A Conversation With
Cayla O'Connell Davis '03

Cayla O’Connell Davis started her IMS journey in first grade and graduated ninth grade in 2003. She is the Co-Founder and CEO of  Knickey, an e-commerce undergarment company that focuses on sustainability and fair trade through every step of the process – from sourcing materials, to manufacturing, to packaging, delivery and even recycling. In 2020, Cayla returned to be a judge of the 9th grade  Poquonook Solutions Symposium, where students present solutions to real world sustainability challenges.

We spoke with Cayla about her sustainability work and about her experience at IMS.

IMS: How did you get into your line of work?

COD: I have always worked in fashion and retail: in sales, production, design, and merchandising. When I attended graduate school at Parsons School of Design I did my thesis on sustainable supply chain practices in the fashion paradigm. Pulling the curtain back on the fashion industry revealed atrocities such as unregulated labor practices and the lack of environmental awareness, and this drove me to find ways to change the industry from the inside out. 

IMS: How do you stay optimistic when it comes to sustainability?

COD: Eco-anxiety is a real thing. Early in the development of the discourse of sustainability there was a lot of finger-pointing which is inherently negative, and also not productive. We have a perspective at Knickey that is deliberately positive. We know that small changes can have a large impact, so we really try to lead by encouragement and by example. 

Pretty much everybody wears underwear. It’s the first thing you put on! If you can start your day by choosing something that’s more sustainable, then tomorrow you may consider something else more carefully, and slowly but surely your lifestyle and choices will follow suit.

It happened with us, too. We started with sustainability from sourcing through delivery, and in 2018  we launched the world’s first intimates Recycling Program. We take the products collecting dust in the back of your drawer and dispose of them responsibly for the highest value second-use. The destination of these materials varies, from secondary markets such as insulation or furniture batting, and in some cases, the material can even be extruded into yarn to make new garments. 

IMS: Let’s talk about your time at IMS. When you think about it, what words come to mind?

COD: One word: Community. My years at IMS were such an important time in my life and were so foundational on my outlook on life. I really learned to be a contributing, kind and responsible member of society. IMS has such an encouraging environment to pursue interests; to evolve and grow as a human. 

IMS: Do you have any favorite IMS moment or tradition?

COD: Do I have to pick one? The ropes course. The camping trip. The school plays. The fact that everyone did a team sport. Jody Soja was my Lacrosse coach and my advisor. Latin class. Oh, and Mountain Day! I was the peanut three years in a row because I was the smallest kid on the Upper Campus, even in 7th grade. It was a life highlight!

IMS: What advice do you have for current IMS students? 

COD: Simply follow your interests. IMS really nurtures exploration and individual creativity. If entrepreneurship has taught me anything, it’s that if you are passionate about something, you can pursue a career in it – even if it seems unlikely. The economy is evolving so much, and there’s so much new technology, that jobs shift and change and new competencies develop all the time. So,  follow your interests and leverage that into secondary school, college and beyond.

Above all, cherish your time at IMS. It goes by fast!

Cayla at IMS in 7th Grade