Miles Lazar, the founder of Airetage, is betting on the staple clothing item of his generation made from sustainable fabric. He spoke to Let’s Talk Hemp from Highland Park, Illinois.
By Elizabeth Lunt
How did your career lead you to hemp?
My curiosity started in high school in 2016/17, when I was trying to figure out what path to take before college. I took an incubator course where you come up with business ideas and then choose the best one and go through the development process.
I got the idea because, every morning, I would walk outside at like 6:30 a.m. with just a hoodie on, against my mother’s wishes. She wanted me to wear a jacket. When I was researching business ideas for the class, I decided to try to make the best hoodie. I literally typed in “what is the best material for a hoodie?” and hemp was an option. My family was eco-minded and sustainability minded, so I looked into the benefits of the fiber and decided to use it in my hoodie.
I have been working on the idea since the high school class, and started in earnest when I went to Johnson & Wales University in 2018 and majored in entrepreneurship. While I was there, I connected with a manufacturer in India and went through the process of creating the first prototype. Unfortunately, when I wanted to make more changes, I ran into a problem with the bulk order requirement. I went back to Google and searched for producers in the U.S. Luckily, I found 9Fiber. A lot of Googling and a lot of learning about properties of hemp and here we are today.
How did you choose 9Fiber?
I wanted a vertically integrated manufacturer. I don’t know how to sew and I know nothing about it. They handle the manufacturing. They had a life-cycle assessment that shows significant water and energy savings versus conventional cotton processing. The hoodie is a blend. They produce a couple of different proprietary fibers of their own, one of which is HYIX™ fiber composed of hemp and cannabis agri-waste diverted from landfills. The hoodie is 45% certified organic cotton, 45% hemp and 10% HYIX fiber.
I knew that I wanted a fleece fabric because it is the most comfortable. When I looked at the swatch book, I was impressed by the added benefit of this upcycled material. Not only is hemp itself great for the environment, but the added circularity of the HYIX fiber helps us to be as sustainable as possible.
What challenges have you faced?
I have learned that a clothing company requires a lot of capital!
I do everything in the company except run the website and social media.
Airetage is completely self-funded. During coronavirus, my university gave students money and I was fortunate to make a little on the stock market. I also got a job in retail to learn as much as possible about the fashion industry. I used all I had from those sources to start the company.
The stigma around cannabis is also a challenge. When I was planning our launch this spring, I had multiple people advise me to lean into the hemp theme and launch on 4/20, but I wanted to avoid the stereotype and stigma so I chose Earth Day, April 22.
How is Airetage different from other hemp clothing companies?
I am based in the U.S. and I am trying to be present on social media to educate people on what hemp is because of all the stigma — jokes about smoking the hoodie and things like that. I like to educate on what hemp is and how it’s beneficial in a clothing context. People are looking for more sustainable clothing and I like to tell them what hemp is all about.
My goal is to keep production within the U.S. as much as possible. U.S. agri-waste and Chinese hemp are blended in China and then 9Fiber does the cutting and sewing in the U.S.
What do you think is important for people to know about working with hemp?
I would say that hemp is a very environmentally friendly and sustainable material that offers similar performance characteristics to synthetics and rivals cotton when processed properly. It’s a good alternative textile we should explore and wear more.
What are your goals for the rest of 2023?
I want to register as a public benefit corporation. That is a legal designation that shows we consider environmental and sustainable goals as much as considering the profit initiative. We always look at environmental considerations as we conduct business.
I also aim to sell out of our first production run and focus on the next collection of Airetage clothing. It might include sweatpants and long-sleeve T-shirts. I have invested more than I care to say in the company, so I need to make that back before we go on to other products.