrative through championing sustainable practices. Sustainable (or ethical) fashion takes into account the full lifecycle of clothing, and aims as much as possible to reduce harm to the environment, the workers producing the clothing, and the consumers who purchase it.

After conducting rigorous due diligence on wearwell, the student team at Wharton Impact Venture Associates (WIVA) was thrilled to see an impact investment deal with the start-up go live on the crowdfunding platform Republic.

The Industry Issue

The fashion industry produces a staggering 10% of global carbon emissions and is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply, while also contributing significantly to microplastic pollution in the oceans. Beyond the environmental aspect, the sector has also faced ethical problems around employee rights and working conditions. The 2013 factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh provided a much-needed wake-up call to the sector.

Given these realities, demand for more socially and environmentally conscious fashion is growing rapidly: online searches for sustainable fashion increased three-fold between 2016 and 2019. But in an era of “greenwashing,” being a conscious consumer can be challenging. Navigating complex certifications and verifying supply chains can make responsible shopping inaccessible and confusing.

Investing in Sustainable Fashion

Enter wearwell. Co-founders Erin Houston and Emily Kenney met while pursuing master’s degrees in International Development at American University. Both have backgrounds in brand management, impact measurement, and sustainability.

Through providing curated selections from authenticated brands, wearwell gives consumers access to socially responsible brands in a straightforward way. Their verification process dives into regulations and certifications, covering areas such as worker benefits, upcycled material use, and manufacturing waste. Working with their brands, wearwell prioritizes the quantification of environmental and social impact for improved transparency throughout the supply chain.

Exemplifying the interdisciplinary culture of WIVA, this impact investment opportunity was sourced and executed by Penn Medicine student Karan Naik, PSOM’22 and Wharton student Katie Ardiff, WG’21. “When assessing social impact, the environmental and ethical implications of the fashion industry are undeniable. We were excited by wearwell’s data-driven commitment to identifying conscious brands and believe their brand trajectory offers promising opportunities for success,” they said.

“How you measure impact, and what standards you use, is an important question,” said Rajith Sebastian, director of special projects, impact investing at the Wharton Social Impact Initiative. “In clothing, many sustainability standards exist. What impressed us most was how the founders used these standards, and also their own expertise and studies of sustainable supply chains, community development, and social enterprise, to tailor-make more meaningful impact standards for wearwell.”

Houston and Kenney, the wearwell co-founders, were equally excited by the opportunity, “WIVA has been a tremendous team to connect with. They understand our impact as well as the way our target market is rapidly growing right now, with more consumers attuned to the ways their purchases affect both people and planet. We’re thrilled to have partnered with WIVA to advance wearwell’s growth.”

Check out wearwell and their seed campaign on the crowdfunding platform Republic. 

— Karan Naik and Katie Ardiff

Posted: June 24, 2020

Related Content

Read More Stories