Berkley Bering of Past Life the Collective on building a sustainable, empathetic approach to fashion
I’m Berkley Bering, the founder of Past Life the Collective. We’re a slow fashion company out of Boulder, Colorado making choices primarily guided by what’s sustainable and ethical for our planet, our community, and our team. We make clothing for all types of women to express themselves however they choose.
The first thought I ever had about Past Life the Collective came to me while I was meditating. It was 2019, the year I convinced myself I was destined to pack all my things and move to Australia—until I thought of this big idea.
At the time, I had just read The Alchemist. In the book, it talks about how when you’re doing something that’s part of your personal dream, the world conspires to have it work for you. It didn’t resonate with me immediately, but looking back on it, I can hardly believe how true that is.
“All the young women who helped build this disruptive fashion brand are all people who were easy to find, and even easier to work with. This journey has not been easy, but I feel so thankful and blessed to have made it this far.”
Disrupting the fashion industry
The truth is: I didn’t start this business because I wanted to get into fashion. I never had a strong passion for fashion growing up. I did, however, have a passion for freedom of expression and the empowering effect wearing something special can have on a person.
There were three driving factors behind my decision to found Past Life the Collective:
1. During college, I was a passionate environmentalist.
I majored in communications, but was always trying to find an excuse to write about ocean acidification in my classes. It’s safe to say I absolutely would have fit in with the students majoring in Environmental Studies.
2. As an adult, I learned about the textile and fashion industry.
I was shocked at how few people knew about what really goes on behind the scenes. So few people know what happens before their new t-shirt gets hung on the rack at their favorite big box store (and it’s often not pretty.)
3. I believe people will change their consumer behaviors if they know better.
We’re all consumers of clothes, yet it’s still not common knowledge just how unethical things can get when brands decide to make sacrifices.
“Clothing should not come at the cost of others or the planet.”
I started Past Life the Collective not because of a desire to break into the fashion industry, but rather my desire to change the fashion industry. This industry notoriously exploits both people and the planet—which is something consumers need to be aware of.
The magic behind sustainable clothing
The best part about choosing sustainable clothing is that you’re unlocking so much natural beauty. You’re going to look great wearing it, naturally, because sustainably manufactured clothing looks and feels so unique. It has personality to it, like a meal prepared by hand with love. And then on a whole different level, you’re bettering the planet and doing a service to the people who invested their time into making your clothes.
Have you ever thought about how much waste is created just to make your clothes?
When a conventional clothing company goes to production, they purchase a lot of fabric. Most of the time they’ll only end up using about 80% of the fabric they’ve purchased, leaving the leftovers to be thrown in landfills or burned. That leftover fabric is called deadstock.
A majority of Past Life the Collective clothing is made from deadstock. We use the leftovers conventional companies would burn to create beautiful, sustainable clothes. Naturally, this means we work with small yardages of rare fabric: once something of ours is sold out, it’s gone forever.
Another detail we’re particular about is where we source our cotton from. Conventional cotton can be toxic, so the more organic, naturally-dyed cotton you use, the more sustainable the garment becomes. Learning these things and implementing them as we go is what this journey is all about. All these tiny changes accumulate to allow us to walk lighter on this beautiful planet.
The birth of a CEO
After I realized I was going to start a disruptive fashion company instead of moving to Australia, I couldn’t stop asking questions. I’m not exaggerating when I say I reached out to anyone and everyone to see who could help me build out my vision.
“I just tried to not be afraid. I tried to ask questions and reach out to anyone and everyone. I just tried to see if anyone wanted to help me, then I’d try to soak up as much information as possible—like a sponge!”
I just felt like I couldn’t afford to be shy. I had this big idea about how we could create these beautiful, sustainable clothes for women to style and express themselves however they wanted to. How could I possibly let the fleeting awkwardness of social anxiety get in the way of something so important?
We launched Past Life the Collective in the middle of the pandemic. This presented a number of unique challenges. Our pandemic timeline looked something like this:
1. We relied purely on organic marketing.
We didn’t run any ads or do any paid advertising, just purely organic marketing through word of mouth and social channels. Growth was slow, as you’d expect. Nobody was buying clothes—what’s the point if you’re sitting around your own house all day!
2. Our launch party was canceled.
We weren’t able to have a launch party because of the pandemic. Everybody was just stuck at home, and it was a major bummer.
3. Creating masks from scraps built our confidence.
We did our best to adapt to the pandemic. We launched a mask product made using leftover scraps from our clothing production line. We made 500 masks using fabric that would have otherwise been wasted. They sold out.
It’s incredible if you think about it: we made a functional product out of leftover fabric from our clothing line, which is made up of leftover fabrics from other clothing manufacturers.
4. We embraced slow growth & found our people.
Once things started to pick up, I brought on a small PR team, a little ads team, and an intern that runs our socials. Pinterest has been an amazing channel for us, it’s exposing us to people who truly vibe with what we’re trying to accomplish as a company, and our clothes. Our clothes aren’t meant for a single type of woman, they’re meant for all women, and that’s resonating with our customers.
5. To this day, we still roll with the punches.
As a CEO, I wear a million hats. I pack orders, organize production, keep in touch with my intern and my PR girls, I do email marketing, and business development. There hasn’t been a ‘typical’ day since we started and I don’t expect there’ll ever be one.
Leaning into transparency
It feels like we’re capable of anything after launching in a pandemic. Things started gaining momentum for us in spring of this year. Our popup shop in Boulder is getting a lot of attention from tourists there who are all super interested in learning about fashion and how we run a sustainable fashion company.
It’s not always easy. Maintaining a high quality standard across hundreds of thousands of garments is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Everything has to be sewn just right. Not to mention the added costs involved with paying for ethically hand-sewn clothing.
What’s most important to me, and to our company, is transparency. There’s a reason why most fashion brands aren’t willing to pull back the curtain and expose how their clothing is made. We’re the opposite: we want to show our customers how we do things, and why we do it this way. Education on the things that matter is important to us.
What we’re hearing from our customers is that they really like our current collection. Watching our customers grow allows us to dial down on our biggest fans and service them as best as we can, while still prioritizing our core values. I love seeing new customers try on our clothes and realize they’re making a real difference by choosing ethical, sustainable clothing.
The future of slow fashion
It’s just about time for us to grow bigger. The future I see for Past Life the Collective is about continuing to use sustainable fibers, keeping things steady, and being as transparent as possible with our customers who fuel us. We really are in this together.
The pandemic isn’t over, but we’re starting to see signs of normalcy return. People are starting to leave their homes again. They’re buying new clothes and remembering how amazing it feels to catch yourself smiling at your own outfit in the mirror. I couldn’t be happier to be a part of that.
We’re going to have our storefront located on Pearl Street in Boulder at least through July, and soon it won’t be our only pop-up store. We’re building a slow fashion company where we plan on doing everything sustainably, ethically, and transparently.