Gravitating Towards a Microplastic Free Ocean with Leif Apparel

Introduce yourself: Name, age, where are you from?

Leif Apparel was founded by 6 individuals:

Andrew Li, a 17-year-old from Oakland

Samantha Liu, a 15-year-old from Palo Alto

Julia Choi, a 15-year-old from San Jose

Darian Liu, a 16-year-old from Mountain View

Justin Jun, a 15-year-old from Jeju, Korea

Ayan Nath, a 16-year-old from San Jose

What role does teamwork play when starting a business? What qualities would the ideal team member have?

Teamwork plays an extremely important role in starting a business. For a business to be successful, everyone needs to do their part and cooperate with others. A team needs to work together because there are countless important decisions that need to be made to run a business and make it successful. An ideal team member voices their opinion without overpowering others and does all of their work in a timely manner.

Why did you choose to fund your business through crowdfunding? How were you able to get people to fund you through Kickstarter?

As a company, we decided to utilize Kickstarter and crowdfund our business because we wanted to get a sense of people’s interest in our product. To spread our awareness for our Kickstarter, our marketing team promoted it on Instagram and Facebook.

What has been the most challenging part of starting your business?

The most challenging part of starting our business has been financing and budgeting. For any business, no matter how good the concept or team, funding is a necessity -- without it, there is no way to succeed. As high school students, it is very hard to justify pouring in thousands upon thousands of dollars into our business. We devised a monthly contribution system between all members to account for our month to month expenses, with the added benefit of being able to build a small safety balance in the situation of unaccounted expenses.

How do you find manufacturers and communicate your vision to them in the best way possible?

Our main methods of finding manufacturers are through personal connections and Alibaba. We communicate our requirements and needs through detailed visuals of our products, lists of requirements, and constant communication to ensure that we and the manufacturer are on the same page.

Tell us more about microplastic pollution? How does your brand combat it?

Microplastic pollution is exactly what it sounds like -- really small pieces of plastic polluting our waterways and oceans. It’s a big problem that hasn’t gotten its proportionate share of coverage, and in establishing our brand, we looked to address that problem. Traditionally, a garment composed of synthetic materials like polyester sheds upwards of 700,000 individual microfibers. We use a responsibly sourced, sustainable bamboo cotton fabric, which sheds zero microplastics. As preventing further ocean pollution is at the heart of our brand, we’re hoping to bring more awareness to the issue as well.

What can fashion brands do today to become more sustainable?

Sustainability starts with a company’s manufacturing and sourcing process. The current state of fashion discourages sustainability -- take one look at the business models of H&M and Zara, or really any other fast fashion company, and you’ll see that putting out as many cheap, trendy pieces that fall apart quickly as possible is their goal. For the industry to become more sustainable, as drastic as it seems, it would need to eliminate the concept of fast fashion. But since H&M and Zara aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, buyback programs, which reduce the amount of waste from worn garments, and less wasteful production processes are a step in the right direction.

What advice do you have for teenagers interested in starting their own businesses?

The first thing I would recommend is making the actual business official. For example, registering as an LLC. This gives everyone the incentive to put in work because even if you don’t make any money, you still have to pay taxes, which sucks. Another piece of advice I have for teenagers is to make sure that you seek advice from older people. Older people, especially your parents, will most likely know at least something that you don’t, and keeping them somewhat updated on what’s going on in the company can lead them to tell you if something you are doing is wrong or right.

How do you plan to expand Leif in the future?

Once we get more cash, we are planning to expand into other types of clothing such as hoodies and pants. After we establish a shirt, hoodie, and pant line, the goal is to just grow our consumer base by being able to sell in large quantities on our website. That should be pretty obvious as the goal of any clothing company is to grow, and we believe that goal should also be met on the producer end by making sure we grow in a sustainable way.

How do you balance school, extracurriculars, and running a clothing business?

The most important thing about balancing all the activities of your life is to have a genuine passion for the things you do, and use that passion as your motivation to keep working harder. As long as all the activities you do hold value to you, you will be able to find the time to work on them. Being able to plan well and prioritize effectively is also really helpful as it allows you to complete everything in an organized and systematic manner.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

I would love to be able to live in New York City and honestly experience life in one of the busiest cities in the world. There’s just something really captivating about the culture and lifestyle there that makes it a place where I would want to live.

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