Coach_Lead Image_1440x810

Finally, A Brand Is Tackling Fashion’s Big Waste Problem

Coach's new subbrand is redefining what it means to be circular.

The obvious (albeit idealistic) solution to fashion’s big waste problem (85% of textiles end up in landfills every year, while new material production accounts for 38% of the industry’s total greenhouse gas emissions) would be to…just not create waste. While this may sound like a lofty goal — impossible, even — Coach is working toward making this a reality with Coachtopia, the heritage brand’s circularity-focused little sister, which launched this past April.


“Fundamentally, we needed to address the core challenge of fashion, which is that it’s a linear and unsustainable system,” explains Joon Silverstein, the head of Coachtopia and SVP of global marketing, creative, and sustainability. “It’s not enough to just improve this existing system — we have to go beyond specific processes or products and reimagine the entire system in a circular way.”

By definition, circularity is a closed-loop system. Rather than focusing on just working with organic cotton or partially recycled nylon, circularity wants these materials to already exist and continue existing long after the product reaches end of life. And if that material can’t be reused infinitely, it must be recyclable or biodegradable. True circularity maximizes the lifespan of materials and ensures they never become waste, all while using regenerative and restorative methods that help rebuild the planet’s natural resources.

Artboard 1.jpg

For Coachtopia, which functions as a large-scale subbrand of Coach and not a series of small, one-off drops, this begins with working backward, designing from what already exists rather than designing from new. Essentially, it entails taking the entire traditional manufacturing process from start to finish and flipping it on its head.

Coachtopia’s main focus is repurposing materials — namely, the leather scraps from its own production of Coach bags — which are utilized in various interesting ways to create its “upcrafted” lineup of products. Think woven patterns, fringe, abstract paneling, and an innovative pressing technique that turns the tiniest, seemingly unusable scraps into “upcrushed” leather, a one-of-a-kind marbled material. All methods are no easy feat, given the irregularity and unpredictability of available scraps to work with.


Furthermore, the brand recycles scraps left over in its tanneries to create Coachtopia Leather, a leather material comprising at least 50% recycled leather. Its Coachtopia Loop products are made with at least 98% recycled post-consumer plastic, and all of the resin used for hangtags and straps is constructed with at least 70% recycled industrial plastic. Bag trims and bindings are made with repurposed, recycled, or regenerative leather, the latter meaning it’s sourced from farms using agricultural practices to help maintain and rejuvenate the land and increase biological diversity, while petroleum-based materials are partially replaced by renewable, bio-based sources for things like footwear soles and packaging ink. “We’re always in a state of experimentation and prototyping,” adds Silverstein, so you can expect to continue seeing new, innovative methods arise in the future.

Coachtopia has seen great success in the nine months it has existed, with items often quickly selling out. Since its inception, community has been at the core of the band, with a growing global Gen Z inner circle of climate activists, designers, journalists, models, and entrepreneurs often tapped not only for design collaborations and content creation, but for perspectives and opinions on how to continue to innovate and improve. The result: Collections designed with a series of Gen Z designers like Tyler McGillivary and Sabrina Lau, while activists like Maya Penn collaborate with the brand on messaging and educational content. “We know that circularity is not just about what we make as a business, but how we consume collectively as a culture, which is why we needed to rethink the typical relationship between brand and consumer,” says Silverstein.


Beyond redefining its internal design and manufacturing approach, the brand has also set out to promote change externally by shifting the larger cultural mindset. “In order to advance circularity, we have to change perspectives,” explains Silverstein. “How do we think about waste not just as an inspiring raw material, but as luxury? How can we rethink the notion of perfection in an industry that prides itself on it? In an industry where we’ve long celebrated the design of the new, how can we flip that to celebrate designing from what already exists?”

Artboard 1 copy.jpg

One way Coachtopia is working to rewrite this narrative is through its latest campaign, a docuseries titled The Road to Circularity. Rather than a traditional celebrity-studded campaign, it produced an ongoing series that pulls back the curtain on itself. “It’s not about presenting that perfect and glamorous facade of traditional fashion storytelling; it’s about inviting our community in to see the sometimes messy, imperfect process of pioneering change and spotlighting the human stories of the people working at the heart of our mission,” says Silverstein.

In the first episode of the series, journalist and climate activist Aditi Mayer takes us behind the scenes to KH Exports, the Chennai, India-based family-run leather manufacturing company Coach has been working with since the late ‘80s. Viewers see first-hand what it takes to make leather scraps — imperfect, stringy, and difficult to work with — and turn them into beautiful, aesthetically interesting shells for handbags while hearing from those whose hands are creating them.


Through this series, the brand hopes to not only better reach its Gen Z community, but also inspire a larger, industry-wide movement that sparks conversations around what it’ll take to truly transform fashion’s environmental impact.

But even with these important conversations, is significant change within the industry even possible? Can fashion truly right its wrongs? “We have to,” urges Silverstein. “If we’re going to address this very real climate crisis, we need to face the hard facts around fashion’s contribution to it and recognize that improving our current linear, take-make-waste system isn’t going to transform our impact. That’s not enough; we have to rethink it from a circular place, rethink the constant accelerating cycle of new material and new product creation. We have to be willing to take the really bold steps that circularity demands.”

Fashion has a waste problem — but Coachtopia thinks it’s solvable. See how it’s redefining what it means to be circular in the first episode of its new docuseries, 
The Road To Circularity, here.
Supported By Coachtopia