Citizen Wolf started seven years ago as a conversation between my friend (and now business partner) Zoltan and I about the challenges of running a small fashion label.
Zoltan was already working in fashion, and he explained that fashion companies have to guess a year in advance what sizes and styles are going to sell, and then order them in large minimum quantities, which invariably means that a third of what’s produced ends up unsold (and often in landfill).
The more Zoltan and I discussed it, the more we thought, ‘this is really stupid, there has to be a better way. What if you could make things one at a time to spec, as a tailor would, but you could do it at scale for the clothes you wear every day?’
Citizen Wolf was born from that idea.
Along with our third Co-Founder, Rahul, we’ve pioneered a technology called Magic Fit® that uses customers’ height, weight and age to dynamically generate their unique T-shirt. With an accuracy of 95 per cent for fit, our return rates are less than a quarter of the industry average.
We also have a very local supply chain – about 92 per cent of our fabrics are sourced in Melbourne, and all of our production is in Sydney. We design our clothing to last for years and produce garments with half the carbon emissions, compared to traditional mass production. We also offer free repairs for the life of the garment, and can take back your ‘Tee’ when it’s no longer repairable, so it can be upcycled into other products.
When we started talking to people in the industry at the very beginning they said: “It can’t be done, it’s impossible. We’ve run the numbers and we can’t make it work.”
Manufacturers will make samples for you, but they want an order of 500 in the same size. That doesn’t work for us, so we established our own factory. It’s designed to be open with a shop at the front, so you can come and visit us and see who’s making your clothing and their working conditions. It makes us as transparent as we can be in an industry where all of this is usually hidden.
We became accredited through Ethical Clothing Australia early on, so that we knew people were being paid fairly and had safe working conditions. Then, around a year ago, we went through the B Corp Certification process to ensure that our sustainability claims could be independently audited and verified and that we weren’t greenwashing, which is all too easy to do in fashion.
This third party accountability was one of the main reasons we became a B Corp, but it was also incredibly insightful to benchmark ourselves against the best in the industry and learn about a range of other things that we could have been doing but had never considered.
Neither Zoltan, Rahul nor I (Citizen Wolf Co-Founders) ever studied fashion, but in hindsight, this has been an advantage because we didn’t have preconceived notions around how it should be done.
We’ve run into a hundred and one roadblocks along the way, of course, and the last few years have been about navigating and overcoming those blocks. As a start-up, we also don’t suffer the inertia that comes with having the established and entrenched processes that large fashion brands have.
A big part of our DNA is that we don’t believe the status quo is good enough, so it’s constantly being challenged, and anyone on the team can tell us we’re wrong or suggest something better.
Our workplace culture involves plenty of open communication and what we call ‘constructive conflict’.
We also base our decisions off a quote from Bill Bernbach — one of the founders of modern advertising — who said: “A principle isn’t a principle until it costs you money.” In other words: we put our money where our mouth is.
As far as our Impact goes, there are plenty of statistics we could share around the dent we’re making in the industry through our sustainable practices. But the truth is that the biggest impact we can make is by showing the fashion industry that there’s an alternative to ‘business as usual’, and that this way is better for people, planet and profit.
Words: Eric Phu
A big thank you to Eric Phu, Co-Founder of Citizen Wolf, and Nathan Scolaro for helping put this piece together for Dumbo Feather magazine. Look out for Issue #69 on shelves shortly, or grab yourself a subscription here.
This piece was published as part of B Corp Month 2022 as we invite you #BehindTheB to uncover what makes a B Corp a better business.