The ecommerce boom has continued and this has led to issues around wastage, rampant consumerism and environmental issues. A lot of this revolves around the prevalence of fast-fashion around the world. One segment of the market contributing heavily to this issue is infant clothing, due to the temporary nature of children’s clothing.

We wanted to look into this further and has a chance to speak to Sarah Garner, CEO and Founder of Retykle on how she’s bringing her company to Southeast Asia and how they plan to disrupt this space. Earlier in March, Retykle closed its round of seed funding from high-profile investors such as Lazada co-founder, Tim Rath, and social entrepreneur, John Wood. This brings their total funding to US$1.6M. 

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Hong Kong-based Retykle is one of the leading children’s designer clothing resale platforms in Asia, an industry that’s worth roughly US$200B. Their goal is to bring the industry into the circular economy by extending the life of such temporary use items such as children’s clothes. To give you some context on the issue, in Hong Kong alone, 253 tons of textile are being sent to the landfill daily.

The company allows buyers to browse thousands of used and new past-season items from over 2,000 leading children’s designer clothing brands, saving 50-90 per cent off original retail prices. Since its launch in 2016, Retykle has recirculated over 150,000 items, with tens of thousands of parents joining the platform to build a sharing economy online, saving temporary use clothing from being sent to landfill.

Here’s what Sarah had to share.

Retykle bag
Image courtesy of Retykle

Why did you choose the infant segment of the market?

Kids outgrow seven sizes of clothing before they turn two and an average of 1700 items of clothing before they are fully grown. Everything kids use and wear is of temporary use. We wanted to tackle this issue to reduce the associated waste creation. Through reuse, we are creating a longer lifespan for children’s products and want to ultimately create a fully circular solution that eliminates waste associated with kids all together.

We’ve expanded our offering to include other temporary use categories such as strollers, cribs, maternity, and we’ve also grown with our community to carry up to size 14.

We have recirculated over 150,000 items from over 2500 brands and we have only touched upon the vast amount of supply that could join the cycle. 

How did you convince the luxury retailers to get involved with Retykle? 

My background is in luxury fashion where I held various management roles for over ten years. Throughout my career I was responsible for the complete lifespan of products within the retail environments and we always had residual inventory at the end of each selling season. I knew the scale of this issue with deadstock and wanted to offer a solution for brands that was brand enhancing rather than brand deteriorating (i.e. outlet, grey market channels for offprice). We present an opportunity for brands to partner with a sustainable platform to clear their past season inventory ensuring that their unsold stock can also reach customers and won’t go to waste. We have built relationships over time and are proud to count the largest designer kids brands as our partners.  

What are the challenges you are facing when it comes to expansion? Has the pandemic helped with growth or restricted it, due to contamination fears?

Our business model requires scaling up operations for processing unique items. We had to build custom technology to support many points of automation to allow our processes to be replicable and scalable for new markets. We had to get all of our operational capabilities into a seamless flow that could be mirrored in other markets. We have reached this point and are now ready to expand within our HQ market of Hong Kong as well as to new markets, starting with Singapore. 

Sarah Garner in the Retykle warehouse

The most near term challenge is whether I can physically get on the ground in Singapore to hire our team and set up operations. The travel bubble is still predicted to open but the rules may change at any moment. We are working on setting the foundations remotely but ultimately have to be able to get on the ground to prepare for the new market launch. 

Thankfully, the pandemic accelerated our growth as we benefited from macro trends that supported an increased participation in online resale. However, when the pandemic started, I was concerned that the advances we had made to gain acceptance for secondhand would be stripped away by fears of covid transfer via textiles. This was quickly dispelled as the virus cannot transfer via textile but it was an early pandemic risk factor that could have had significant business impact. Instead, we witnessed an increase in online shopping from parents who didn’t want to expose themselves or their kids to busy shopping areas, an increased concern for the environment coupled with habit changes that supported those concerns, and an enthusiasm to earn from one’s closet during a time with economic uncertainty. 

Why did you choose Southeast Asia as a target market for Retykle?

Hong Kong sends an average of 392 tonnes of textile waste to landfill each day. We have a very linear and disposable fashion culture in Hong Kong and more broadly speaking, Asia. Secondhand clothing is not as culturally normative in the East as it is in the West. Throughout my career in Hong Kong, I witnessed a much higher average rate of consumption in the market and the lack of awareness around the end of life consciousness and environmental impact of fashion. I wanted to bring a solution to the market that increased awareness and brought about a real solution to a pervasive problem. I believe Southeast Asia, along with the rest of the world, has been ignited to bring about real habit changes that will restore our environment for the next generation, our kids.   

Where do you see the most potential in Southeast Asia? 

In the short term, we see the most opportunity in Singapore, Japan, Taiwan and Indonesia which are markets that are in a higher ready state for adopting our model. 

Singapore and Indonesia are demonstrating strong growth in ecommerce and provide an opportunity to scale quickly in those markets via an online model. Japan and Taiwan already have mature secondhand markets with the practice of shopping ‘used’ being largely culturally accepted. 

The accelerated shift to shopping online is demonstrated with our Singapore survey results showing that 74% of respondents shopped for their children’s clothing online and during the pandemic, 92% of respondents are shopping online. This is coupled with an openness and growing appetite for secondhand for the access to designer brands at great prices and the clear environmental benefits. Over 55% of our Singapore survey respondents are already participating in resale for their kids. 

A rack Retykle clothes

What’s next for Retykle?

We closed our Seed round at the beginning of this year with funding secured by notable investors Tim Rath, co-founder of Lazada, and impact investor, John Wood. We will use the funding to build out our technology further which will include additional automations, options for peer-to-peer participation and opportunities for brands to plug in to our platform along with additional features for personalisation across the user experience.

We will be launching in Singapore in the Fall of 2021 and look forward to replicating in subsequent markets to bring our circular solution to parents across Asia and beyond.