It’s estimated that the United States’s clothing industry throws away as much as 14 million tons of garment waste each year. For Stacy Flynn, cofounder of cotton recycling startup Evrnu, the environmental impact of these numbers cannot be ignored. And she would know. For much of her career, Flynn oversaw garment manufacturing for major companies like DuPont, Target, and Eddie Bauer. Now committed to breaking the cycle of waste in fabric manufacturing, Flynn reflects on how she went from part of the problem to advocate for a technological solution.
1984–89: Learning from a Master
An interest in fabric is an easy thing to trace when your stepmother is a master seamstress. At 14 years old, Flynn learned to sew while living with her father and stepmother in Houston. After returning to her native Rochester, New York, for high school, she crafted her own outfits and eventually sewed costumes for the school’s art department. She even worked at a fabric warehouse full time.
1994–2003: One Morning in September
After graduating from New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology with a degree in textile development and marketing, Flynn took a job at DuPont managing fabric certification in North America—“a pretty sweet gig.” Then September 11, 2001, happened. Across the street from her apartment, the missing person posters in Washington Square Park kept multiplying. Flynn seriously considered quitting and leaving the city, but her brother refused to help with the move. “I was the first person in my family to go to college. I was working in my field. He reminded me you don’t walk away from that for anything.”
2003–07: Target Practice
Flynn stuck it out in NYC for two more years before moving to Minnesota as part of Target’s new in-house clothing design and development team. For nearly half a decade she flew all over China and South Korea, visiting the company’s massive factories. “I didn’t know what $10 million got you until I started seeing my fabrics being made,” she says. At one factory Flynn was presented with two football fields’ worth of fabric looms. So overwhelmed by the production’s scope, she couldn’t even consider the environmental consequences.
2010–11: There Is a Cost
Following a move to Seattle for a position at Eddie Bauer, Flynn joined Rethink Fabrics, a local startup that made garments from recycled plastic waste. Again she traveled abroad, this time as research for material reuse. Instead of focusing on the relatively clean factories owned by billion-dollar American corporations, Flynn visited cities where those companies subcontracted their work. It was an eye-opening experience. “The streams were black,” she says. There, she started to add up all the yards of textile waste created throughout her career. “I realized I was linked to the problem.”
Flynn enrolled at Pinchot University for an MBA in sustainable systems, and in 2012 she founded Evrnu to convert garment waste into high-quality material. She later brought on former Target colleague and textile chemist Christopher Stanev, and using her graduate program as a platform to test business models, the duo soon secured technology and funding. By the end of 2014, Evrnu began breaking down waste cotton to its base fiber molecules and reassembling them as customizable fabric. Flynn remains inspired: “If one person can do so much damage unintentionally, what can the same person do intentionally for good?”