I first came across fashion brand Pangaia on—where else?—Instagram, where their brightly coloured sweatshirts and sweatpants were sweeping the celebrity and street style set. A quick scroll of their profile soon showed that they were more than just your usual Insta-friendly brand—the company’s ethos of “designing a better future” was evident from the causes that they championed, right down to the materials and thought that they put into their clothes.
According to their brand story, the self-described “direct-to-consumer materials science company” is headed by a collective made up of scientists, technologists, designers, who have foregone the traditional notion of company organisation (C-suite executives, directors, worker bees and whatnot) for a more fluid form of organisation.
“We’re building a new model of leadership that champions the team, as opposed to the individual. We believe the power of the collective is more effective than individuals working alone to make change happen,” says the collective.
It’s this sort of off-beat thinking and a deep interest in the betterment of the planet through lifestyle products that has propelled the company so far. Regular drops of popular items sell out flat within minutes and the fastest fingers often get the best hauls. But it is not crass commercialisation driving this retail decision.
“Our vision for the future is regenerative, where every product we create gives back more than the resources that it takes to make it in the first place,” the collective says. The company purposefully structures their drops in this way to prevent over-production and overstocking, and sells only according to meet consumer demand—a pioneer in the retail model that fashion brands are now thinking of adopting since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Read on to find out more about the company’s innovations in material science, the urgent changes needed to move the needle towards sustainability in fashion, and find out what’s the next, new frontier for the company.
Tell us about how Pangaia started. Who came up with the idea? How did you get started?
Our name Pangaia is very meaningful: ‘pan’ means all-inclusive, uniting, and ‘gaia’ means Mother Earth. We started because we wanted to create a company driven by purpose and powered by science. We function as a global collective of scientists, designers, thinkers, and creators from all backgrounds and walks of life. We connect MIT, Harvard, and Stanford alumni with designers from leading design schools from all over the globe to create products that marry cutting edge science and timeless beautiful design.
I love that you describe yourselves as a materials science company, rather than a fashion brand. Was it a conscious decision to place your focus on materials instead of design?
From the start, our idea was to bring materials innovations to life through products of everyday use. Our objective is to demystify science and showcase breakthroughs in the most accessible way possible. It’s always been a huge part of our DNA, and it’s one of the reasons why Pangaia came to be—the realisation that fashion was one of the top three most polluting industries.
Our belief is that we can change that through materials science. Every technology/innovation that we work with not only solves an environmental problem but also strives to become planet positive (we will be ready to talk more about our initiatives around this more towards the end of the year!).
How did you ideate and come up with some of the solutions you use now in your clothing?
Our aim is to help people be a force for good. Every technology we work with is solving an environmental problem, and so every product we design is created with the vision to make that technology available to the public and create a new norm. So in everything we do science and material innovation are always our starting point.
For example, we chose to work with Peppermint Oil as it’s a 100% natural, biodegradable, plant-originated textile treatment. We use it as finishing on T-shirt fabric to keep it fresher for longer: your t-shirt needs to be washed less often, saving water, energy, and time.
Another example is FLWRDWN™, a patented, hypoallergenic, warm, breathable and cruelty-free replacement for animal and petroleum-based synthetic down.
Pangaia is really on the forefront in terms of the materials revolution—is there any one innovation that you feel particularly excited by?
FLWRDWN™ is one of the innovations we’re most proud of, as it illustrates Pangaia’s overall brand philosophy of ‘high tech naturalism’ where the future of creating a sustainable fashion industry involves using existing natural materials, like agricultural waste, that are augmented by scientific and technological processes. We are working towards other new innovations in this realm, to bring an entirely new material library into commercial reality.
The fashion industry is looking at ways to become more sustainable in their production practices—what do you think needs to be dealt with urgently?
There’s a lot that needs to be done to make the fashion industry more responsible, both from an ethical and environmental standpoint—ranging from working conditions to moving away from materials harmful for the environment towards regenerative ones.
At Pangaia, we chose to work holistically towards designing a better future. While we are far from being perfect, our aim is to improve on all of these aspects simultaneously and set a new standard. We are also sharing our materials innovations and blueprints for impact with many industries to champion the adoption of more responsible production and consumption on a global scale.
Consumers are also part of the equation when it comes to sustainability—what would you urge consumers to do if they are looking to become more sustainable in their buying practices?
We’d like to start by stating that the world needs a lot of people doing some things better, rather than a few people doing everything perfectly. Change comes from collective behaviour and our joint commitment to evolving systems.
With that in mind, on a personal level, here at Pangaia we follow what we hope is becoming the standard wisdom—very simple things like using less plastic, not buying synthetics, eating plant-based food as much as possible, etc. Materials are a really important thing to pay attention to when you’re shopping for clothes. Look at the composition of the garment. Educate yourself on the environmental and social impact of common materials such as regular cotton, polyester, nylon as opposed to more sustainable alternatives such as organic and recycled materials. That way you can make more informed decisions whenever you decide to buy something.
This approach can be applied to pretty much any area of your life—question the impact of your everyday actions and research what you could do to lower it. Any small step in that direction is a start and a step in the right direction.
What is one show that you watched recently that moved you?
A lot of us were deeply moved by Kiss The Ground, an amazing Netflix documentary about the importance of soil health and the positive impact regenerative agriculture can have on the planet. It’s the kind of documentary that leaves you filled with hope for the future, which we all need at the moment.
Where do you see Pangaia in five years’ time?
As a materials science company, we are constantly working towards improvement and always setting new goals for ourselves. We are working within a very ambitious impact framework (across both sustainability and philanthropy) that we have established and that includes aspects such as innovative materials, circular resources, ocean health, elevating human potential—to name a few. This framework is at the heart of everything we do and keeps us accountable.
What is next on the cards for Pangaia? Any new projects that you can share?
More and more materials science innovations—we can’t wait to show the world what we have been working on in our lab—from bio based alternatives to cotton to totally new technologies like FLWRDWN™.
We will also continue driving our impact driven initiative. We just launched the Tomorrow Tree Fund—the aim of the fund is to support grassroots NGOs around the world working on tree planting and conservation with the goal to plant, protect, and restore 1 million trees to help save our environment. This is just a small part of the many exciting projects we have in the making, so watch this space!