Along with some of the other big problems with the fast fashion industry, the incredibly high volume of textile waste is a major one. These materials end up burned or buried, but there is one company here to rescue them, resurrecting an age-old model to try and solve it in a brand new way.
Today’s guest is Stephanie Benedetto, a corporate attorney turned fashion tech and sustainability entrepreneur. Stephanie is the Co-Founder of Queen of Raw, a marketplace to buy and sell unused textiles, keeping them out of landfills, and turning pollution into profit.
Prior to starting Queen of Raw, Stephanie worked as a lawyer in the fashion, media and entertainment, start-up, and technology industries, and co-founded a sustainable textile manufacturing facility.
In this episode, Stephanie describes the two-sided marketplace they use to buy and sell dead stock, and the additional background technology that allows businesses to understand where their waste is and what it is, in real-time.
She also talks about the digitisation of inventory management and stock systems to understand that information, sell and to use waste, make sure it stays in circulation, and to actually reduce waste longer term.
Stephanie shares her passion for reducing the waste in fast fashion, acknowledging the challenges that businesses face, and the opportunity to be found in that challenge.
Tune in to find out more!
Corporate attorney turned fashion tech and sustainability entrepreneur, Stephanie is the Co-Founder of Queen of Raw, a marketplace to buy and sell unused textiles, keeping them out of landfills and turning pollution into profit.
An advocate for women in business and sustainability, her companies have been featured in NPR, Good Morning America, The New York Times, Vogue, WWD, ELLE, WCBS, and the United Nations.
Stephanie is a NASA/NIKE/IKEA/DELL LAUNCH.org Innovator, a Grand Prize WeWork Creator Awards Winner presented by Ashton Kutcher, a Cartier Women's Initiative Laureate, an MIT - Solve Global Challenge Winner, a Climate Change Finalist in Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity, a thredUP Circular Fashion Fund Recipient, and an LVMH Innovation Award Finalist. She is a Member of Pledge 1% and New York Circular City Initiative and Founding Member of Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network, along with Aveda, Kering, and Stella McCartney.
“I think a lot of times in this industry, especially when you're talking about sustainability, people recognise how bad things are for people and planet, but they don't always know how to find a solution to make it good for people and planet, but also for a business as profit." — @queenofraw
Tune in to find out:
- Stephanie introduces herself, Queen of Raw, and their mission to turn pollution into profit.
- How Queen of Raw came about – Stephanie grew up around textiles and was frustrated by the sheer amount of waste involved.
- Where Stephanie’s opportunity mindset comes from – she thinks about the future for her kids.
- Especially when talking about sustainability, people see the problem, and not the opportunity.
- How Queen of Raw has evolved when they realized technology was going to be the solution.
- As the volume and scope of the problem grew, Queen of Raw needed to automate processes.
- The ins and outs of the sustainability process and why 2020 has been good for business.
- What Queen of Raw actually offers to make supply chains and businesses more sustainable.
- The challenges of setting up a two-sided marketplace, starting with capturing the demand.
- How Queen of Raw involves government and other enterprise stakeholders in changing the laws around circular economy.
- People and stories are a key part of the idea of sustainability that Queen of Raw is promoting.
- Thank to digitisation, information about a brand’s practices is available to consumers online.
- Stephanie’s hope for the future – the brands that innovate, digitise, and source locally will thrive.
- There is a shared responsibility between producer, consumer, policy-maker, and end of life.
- Stephanie believe there is room to grow, for conservation, storytelling, and sustainability.
- And much more!
“We need more of those good stories, because that's how the good actions rise to the top and the bad actors fall away. I think that's where the future is in this beautiful storytelling and the digitisation of this information, it allows us to know now, in real time, if someone is a good or bad actor, and how their practices are, and that is massively important." — @queenofraw
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[00:00:04] ES: Hello and welcome back to Happy Porch Radio, Season 5. In this season, we are talking about digital and technological solutions to the circular economy.
In today’s episode, Barry and I are joined by Stephanie Benedetto. Stephanie is the Co-Founder of Queen of Raw, a marketplace to buy and sell unused textiles, keeping them out of landfills, and turning pollution into profit. We talked to Stephanie about many things, including her role changing this notoriously unsustainable industry of fast fashion, working from the inside-out.
She is a really inspiring figure and everything that she's doing within Queen of Raw, and the ideas started as a tiny seed, and have grown to this whole platform the Queen of Raw is today. I think, we can all take a lot of inspiration from everything that she's doing and the energy that she has towards this difficult and often, tricky subject of sustainability in this industry.
[00:01:12] BO: Yeah, I really love this conversation, everything from the name, Queen of Raw, through to all of the work that Stephanie’s business is doing. We talked about, I guess, the public face of the moment of Queen of Raw is this two-sided marketplaces to buy and sell dead stock, or waste textiles.
In addition to that, what was really fascinating I thought was how she described, I guess, additional background technology that allows businesses to maybe understand where their waste is, what it is, and in real-time, so there's that digitisation of an integration with inventory management, and stock systems to understand that information, not just then to be able to sell it and to use it, to make sure that that stays in circulation, and keep that value in circulation, but also, longer term, to actually reduce waste. She talked passionately about the reduction the need to reduce those waste and work with fast fashion, acknowledging the challenge there working with those businesses in order to, as she described it, that is the opportunity, that's where a problem is and that's where the opportunity is as well.
[00:02:17] ES: The potential for huge impact comes, because this is an industry where there needs to be huge change. To take that on as a challenge is really admirable. I think that what Queen of Raw is doing and it's just the start of it. It's the tip of the iceberg, as we found so many of these conversations in this season, but a really interesting take on a difficult subject.
[00:02:43] BO: Definitely. We touched briefly and hopefully, as usual to anybody who's listening who wants to go and find out about the technology and their depth and a bit more, we put the links on happyporchradio.com in the show notes for this episode.
She touched on the use of AI and blockchain, of building a two-sided marketplace, which is a – it's a tough product, tough business to be doing, but underpinning that all of the purpose behind it, it was really inspiring. I hope you enjoy this episode.
Without any further ado, let's meet Stephanie.
[00:03:15] SB: Hi. My name is Stephanie Benedetto and I’m the Queen of Raw. We are on a mission to solve the world's water crisis and help turn pollution into profit. Really excited to tell you how and hopefully, how we can all build a better future that makes sense for people, for planet and for profit.
[00:03:33] BO: Wonderful. Thank you so much. That's an amazing introduction. I love that. I’m the Queen of Raw. That's brilliant. Welcome to Happy Porch Radio. It's so great to have you here.
[00:03:39] SB: So happy to be here. Thank you all for having me.
[00:03:43] BO: Let's start with the obvious at the beginning, tell us a little bit about how Queen of Raw came about and I guess, exactly what you mean by that mission that you just stated?
[00:03:52] SB: Yeah, good question. Ask me if I would be doing this years ago, maybe yes, maybe no. My family has actually been in the fashion and textiles industry for over a 100 years, since the 1890s in New York. I very much grew up around fashion, textiles, supply chain and always thought it was an incredibly powerful industry that connected people around the world.
I really was frustrated with the sheer amount of waste that went on, from raw materials, to finished goods. Ask me back then if I was going to get into this business, I would have told you no. I actually went to Wall Street as a corporate attorney right before the market crashed in ’08 and ’09 and ended up over time specialising in fashion, technology, sustainability. I guess, at the end of the day, we get back to our roots and who we are and what inspires us.
After the market crashed, I took that as my opportunity to go out on my own. Go build a business and go change the world. That spirit was instilled in me from a very young age. So this huge problem around waste and unused textiles. It just didn't make any sense to me. Why there would be all of this stuff, perfectly good, fabric on rolls or finished goods, that just sits in warehouses collecting dust, or being burned or sent to landfill.
As I looked deeper into this issue and seeing firsthand just in warehouses and factories and mills around the world, the sheer amount of waste, it actually is to the tune of a 120 billion dollars, with a B, a year, worth of unused inventory, that just sits in warehouses, or gets burned and sent to landfill.
I knew that this didn't make sense for people and planet, but it sure as hell doesn't make sense for a business as profit either. As we dove deeper, this stuff actually can eat up up to 15% of a business's bottom line in a year. I knew that this was a massive problem that we had to tackle. We built Queen of Raw as a global marketplace for anyone, from a student, maker, crafter, quilter to the biggest brands and retailers in the world, from fast fashion to luxury, to be able to buy and sell all those unused textiles. Help keep them out of landfill and turn that pollution into profit.
We can dive deeper into it, but it's been exciting to see the growth and the response, especially in light of what's going on in the world today and how we can build a better future for tomorrow.
[00:06:26] BO: I really love how you're approaching all of that with, I guess, an opportunity mindset, or a positive mindset with phrases like, pollution into profit. I mean, when you look at the fashion industry, there's a lot of bad stuff happening there, all the stuff you're touching on, the amount of waste, the fact that brands like to burn stuff, instead of finding ways to use it in terms of – so many things there. Where does that opportunity mindset, where does that positive approach come from?
[00:06:50] SB: Well, I mean, personally, it was something that it was instilled in me from a very young age. Just as a personal story, I actually had a brother who was accidentally killed two years before I was born. I mention that because it definitely framed a lot of the way I look at the world. We talk about it a lot in my family. I realised that life is short, life is precious, and we need to take advantage of every single day to make a difference, to realise the beauty of the gift of what we've been given in life, and to challenge old-school way of doing things and build a better future. I think about my kids who you may hear in the background right now. I want my children to have clean water to drink, clothes that aren't toxic to wear, and a planet to live on.
You mentioned that all of these scary statistics, which there are about how damaging fashion is to people and planet. To me, the flip side of that is it is so damaging and it is the second biggest polluter of clean water globally. Well, what does that mean? That means that fashion, literally if we can change things and turn things around, has the power to solve the world's water crisis.
It is so powerful, that if we can flip the way it does stuff, we could solve some of these real-world problems. That's the way I took on tackling this. I think a lot of times in this industry, especially when you're talking about sustainability, people recognise how bad things are for people and planet, but they don't always know how to find a solution to make it good for people and planet, but also for a business as profit. That's been very important to how we think about building a business. It has to make economic sense for a big brand, or retailer to adopt this solution right. I think coming up with these models in the future is going to be critical to building that future for our kids and future generations.
[00:08:40] ES: Wow. What a starting place to come from and to have that mindset of every moment, every day counts, so we may as well make a change in this world. That's pretty amazing. The way that you said, you started in – you were actually working on Wall Street and then you were rolled back into fashion and that's been in your family for generations. Then you found this issue and you're like, “Okay. I’m going to make a platform and it's going to change the way things are done.” It sounds simple. There's a problem, I made a solution.
What you have now, the platform that currently exists in 2020, is that what you imagined it would be when you started? How has it evolved to get where we are today?
[00:09:24] SB: Oh, how it evolved. I think what's been beautiful and powerful about this experience for me and for the business is that we do have a very bold ambition. We are here to tackle the world's waste and the world water crisis, and definitely want to build what we believe is going to be an Alibaba done right. Big, bold ambition there and that definitely drives it.
How do you get there? What you start with and where you go, like any good startup’s journey, I mean, the story is full of interesting turns, and changes, and opportunities, and things you didn't even realise when you started. When we first had this idea, I knew that technology was going to be the solution, that that was going to how we were going to connect the dots across the world to connect all this unused inventory to all of these prospective buyers around the world.
The big challenge doing that was I didn't have at the time a technology background. Fortunately, I found a strong technical co-founder who partnered with me and we've been together ever since. When we first started looking at this issue, we sat at a Starbucks napkin in 2014 and [inaudible 00:10:36] and mapped out on a napkin what this would look like, this connecting of the dots and this marketplace. We all had prior businesses, so we actually didn't open up the business until 2018.
In that time period, we spent a lot of time, as we all had other businesses, but also learning about our customers, learning about the problem. Part of this, obviously the timing has to be right. Fast forward to where we are today, and despite what's going on in the world, the timing couldn't be better for what we're doing and business has been booming.
We started the marketplace and I had a thought that it would be large brands and retailers, selling like what you said at the beginning of the conversation, scraps and odd lots and sample yardage, to small and medium-sized brands, and students and designers around the world. As we've been going to marketplace, we actually realised that this isn't just scraps off a cutting room floor. Some of our enterprise customers have thousands to tens of thousands to now a 100,000 skews of unused inventory. Some of those individual skews have up to a million yards of unused inventory.
The sheer volume and scope of this obviously, grew rapidly. As the marketplace has been growing, we realised for our enterprise customers, there was a huge opportunity here. Because if you have that number of skews, or that sheer volume, we had to be able to automate some process of onboarding all of this dead stock, which is what we call it in the unused stuff to our marketplace and provide them with valuable data and analytics. That's where we've been growing now, in addition to the marketplace that you see on queenofraw.com, we do have enterprise software and tools to help our enterprise customers do more faster, do better and keep that waste out of landfill.
That's where we can now with partnerships with SAP and other inventory management systems, we can actually automate the process of finding out what they have in inventory, in unused waste, sending that information to our marketplace quickly, easily, and digitally. Then over time, start to help them minimise those waste streams going forward. That's my ultimate goal with all this, because the marketplace is great, but ultimately, I hope someday we don't need it, because everyone's on our software and tools and they've minimised their waste streams going forward and we've solved the world's water crisis and then I’ll go tackle the next problem. The long and the short, bringing this community together, learning new things about the data and analytics and helping them better.
[00:13:08] ES: Yeah. I’m actually really glad to hear you say that, but at some point, you hope that this whole platform is obsolete. Because obviously, that's the ultimate mission, I think, for a lot of businesses with an impact is that they hope at some point that impact has been made and they're no longer required. It's so good to have that as a goal, because then that means that real change has actually happened.
[00:13:35] SB: It has to be. I would caution people, when you're doing that, it's a big problem to tackle, so I think we have enough room to get there and to grow into something really big. It's also beneficial for anybody working in the impact space to think about, “Well, okay. What happens once I’ve solved the problem and how can I still be valuable and relevant and support this community?” That's a key reason why we built this software and tools is to stay important and support them.
[00:13:59] ES: Yeah. We can get into the software and the tools in just a minute, but I just wanted to address something that you said. You mentioned the timing is really important and you said that specifically now, business is going really well. You've mentioned about the sustainability aspect of well, you've actually mentioned two things in terms of sustainability. One of them being fabrics and leftover materials that are burned. The other being the usage of water.
Can you just talk a little bit more about that? Because you've mentioned that we are in a good time right now. By that, I take it that you mean that the awareness of all this is actually coming to a head and everyone's getting more aware of, especially in the fashion industry, the practices that we need to adapt in order to be more sustainable. Maybe the ins and outs of the sustainability practices aren't necessarily known to everyone.
[00:14:53] SB: Right. No, you're absolutely right. A key part for any startup or business is absolutely timing. Despite what's going on in the world right now and obviously, hope, first and foremost, that everyone is healthy and safe. Thinking about this as an opportunity and what should the future supply chain look like, I think is pretty powerful.
Talk to me years ago when we first started looking at this issue and we'd go talk – we're based in New York City and we go in the fashion district and start to do some due diligence and research with our prospective customers. For as many as there were great yeses and early adopters who understood the vision and the dream and what we were doing and how valuable this would be to their business and their bottom and top line, there were plenty of doors slammed in our face that said no.
Fortunately, now years later, many of those no’s have turned into yeses, but it definitely took a while to get there. When I first talked to some of these who are now customers, but years ago, this issue just wasn't top of mind. It was a nice to have not a have to have. They had their own business. It was working at a fast pace. They had their customers and they were turning out more and new and faster and better.
Talk to them about digitising supply chains, going on demand and local with production, slowing down their pace, being more sustainably minded. Like I said, it just wasn't top of mind. It was maybe a tenth priority. Fast forward to today, what's going on in the world, I feel like we've all felt the impact that a broken supply chain has on our life. When your Amazon order doesn't come in time anymore, even using prime. You're seeing what happened in the world when things are disrupted and break down.
On the plus side, you're seeing what happens in the world when things do slow down and we are more thoughtful about what and how we do things. I mean, people are seeing skylines they never saw before and fish and canals in Venice that you never could see before. Our planet and people are in many ways healing. I think it helps us now value what is important in life; spending more time with our family and our loved ones and being more sustainably minded.
I think, McKinsey just came out with a phenomenal report through COVID, showing how now digitising supply chains, and being sustainably-minded, and thinking about future, and on-demand, and local is now a top one to three priority for every major fashion-branded retailer, because they see how important it is. It isn't just about surviving today. It's about how do we thrive tomorrow and grow and innovate out of this.
The ones who are thinking about it, I think are the ones who are going to. The ones who don't, they're going to be dinosaurs. Despite what's going on in the world, if there's some good that can come out of it, I think it is this and I’m excited to see what the future supply chain looks like and how we could support that digitally.
[00:17:46] ES: Yeah, that's interesting, the shift. Actually, not such a long period of time. I suppose it's been coming for quite a few years. In terms of you said, you had this initial seed of an idea in 2014, was it? Then, now we're in 2020, so it's not actually been such a long period of time in which you have seen the distinct difference in terms of interest in getting involved in this project.
[00:18:14] SB: Well, I appreciate that in the short time, sometimes we can feel like a lifetime, but in a good way. We've come so much forward and there's so much opportunity. Yeah. Right.
[00:18:26] ES: Can you tell us a bit more about exactly what it is that Queen of Raw offers in terms of making supply chains and businesses more sustainable?
[00:18:35] SB: Yeah. I mean, right now for example, the world is sitting on a crisis of supply. More cancelled orders and waste and unused inventory than ever before, because of collections being cancelled, seasons being cancelled, stores being closed. The interesting thing about this waste and unused inventory and what we're here to support is that these businesses are sitting on a gold mine. More unused inventory than ever before that actually provides value to them. This stuff has real dollar value attributed to it.
For those who are worried about what to do and how to make and save money with what's going on in the world, this provides real value and an opportunity for them to sell. Instead of furloughing those workers, or having to slow down certain things, you can actually sell this unused inventory, take that money, and put it into doing good in other parts of your supply chain. Trust me, the world right now is going to remember who the good actors are and who behaved well and who thoughtfully thought about these kinds of problems.
We're here to obviously help these businesses figure out what they have in unused inventory, because a lot of times this stuff is sitting in warehouses that nobody knows, or it's on some Excel spreadsheet on somebody's desktop and nobody knows, that's why there's all this waste. We do help businesses figure out what they have in waste, how to put that into one digital repository, one place where they can see everything in real-time. Then of course, we market match and sell that, end-to-end to our global network.
Now based on the activities that they do and the buying and selling across Queen of Raw, we can start to create really valuable information and intelligent analyses about stuff that nobody ever knew before. Nobody ever knew what happened to this waste, or if it ever got sold, or if it was burned or landfilled. Now we can keep it in circulation and there's real value.
Interestingly enough, we're not just, of course, supplying and sending stuff to our marketplace may seem obvious to sell your waste, but there's actually a huge value in turning around and buying unused dead stock right now. Obviously, a lot of people understand the selling. On the buying side, we've actually had some of our major enterprise customers who are not only selling unused inventory, but turning around and buying stuff. You may ask, why would the world's biggest fast fashion and luxury brands turn around and buy? Well, their supply chains have been impacted by disruption and by the China trade wars and everything going on in the world.
In many ways, being able to find what they need, when they need it, at a steep discount, located where they're manufacturing, and doing it quickly and digitally is something so incredible and the time and resources saved are massive. Now they're turning around and buying too. I think that's where we're really excited to continue to see that maybe we don't need to be producing as much as we have been in the past and we can keep this stuff in circulation and it's a win-win-win.
[00:21:42] BO: That's almost the perfect example of a circular economy. Reusing, keeping stuff in circulation, keeping the value, win-win on both sides. Your waste is my input. It’s like this wonderful story.
When you were putting this idea together, one of the things that is often described as really difficult to do is this two-sided marketplace type of product. You're trying to engage and understand this people selling and the sellers and as you said, help them understand what they have, which is a big problem in itself I’m sure. Then, you get it onto the marketplace and then get it matched and sold. Then you're also having the conversation with sellers. Was that as difficult as it sounds for you? Or did it help that it's I guess, that there's this underlying mission to drive those things forward?
[00:22:23] SB: Yeah. When building a marketplace is as you mentioned, it's definitely not easy, especially when it's two-sided. Although, there is power in marketplaces, like Amazon and Alibaba that can literally power and run the world. I’ve always believed in the power of marketplaces to bring together a community digitally that have never been brought together before. I get really excited not just in the matching between buyers and sellers, but in by bringing this community together, what else can we offer them? What are the shadow markets that we can create and support them and help everybody do better?
When we first started, I knew that there was going to be at one point, you're going to be building up the supply. At another point, you're going to be building up the demand then the supply, then the demand that's part of the magic of getting the flywheel to take off in any marketplace. We decided to start very quickly and simply and easily and get a website up and running in a marketplace. We only had a few products to sell, but we got it up, because we were able to start capturing the demand. We learned and realised what people were searching for, who was searching, what they needed, what resonated with them about the storytelling that we were doing around Queen of Raw and its mission and its vision.
We didn't call ourselves Queen of Raw for nothing. The name definitely was sticky and memorable. We started building a buzz. I think what served us really well early on was building that leadership and thought leadership and following and community, because we learned so much. As we started getting, we had a huge amount of demand. We learned a lot from the demand. Then we spent a lot of time building back-up the supply. That's where we started leveraging some of the tools that I just mentioned that we built, using the fun technology, like blockchain and machine learning to help build up that supply and automate that supply onboarding quickly and easily.
Now we're working on and growing the tools to match it even quicker to our demand and building up our demand again. It's always that magic and that dance and definitely, in some ways, when I mention what I do, it sounds very quick and easy and simple, marketplace, to buy and sell stuff, okay. When you dive into it, the complexities are there and we really have been fortunate to have been first to market globally with this, and to be building this thought leadership and community, and to really learning and understanding the complexity of textiles, and supply chain, and the laws, and the logistics, and you name it and that's where we can provide valuable support.
[00:24:50] BO: I think that's been a recurring theme through our conversations in this season of the podcast, that it is complex and that there's so many facets. The people who are doing amazing work like yourself are not shying away from that, or almost enjoying, or thriving on that challenge of there's more than one little thing here. You've touched on the technologies on that two-sided business and there's just so much there.
It sounds like that your energy, you almost get more excited when you're talking about that and how big and complex it is. Is that true?
[00:25:22] SB: I mean, I think part of what is hard but also powerful and fascinating about startup life is that, it is really about problem-solving and getting through barriers. One of our core principles at Queen of Raw really is find closed doors and open them. I stand by that. We stand by that very truly. There are always going to be closed doors. How do we think about how we can open them, right?
By doing that, you are moving into that door and moving forward and it helps us get through the roadblocks for sure. We do get excited by challenges and coming up, figuring out creatively how to come up with solutions. Look, if it was easy, everybody would be doing it, but they're not. It definitely does take a certain type of a person to enjoy this. On the days when maybe there are some challenges that you get frustrated, or you think about something that you're not quite sure how you're going to solve it yet, I definitely look to the metrics. We look every day, we calculate the amount of water, the toxins the energy and the dollars that we've saved our community.
Today, we've saved well over a billion gallons of water. That's actually enough clean water for 1.43 million people to drink around the world for three years. When we get frustrated, or you wonder why you're doing things, you're pulling your hair out. If you look at something like that as you're guiding light, you get reinvigorated all the time. I look at my kids and that just reminds me again why I’m doing what I’m doing.
You find that inspiration and take on those challenges. It is what differentiates you and what makes it different and special and hopefully meaningful to leave that lasting impact. Not to mention, have a little bit of fun while you're doing it, right? We do caught up in all of this, but it's been a lot of fun learning and leveraging a lot of what we've been doing and building the community. In terms of how we're trying to leave a lasting impact, we are actively actually a part of involving government and other enterprise stakeholders in changing the laws around circular economy.
We're part of the New York Circular City Initiative backed by mayors and government and enterprise and ourselves. We are putting out a white paper in September that is going to start to hopefully position the changing of the laws in New York to make it circular. Not just to slap businesses with millions of dollars in liability for not complying, but also, to show them solutions like ours that can help them offset that liability. That's an exciting piece of what we do too.
[00:27:43] BO: Yeah, that is really exciting. I guess, that really emphasises what you were saying there, about being driven by that impact and being able to say through the tough days, “This is why we're doing this. Also, this is why we're getting involved in conversations that are above and beyond our business.”
That's really inspiring and I think that is something that I’m really enjoying as we're talking to – the circular economy umbrella is such a broad thing. Within that, there's these recurring themes about actually, genuinely trying to have positive impact and tackle these big problems.
[00:28:13] SB: You have to. Sustainability, that S word, right? It means so many things to so many people. That's great. We take a very broad view in our platform of sustainability and in what we think supports that triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. At the end of the day, I do love the word circular economy, because economy, it's an economic principle, and the value that we can show businesses from an economic perspective about being sustainably-minded, circular economy-minded, I think that's where we're going. Technology has a huge role to play in the digitisation of this information and being able to facilitate and support that.
So many times, some of the big brands and retailers we talk to, it's awesome when they come out in the papers and they say, “By 2030, we're going to be a 100% sustainable.” Who knows what that even means and how you're even going to get there? When you make those big, bold claims, it's awesome. It puts a stake in the ground and I hope they even just get 1% of the way there. That's even awesome.
You can say that it almost gets stuck. You don't know where to begin, or how to do it. I think that's what we've really focused on is how do you find the quick and easy wins to being sustainably minded, to unlocking value in dollars that you can then put into doing even more good in other parts of your supply chain? That to me was looking at this issue of waste.
Caring is just one fashion brand among many who've done an incredible job at showing the profitability in the economics of sustainability. Excited to see more and hopefully, all be able to do it right.
[00:29:43] ES: Yeah. I think it really is those initial, smaller changes, low-hanging fruit that lead to bigger, fundamental, structural changes that actually make – have a really big impact across maybe the industry, maybe the world. Who knows? Which is really encouraging.
[00:30:01] SB: So many of these businesses, of course, they wanted to have their supply chain be digital, end-to-end, from farm to finished good to end of life. That's amazing. For these businesses who are like my great grandfather doing business in the 1890s, a lot of them still are doing old school ways of doing business on pen and paper and Excel spreadsheets. How to even begin to think about digitising end-to-end and overhauling entire systems and supply chains? This is a great place to start.
Then once we've digitised the waste and this piece of the supply chain, we can start to connect the dots up and down the chain. Then there's real connectivity powers. Like I said, a good place to start.
[00:30:42] ES: Yeah. We talked about how circular economy, when it's done well, can be a real win-win for all sides of the supply chain. Also, you've mentioned a couple of times the idea of that triple bottom line of people, planet, profit. I feel like we can't talk about sustainability in the fashion industry without talking about people.
I think it's a big factor that many people are becoming more and more aware of within this industry. I think, especially, unfortunately now, in the current circumstances of the world, it's having a big impact on the people that work in this industry around the world and producing these fabrics and these materials.
How does that play into the idea of sustainability that Queen of Raw is helping to promote and transition to?
[00:31:31] SB: It's massively important and key. It is the people of people, planet, and profit that is important for sure. We have definitely are a managed, curated marketplace. We do go through a vetting, know-your-customer process before anyone is activated as a seller on our platform. For our large enterprise customers in our software and tools, we can also vet the buyers. That is very important to be able to run these checks, to know their treatment of people and how good the quality and condition of their factories and their partners are critically important to what we do. That's very important.
I think, we wouldn't be able to do anything, or have any meaning in the fashion industry if not for the people who are making it. A big piece that I think and where Queen of Raw has also been able to support is a lot of times, there are brands and retailers who are doing good things and do have good practices around their treatment of people and fair labor and working conditions, but they don't always know how to talk about it. They're afraid to.
One of the things that we can do with Queen of Raw is, in our software and tools, we can actually give them the data and the tools to tell that story about what they're doing. They can speak with confidence, because it relates to information that we have secured and verified in a record. Now, not to get too into the technical details, but we can actually connect the Queen of Raw story and what is bought and sold on our platform to the RFID thread, or QR code in an actual finished good, so when you as the end-customer go to purchase that shirt, you can scan that QR code and see the story of the dead stock that was rescued to make that beautiful shirt from Queen of Raw and the amount of water and toxins and energy saved, and even up the chain to the good practices of the men and women making these shirts.
I think that unlocks so much in storytelling that end-consumers want right now. I mean, it isn't just Millennials and Gen Z's. It's across the board. We need more of those good stories, because that's how the good actions rise to the top and the bad actors fall away. I think that's where the future is in this beautiful storytelling and the digitisation of this information, it allows us to know now, in real time, if someone is a good or bad actor, and how their practices are, and that is massively important.
[00:33:53] ES: I agree. It is so important. I think, a lot of the time that as a consumer, but also as Barry has pointed in the supply chain, there's questions of okay, maybe you're telling me that this is the case. How do I know I can trust it? How do I know that this information is valid and that actually this is what's happening on all levels of sustainability, whether that's social, or environmental sustainability, there's often just a level of trust that has to be in place, I think that –
[00:34:25] SB: If you don't know, where do you go to find the information? There are wonderful platforms, like Good On You and others that are springing up, where you can in seconds, type in the name of a brand and know instantly a general rating and understanding of what is known about the practices, that scans trade journals and research and publications to do that analysis.
This information, thanks to the digitisation of information and the social nature of social media, this information is known now more and more and we're able to uncover those practices, so you do know. Right. I mean, it can't all be on the consumer. It is also on the brands of retailers to put these practices in place and to support this. It's all part of the top-down and bottom up.
[00:35:11] ES: Stephanie, coming from a place of, in your blood, having history in this industry of fashion, and being a pioneer in this moment in time, of the future of fashion and the way the industry works, what are your hopes for how we can move forward, in terms of how we think about fashion, how we produce it and how we consume it?
[00:35:35] SB: Yup, great question. Everybody seems to be talking about the need for fast fashion to die and go away. I do sometimes get criticised on panels when I speak, because we absolutely work with fast fashion. I’ll tell you why. Because I believe that, talk about the way we started this conversation about how damaging fashion is to the planet and fast fashion is a major contributor of that, it’s also the key to unlocking the solution.
I mean, if you can change just 1% of the way a fast fashion brand does business, that can have massive impact on practices around the world, and that is a place to me, to start. What does the future look like? I definitely think that for consumers, we've had the Raw Foods Movement for a long time, and people care a lot about the ingredients in the farm to table and the foods they put in their bodies. Now it's time to take a look a little bit deeper at the tag on a shirt, or pants, and the clothes that touch our body 24/7. Like the food and ingredients, if you can't read the ingredients in the shirt on the tag, probably isn't good to be touching your skin.
It's a simple, quick, easy way to check that something that is touching you and your children all day is safe and that you're promoting good materials. Like I said, it's starting this conversation. It's not just all on the consumers. It's also on the brands and retailers. What does the future look like? I think we are in a huge opportunity now to truly go change the world.
If, as freshmen brands and retailers in many ways, a lot are going bankrupt, the ones who innovate are the ones who are going to survive and thrive. The ways they innovate I think is looking at the future being more digital, so that information is connected and more clear and transparent. It doesn't mean that they necessarily have to overhaul everything overnight, but starting to think about that. Starting to think about building up supply chains and manufacturing products that are made locally, made on demand, when customers actually need and want it, not forecasting years in advance, that just starts to support, I think, the positive, powerful, future supply chain could look like.
I think, if you bring both of those together, we have a really bright future that we're looking at. The time is now to make that difference and make that change and go change the world.
[00:37:58] ES: Powerful. Also, you mentioned the responsibility shared between consumers and producers. I think maybe the third leg of that responsibility is something you've already mentioned in terms of policy that comes into place. I think to pull industry in a direction that we hope it can go deeper into. As an incentive, certainly, policy has a big role to play there.
[00:38:25] SB: You're right. To me, Europe has done an incredible job. It isn't just about slapping businesses with millions of dollars in liability and letting them to continue. It's about, how do you curb to your point, behaviour and incentivise people? How do they know about the solutions that are out there that can help support them to do better and do good while being profitable?
Europe has done a great job with EPR policies, recycling laws. I think that that is growing in the United States and Asia as well. We are at this tipping point for building that positive future that is connected with the policy-makers and the people. Interestingly enough, this seems small, but I think it could also have a massive impact. Although, a little bit outside of what we do, we do talk a lot to waste management and end of life, because inevitably, there comes a point no matter how long we keep this stuff in circulation, that there will be an end of life for it. How do we tell waste management companies what these goods are, what they're made of and what to do with it, how they can be recycled, how they can be returned to the brand and reused in some way and being able to know the information about the product, which is digitally and instantly, which is part of what we do, can help waste management do that.
To even get it to waste management, we need consumers to do some form of recycling. I hear so many times from regular-end consumers, “I don't know where to go or what to do with this stuff." I think also, that's where now there's some gamification to be played to incentivise, for the brands and retailers to incentivise end consumers to say, “Here at end of life is the local recycling spot. This is where you drop it off. By doing this, you've just saved X amount of gallons of water and here's a coupon on your next purchase.” I think starting to think about that as well is a massive opportunity.
[00:40:13] BO: Yeah. That in itself as you say, is another – it's a whole other part – a whole other facet of this fascinating and difficult and amazing problem that you're tackling. I wanted to try to draw one conclusion out of this conversation that I think has come across really strongly, that I think is relevant to the reason we're doing this season of the podcast. You've used the word digitisation a lot and the getting that data and that understanding, using those tools and the technology, not for their own sake, but in order to have this impact.
Within the industry that I’m part of, I feel that we have a bit of a responsibility to be inspired by people like yourself, Stephanie, and the work you're doing, in order to use the skills, the technology, the power that the digital industry has to be involved in these kinds of solutions that you're working on. That might be as individuals, you mentioned your technical co-founder and the people in your team and the people you work with technical design. I assume that there's a whole bunch of expertise that can input into those things.
Also, then thinking about – I know some people listening, or that we work for coms agencies, or design and build, or in the services to brands and PR and everything. I feel there's a real opportunity and as I said, a call to action for us to be inspired by people like Stephanie, to be a positive part and to help in our own little way to contribute to that, the solutions to the problems that you're working on.
[00:41:37] SB: Yeah. Well, thank you. Any way we can support that. I think there's a huge also opportunity here in how the storytelling is done, now that we are digitising this information, and we know it in real-time. How can we do better about supporting and sharing the good work of the good people who are doing good things? I think, there's a lot of room and opportunity in the storytelling and the sustainability conversation to grow, and do even better, and resonate even more with everybody. We’re excited to be a part of that, and to work with individuals like yourself and appreciate all the feedback and support. It doesn't happen without this community and collaboration. That's for sure.
[00:42:13] BO: Yeah, 100%. Thank you so much again. Just one final point. Just for anybody listening who wants to find out more about the work you're doing, more about Queen of Raw, where should they go?
[00:42:22] SB: You bet. I’m very transparent. I mean, it goes along with sustainability and transparency. You can reach me directly at email@example.com. S-T-E-P-H-A-N-I-E@queenofraw.com, one word. I actually give out my cell. It's 203-981-6993. If there's something I can do to help you and support it, feel free to reach out. Together, we will change the world.
[00:42:45] BO: Wonderful. Thank you so much. As usual, we'll share those on happyporchradio.com in the show notes, the links, everything we've mentioned. I would also suggest people go and check out some of the talks you've done. I know some of those are on YouTube and some of the content that you share with via Queen of Raw, I think that helps to bring some depth to what we were talking about today. Thank you so much again, Stephanie. Really enjoyed our conversation.
[00:43:07] SB: Thank you. Appreciate it.
[00:43:09] ES: Thank you, Stephanie.
[00:43:10] SB: Thanks. Be well.
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