By Hannah Prince (Jour'22)
Throughout her youth as an athlete, Berkley Gamble (Comm’16) wore her soccer uniform with pride. It showed people what she cared about and stood for: determination, sportsmanship and teamwork. Today, Gamble’s self-expression is rooted in a different type of clothing: her brand Past Life the Collective, “a sustainable, small batch label for those who speak the truth, walk their own path and raise hell.”
“People express themselves through clothing whether they want to admit it or not,” Gamble says. “It is like art.”
Her first collection, Home Grown, includes tops, bottoms, dresses and jackets. Gamble describes the style of the brand as a modern woman’s take on bohemian fashion with timeless pieces for women in their mid-twenties to forties. One hundred percent of Past Life’s products are made from recycled fabrics, which are sourced from downtown Los Angeles and hand-sewn ethically and locally in Denver.
Long before her foray into fashion, Gamble, a Boulder native, grew up playing soccer competitively. In college, she competed at the University of Washington before transferring back home to join the women’s soccer program at CU Boulder. Her identity remained rooted in athletics until a career-ending injury forced Gamble to shift her mindset and find a new game plan.
Inspiration struck when she enrolled in a course on globalization and communication, which sparked an interest in environmentalism and climate change. After learning that the fashion industry is one of the largest pollutants in the world, Gamble says, she became determined to educate consumers about how to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle.
So, she combined her passions for entrepreneurship, fashion and sustainability to create her own Denver-based company, Past Life the Collective, in 2020.
“The initial inspiration for me was becoming so passionate about wanting to educate and inspire people that you can still look cool and your style doesn’t have to come at the expense of people or the planet,” says Gamble, the brand’s CEO and founder
Gamble lived in Los Angeles, New York City and even abroad in Florence, Italy, after graduating from CU Boulder. In these cities, she was exposed to various mainstream fashion retailers, realizing many production methods did not align with the consumer’s perception of what defines a sustainable brand.
Frustrated with the lack of transparency and sustainable clothing options, Gamble knew her company needed to be honest and authentic.
“As consumers, we are being lied to all the time, and that is pretty much marketing 101,” laughs Gamble, “and I didn’t want to be like that. I don’t manipulate people – I want to tell them how much they are spending, where the dollar goes and why we are doing this.”
Her mission is rooted in an ethical standpoint: Do you want the person making that item to be paid fairly and treated with respect?
After growing up in the age of fast fashion, with brands like Forever 21 and Zara favoring accessibility and affordability, Gen Zs and Millennials are beginning to push back––realizing that price cuts for consumers come at an invisible, but very real, cost for the environment and those who produce their clothing.
The fast-fashion model encourages consumers to view clothing as disposable, which often end up in landfills, Gamble says. In fact, according to the journal Occupational Medicine, approximately 85% of the clothing Americans consume––nearly 3.8 billion pounds annually––is sent to landfills as solid waste, amounting to nearly 80 pounds per American, per year.
“[With] everything we do in life, a human is involved in an exchange,” Gamble says. “Knowing people were treated fairly is super important. We often choose to turn a blind eye, but if we want to create change in this world, we cannot turn a blind eye.”
From the beginning, Gamble wanted to run her business in a way that aligned with her values of zero-waste production, ethical treatment for workers, transparency for consumers and support for the local economy. That meant no shortcuts and no cutting corners to save costs. Her resulting brand is part of an emerging “slow fashion” movement, which advocates for ethical manufacturing in respect to people, the environment and animals.
For Gamble, making the decision to put sustainability at the forefront of her business model was the easy part. The decision to launch her brand in the middle of the pandemic, however, was much more difficult.
“People were losing their basic needs. I was not going to ask people to buy a $200 dress,” she says.
Instead, Gamble soft launched the brand in May 2020 by selling custom-made masks. A few months later in September 2020, she launched the official clothing line, which she now sells online and at a pop-up shop on Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall.
Gamble continues to emphasize the slowness of Past Life because it takes time and money to produce products in an ethical, environmentally-friendly way. Currently, the brand is donating 5% of all proceeds to the James Beard Foundation, a national non-profit culinary arts organization, to help BIPOC restaurants stay open.
Reflecting on her commitment to a business plan that forgoes the quick wins of fast fashion with the hope of achieving long term ethical and environmental gains, Gamble points to the inspiration she found in her favorite podcast, “How I Built This.” Specifically, she recalls an episode where the host, Guy Raz, explained that overcoming rejection is key to finding success as an entrepreneur.
“That really stuck with me,” Gamble says. “I am going to be someone who makes it happen. I am going to take risks. I am going to try because if I don’t risk it, I am not going to see results.”