When did you last purchase a new item of clothing?

When did you last move an item on from your wardrobe? And where and how did you move this item on?

How much of your wardrobe do you actually wear on a regular basis?

I encourage you to take moment to reflect on these three questions. You may not be aware of it, but your wardrobe may be the source of your greatest impact on the environment.
If you’re anything like the average person, you only wear around 20% of the clothing in your wardrobe. If you’re anything like me, the 20% that you do regularly wear is activewear and jeans. Yet that may not have always been the case for you.

Today I’m going to introduce you to two amazing women who have created a shared economy for high end fashion. But before I do, I want to share a story with you….

14 years ago I was working in an office as a consultant engineer. I’d go to work most days in heels and a good quality dress shirt and pants or a skirt. I enjoyed purchasing this wardrobe because the six years prior to this job I fronted up to work each day on a mine site in work wear…. King Gee or Hard Yakka pants and shirts with reflectors on the sleeves and legs and my name stitched on my left breast and right butt cheek. So sexy I know!

The point I’m making is I enjoyed wearing my new office attire and I loved my job. It was my dream job except for the fact that my then-boyfriend and now-husband, was living and working on the other side of Australia.

After many months of him (unsuccessfully) applying for work in Townsville where I lived, I applied for an environmental engineering job at the mine where he was working, in Outback South Australia.

Needless to say I was successful in obtaining that job, so it was back to the minerals industry and reflective workwear for me…just 12 months after I thought I’d left it behind.

My new corporate attire hung disused in my wardrobe for the next 5 years constantly reminding me of life working in the city as a consultant engineer, while I again worked as a remote minesite environmental engineer.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later, when doing a huge wardrobe cull as a new mother did I move many of these beautiful clothes and suits on. Of course they no longer fit me and with an endless stream of nappies and sleepless nights ahead of me I couldn’t realistically see when I’d ever get the chance to wear them again, even if I did manage to lose those 10 kilos that had crept on.

The workwear and steel-capped boots were also relegated to the past and activewear and sneakers became my new uniform as I’d walk my baby into town to meet friends or go to the gym, before returning home and working on my online business while my baby slept.

Nine years on and I wear my “mum wardrobe” of activewear, jeans or nice casual clothes most days. I’ve continued to slowly purge my corporate wear and heels as the years have passed. Most notably in our recent house and city move where I donated the final bags to a charity providing clothing for women returning to work.

This sudden change of identity and lifestyle is common for many women who change jobs or become mothers. And this sudden change not surprisingly can have a large financial and environmental cost.

This week is Fashion Revolution Week. If you’re not familiar with Fashion Revolution Week, it’s basically a week of campaigns and action to demand greater transparency in the fashion supply chain.

It takes place each year during the week of 24 April, the date of the Rana Plaza building collapse, in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Rana Plaza housed a number of garment factories, and when the building collapsed on 24 April 2013, 1,138 people were killed and many more were injured. The tragedy highlighted the dreadful working conditions faced by many people within the garment industry.

Fashion Revolution is working to end exploitation in the fashion industry. During Fashion Revolution Week they encourage people around the globe to ask fashion and clothing brands ‘Who made my clothes?’, using the hashtag #whomademyclothes.’

Fashion Revolution Week isn’t just about questioning the social impact of the Fashion Industry, it’s also a time to shine a light on its sustainability.

The Fashion Industry is reported to be the second most polluting industry, second to the oil industry. Our increasing appetite for fast fashion, is driving demand and as a result the industry is having a significant impact on our planet.

In episode 80 of Eco Chat I chatted with Melinda Tually of The Fashion Revolution about the impact of fast fashion and why we should ask #whomademyclothes. If you haven’t listened to that interview I highly recommend you do so here.

Today we’re taking a look at another side of fashion and I’m chatting with two gamechangers who have co-founded a clever start-up to make it easy for us to both move on quality items we no longer need and replace them with an entire new wardrobe….without spending a cent.

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Through SilkRoll, Erin Wold and Janet Wu have created a shared economy for high end fashion. In this episode we chat about why the fashion industry needs an eco-makeover, some of the advantages of sourcing your clothing this way and the challenges faced by Erin and Janet in getting SilkRoll off the ground and how they overcame them.

Hold onto your seats because after this article, you’ll think three times before ever buying a new item of clothing again!

What’s going on in women’s wardrobes and why does the fashion industry need an eco makeover?

{Erin}

For those people who don’t know this fact I’m about to share right now, it can be very alarming. Most people know that oil is the most polluting industry in the world. It’s now becoming widely known that agriculture is number two. Fashion, believe it or not, is the third most polluting industry globally.

Every year women are spending three trillion dollars on new clothes. The average woman now will own over three thousand items in her lifetime. She’ll wear about 20% of that. The other 80% is the stuff that gets trashed and ends up in landfill. Last year in the United States alone, over 14 million tones of fashion was dumped into landfill.

The business was originally started from a fun idea because we thought it would be cool to exchange clothes. In San Francisco, sustainable living is a big deal and it was actually other women that brought it to our attention and said ‘this could be huge for the industry’. The more that we learned about the ability that recirculation could have if done in a way that really works for people, we could significantly reduce the impact that new fashion production is having.

There is a resistance that people have to reselling their clothes. If you paid $150 USD for an item and then tried to resell it, you would only get around $30 USD max. They barely get any money back for it, they justify why they bought it in the first place, put it back in their closet, and never wear it again.

{Janet}

We take care of our customers in the sense that our target customers are women who have busy lives. The last thing that they have time for is to take photos, spec out their items, measure and then list them. Then communicate with the buyer on shipping and logistics. All of that is a burdensome process. Our customers don’t have the time for that. Internally we have a propriety processing workflow that allows us to photograph, list, and fulfil orders, in an efficient manner.

One of the biggest shifts in the fashion industry over the last 20-30 years is the whole concept of fast fashion. It’s only with the recent changes in supply chain and cheap labour that has allowed brands to manufacture things offshore at very cheap prices. The fast fashion industry was for the last 20 years or so the fastest growing industry in retail.

When we think about brands such as H&M and Forever21, these companies generate tens of billions of dollars in revenue a year. The more that is getting produced and the more that we consume, the more that we are wasting.

We did a tour in San Francisco with Goodwill which is one of the largest donation centres in the US. They told us the 85% of all the garments they receive go straight to landfill. Simply because they don’t have enough staff to process them or enough stores to place them on the shelves.

It’s alarming that this is what it has come to. But, at the same time it’s not been talked about. We really do see now that there is this sustainable fashion trend movements and advocates out there. We are here to be part of that conversation, which didn’t really exist 5-10 years ago.

How did Silkroll come about and how does it work?

{Janet}

The inkling of the idea originated several years ago when I was living in Hong Kong. At my mum’s house one day, she came back to the house after taking out the trash. She commented that she saw great quality designer clothes in the neighbour’s trash that was being thrown out. In that moment I was thinking, if my mum can just see these beautiful things trashed out in our neighbourhood, what is really going on at a community, a country, a global level. How much are we trashing?

At the time I didn’t think about it as a business, just an awareness. I was an investment banker and a couple of years later I moved to San Francisco with a startup that I was working with. I entered a new climate and a new community. The tech community is drastically different from the banking community, and the weather changed. I realised that 90% of my closet became obsolete.

I wanted to create a way for me to share these beautiful designer fashion pieces that I had with people who would want them and love them and really use them. Also I wanted to retain their value. I wanted to literally swap my closet out with outfits that I needed for San Francisco.

I had quit my banking job and was on a startup budget so I didn’t want to go out and spend a ton of money getting a new closet. So this is the origination of the idea. I shared this with Erin and she had a different but useful way of looking at it.

{Erin}

We were at a 4th of July BBQ that day and we had just met. Janet told me she had this idea to start a company, that she wanted women to be able to exchange clothes. She had these nice clothes that she didn’t want to resell but wanted to trade out.

I hadn’t spent my money on high-end workwear but I needed it. I actually needed high-end workwear at the time. Instead I spent my money on high-end dresses that I would wear to weddings. I’m in my late 20s and it was wedding season. I would buy a new dress every time I was invited to a wedding. I remember thinking literally earlier that week that if I hadn’t spent all that cash on all those dresses, what else could I have purchased instead?

So, when Janet told me her concept, and I got that I could leverage what I had already purchased to acquire what was more fitting for my lifestyle, I was like, this is a golden idea. We were in two completely different situations and we both needed the other persons wardrobe.

I wanted to know more about the idea so we arranged to meet at her work to discuss further. When she told me the address – we discovered we were working in the same building! I continued to work for the company I was with for about a year while we sorted out how we were going to turn the idea into a viable business.

{Janet}

SilkRoll is a digital exchange with a points earning system which differentiates us. Women can send in clothes with prepaid shipping bags that we mail to them. We value all products based on estimated retail value and award them with points that they can then use to shop and refresh their closets without spending the extra cash. All of the products they redeem with these points are owned by them. They can keep them forever or use them a few times and return it. Unlike other retailers or ecommerce stores, we welcome returns. We know a garment can be shared multiple times with multiple women. Some of our most actively traded garments can be in and out six or seven times already. This really extracts the value out of one garment. It allows for a full experience of a sharing economy. We use the points system because there is no other way that women can retain that value in the cash world.

We only charge a standard 5% service fee or we offer a subscription service which is a monthly subscription fee. This is useful for our users who are very active in trading.

What are some advantages for people to source their clothing this way?

{Janet}

The main advantage is that you can refresh your closet without spending the cash you would otherwise have to spend. That is the main driver behind why people use SilkRoll.

Secondly, there is flexibility of using the points as a way to either own or rent. It has the best of both worlds.

Another advantage is that our customers don’t have to think about selling their own merchandise. They just ship it to us and we take care of the rest. It takes us a few business days to evaluate everything, they get their points within 5 business days and they can spend it right away. If you sell online, you often have to wait weeks or even months for things to sell and then get the cash. With us, all the points are given to you upfront.

We don’t have a restricted list of brands that we accept. We encourage customers to trade in very unique items. Over time it becomes a discovery platform for people with unique styles or they’re looking for unique pieces. Even from large-named brands but they can no longer find that piece in store anymore because it’s a discontinued design.

We often find pieces from well-known brands such as Banana Republic and we think they’re amazing because we never would have found them if we walked into their store now. There is a lot of value added for a shopper in entering the second-hand market. The ‘after-market’ allows you to discover new things that you have never seen.

{Erin}

It takes something like 600 gallons of water to make one t-shirt. From an eco-conscious standpoint, it’s a really big deal.

Sometimes it’s the money factor that really gets people, sometimes it the ability to refresh their closet. Then there’s the big group of us in the market that we’re interested in growing, which is having people being conscious that sourcing your clothes in this way makes a big difference.

Is it exclusive to the United States? Any plans to expand?

{Janet}

At the moment we are only shipping within the United States. However, I’m originally from China, I grew up in the UK, and I have lived in Hong Kong. I have friends from all over the world. All my girlfriends from all over the place are asking me ‘when is SilkRoll coming to us?’ So we do see that the service has a huge demand already from potential users in other countries.

Right now, we are focusing on growing the US market because the opportunity here is so big and it hasn’t even been tapped into. We’re just hitting the tip of the iceberg, if that. Once we reach a stage where our cash flows are healthy and we’re generating profit, then we can mirror a similar concept into the global market.

What have been the biggest challenges in getting SilkRoll off the ground?

{Janet}

I don’t have a technical background but at the same time we are building a technology platform. We also have this private virtual currency that we’ve come up with that users can redeem on the site. There is a lot of intricacies in the technical aspect of the business. That has been interesting to say the least! For me to be managing engineers, getting engineers to deliver features, how to communicate them effectively, it’s a brand-new concept. It’s like stepping into a whole new world and you have to learn a different language. There were definitely some ups and downs until we figured out the best way to overcome this is just to keep going.

One of the things I’m grateful for is that a year ago we found somebody who has a strong technical background. He was an engineer. He came on board to become our acting CTO and tech adviser and that really shifted everything. To have somebody as your sounding board provided so much more clarity.

If anyone wanted to start a technical business, the founders don’t have to have a technical background. But I would highly recommend an advisor from the industry who can help guide you.

{Erin}

The biggest challenge for me was leaving my comfortable job where I was making good money to be in this full-time. It was scary not knowing what was going to happen, how I was going to get by day-to-day. But I had faith in the product and the traction was incredible. It took a big leap of faith but I trusted Janet. We operate with a high level of integrity in our communication and partnership. We’re completely transparent with our relationship and this business.

I overcame that challenge by having a really strong cofounder who I trust, and I just jumped in!

How do you manage the influx of clothing that may not be suitable for repurpose?

{Janet}

Great question! Right now, the good thing is that most of our customers know the type of stuff that we will accept. We have great take-over rates. About 80% of the items that people send in, we qualify them.

We currently work with several local and non-profitable organisations in the area who are all supporting different women’s causes.

We work with charities that support women who are victims of human trafficking, and others who are women who have recently been released from jail and are re-entering the community.

There is a platform Good360 that matches supply vs the need. Every time we have a bulk of things that we have deemed for donation, we can list it on the platform and get matched with charities that actually need them. We know that every piece of item, even if it is donated, is going to end up with a non-profit organisation that actually need it. Not a non-profit organisation that has too much to process themselves already.

If we receive clothes in detrimental condition, they’re just too worn or have stains or damages, we send them to I:CO. This is a company here in the US that actually shreds the fabric and repurposes them into pillow/mattress stuffing and insulation etc.

We know that everything that comes through these doors will end up being useful in some way.

How can we best support you and SilkRoll?

{Janet}

First of all, if you’re in the United States, go to our website www.silkroll.com and check us out. See if there is something you’re willing to try. It takes about 30 seconds to sign up and request a free trading kit from us.

Everyone can help us by spreading the word. We are looking for social media influences to work with. Plus other types of digital media forms that we can actually participate in and have our word out there. For those of you who have connection or network into that industry, contact us!

So far we’ve got some really great investors here in the United States but the funding obviously doesn’t have to come from within the country. If anybody in the world has an interest to invest into something like this that could really make an impact and change the way we shop, we want to hear from you!

{Erin}

For Fashion Revolution Week we’re hosting a huge fashion exchange on Sunday April 22nd 2018 at 11am. It will be a three-hour event and we will have brunch. Last time we did this we had about 60 women show up and had hundreds of items for exchange. Whoever doesn’t find something that they want, we will still give points for the items that they bring in. So they’ll be able to shop online as well. If anyone is in the San Francisco Bay area, it is an awesome event to join us and participate. Details of the event will be posted on our Facebook page.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it.

I hope this episode has opened your eyes up to the environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry and your individual wardrobe!

I personally love the concept of SilkRoll and how Erin and Janet have created a shared economy for high end fashion, allowing their members to continually update their wardrobes as their lifestyle changes. If you’re in the US I highly encourage you to check them out and support their platform. If you’re outside of the US, be sure to follow SilkRoll and encourage them to expand beyond their shores to have an even greater impact.

Until SilkRoll reaches your shore, be sure to take continual steps to eco-fy your wardrobe. If you need tips to do so refer to episode 78 here where stylist Alma Barerro shares her sustainable style secrets. By eco-fying your wardrobe you’ll be taking yet another step forward to help make green mainstream.

Taken steps already to eco-fy your wardrobe? Share your best sustainable style secrets below!

Laura

Laura

Laura Trotta is one of Australia’s leading home sustainability experts. Fusing her professional expertise as an environmental engineer with the down-to-earth pragmatism that comes from being a busy mum, Laura is an eco thought leader who’s not afraid to challenge the status quo.
Laura

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