Trad­ing Threads

He wants you cov­et­ing some­one’s closet, while re­duc­ing tex­tile waste at the same time.

The Peak (Singapore) - - Power List -

Fac­to­ries are churn­ing out trendy cloth­ing at break­neck speeds and even lower costs, en­cour­ag­ing reck­less pur­chas­ing. Yet, only 6 per cent of the 151,000 tonnes of tex­tile/ leather waste gen­er­ated in Sin­ga­pore last year was re­cy­cled. The rest was in­cin­er­ated be­fore be­ing rub­bished in Sin­ga­pore’s only land­fill, which is pre­dicted to fill out by 2035, a decade ear­lier than the orig­i­nal 2045 pro­jec­tion.

Which is why Aloysius Sng wants more women to pur­chase pre-loved ap­parel, the premise of his three-year-old sec­ond­hand cloth­ing busi­ness, Re­fash. “Twenty per cent of our top sellers don’t wear the same piece more than three times. We even re­ceive clothes with price tags still in­tact! It’s im­pul­sive spend­ing,” he says.

The 20,000 ac­tive buy­ers have so far racked up over $1 mil­lion in trans­ac­tions, where the aver­age cost of each piece is $15. Its 15,000 sellers are paid in Re­fash points, which can be used to buy clothes from Re­fash, or to re­deem for cash do­na­tions to char­ity or­gan­i­sa­tions such as The Sal­va­tion Army and Minds. Sng, 30, says: “The points sys­tem en­sures that Re­fash is re­spon­si­ble; we’re not sell­ing sec­ond­hand clothes to en­cour­age the pur­chas­ing of more brand new clothes.”

By his own ad­mis­sion, he did not start out “want­ing to change the world”. As an ap­parel whole­saler, he wanted shop­pers to buy more. “When the man­u­fac­tur­ers started pro­duc­ing bet­ter qual­ity prod­ucts, I asked them to revert to cheaper al­ter­na­tives.”

But as a flea mar­ket or­gan­iser, he saw how women were lug­ging home bags of clothes af­ter a day of dis­mal sales. His then girl­friend, now wife, of­ten com­plained about her lack of cloth­ing, de­spite a burst­ing wardrobe. He says: “It’s no longer about sell­ing them. It’s a has­sle to get rid of un­wanted clothes, so ac­cu­mu­la­tion hap­pens. So I thought to of­fer women in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion by help­ing them get the clothes out of the house and free­ing up closet space.”

With a small re­tail space in City Plaza, he started Re­fash and saw $500,000 in sales in the first year. Al­though the con­cept scored with con­sumers, in­vestors were not moved. Re­call­ing the dif­fi­culty in rais­ing cap­i­tal for ex­pan­sion, Sng says: “A ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist told me that I was a high-class karung guni. I took it very per­son­ally. But it made me re­think how I pre­sented sec­ond­hand clothes to con­sumers. The last thing I wanted was for peo­ple to think of us as a rag-and-bone busi­ness.”

“My first store had dan­gling light bulbs and cheap racks. Since that in­ci­dent, we have strived to of­fer a bou­tique-like ex­pe­ri­ence. Clothes are in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion, steamironed be­fore be­ing neatly hung on racks and well-priced.” Re­fash cur­rently has five stores in Sin­ga­pore, two in Malaysia and also ex­ports clothes to the Philip­pines.”

This month, Re­fash is rolling out a sub­scrip­tion plan, where cus­tomers pay a monthly fee and re­ceive a weekly se­lec­tion from Re­fash’s wardrobe. Th­ese are to be re­turned the next week and the cy­cle con­tin­ues. “Af­ter three years, we still haven’t built that ecosys­tem of hav­ing more own­ers for that one piece. This way, we pre­dict that each will have at least six ‘own­ers’.”

Two of Sng’s big­gest chal­lenges re­main get­ting bet­ter qual­ity clothes and loop­ing more buy­ers into the ecosys­tem. He’s slowly chang­ing mind­sets, and the ac­cep­tance among older shop­pers is tes­ti­mony. “Once they re­alise that we sell sec­ond­hand clothes, through their ex­pres­sions, you can tell that they are al­ready re­ject­ing the items. But since the con­di­tion is so good and prices are so low, they get them any­way.

“If thrift store fi nds make up just 30 per cent of ev­ery woman’s closet, I think we’ve done some­thing good.”

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