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Harnessing the Power of the Crowd

December 7, 2017

A simple cotton T-shirt is anything but. In fact, it takes 800 gallons of water—the equivalent of around 80 full bathtubs—to make just one.

That realization inspired Kusaga Athletic founders Matt Ashcroft and Graham Ross to engineer a better way to produce one of the world’s most common, and most resource-intensive, clothing items. They call their invention the Greenest Tee, a workout shirt made from natural fiber that is biodegradable and compostable, and that uses less than 1% of the water needed for a conventional tee.

Developing the revolutionary Ecolite fabric took the Australia-based company two years of testing and research. Raising the money to produce it? That took just a matter weeks, thanks to a wildly successful campaign on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.

As Ashcroft and Ross quickly discovered, crowdfunding can be a particularly powerful tool for startups in the sustainable space. Soliciting small donations from an army of backers not only adds up to a sound financial footing, it also gives creators an engaged network of consumers they can tap into for product feedback and ideas. “It’s a direct line to ask them what they don’t like or don’t value,” explains CEO Ross, who calls crowdfunding “more personal” than other forms of startup capital. (It’s also lower-risk: If a campaign doesn’t reach its funding goal, donations – called “pledges” in Kickstarter lingo – are returned to backers.)

On the flip side, citizen funders expect more-than-profit companies to make good on their promises. “Backers are not shy in making contact and asking some pretty direct questions,” Ross notes. After all, while they might be willing to pay more for a T-shirt or pair of shoes from a brand that shares their values, conscious consumers also have high expectations of quality and transparency. 

Some brands find this more intimate relationship with their customers so important that they’ve made crowdfunding campaigns an integral part of their product-development process. Austin-based Kammok, a maker of camping gear that gives a portion of its revenue to nonprofits that introduce kids to outdoor activities, recently launched its fifth Kickstarter, to produce a line of camp blankets. The campaign was fully funded within two hours, and to date, more than 1,000 backers have pledged more than $176,000. Based on their input, the company rolled out a second color option for the blankets, soliciting preferences online so it would have a better idea of how much of each color to produce, a key to keeping costs and waste down. 

“Backers are looking for more than just a great product,” Ross says. “They want to share in the entire experience.”