Myntra’s, an Indian fashion e-commerce giant had its year-end sale in the last week of 2020. As per the company statement, the CEO said “3.5 million customers shopping for more than 10 million products during the sale, reaffirming the fashion industry’s faith in customer shopping intent”.
“Customer shopping intent” is excellent for the company, great for the economy, but how to deal with the mountains of clothes that get created after a few years of that “intent”.
Myntra case is no different from many other eCommerce stores or the physical retail store in your neighborhood. The global apparel market is more than $1000 million, hundreds and thousands of clothes are brought and sold every single day. Have you ever imagined, what would happen after a few years of use.
If you look at your own wardrobe, there will be many clothes which would be lying under the pile without getting used. There would be a favorite dress, which you not have been used for years. A pair of jeans laying in a pile of dust, or a shirt which you wore in one marriage function and has not found any other occasion since then.
Blame it on the marketing gimmicks, fast-moving fashion styles, discounts, or affordability – having heaps of clothes is a common occurrence in most households.
Having said that there are many who might not be that fortunate and wearing torn clothes is not a fashion statement but a compulsion.
We sat with Sujata Chatterjee, founder, and managing director at Twirl store for a detailed discussion on how can we make our clothes useful.
Kolkata-based Twirl store has a solution, it can pick your old clothes and make them useful again. In the process, the startup employs and empowers rural women who help in upcycling old clothes. Not to forget the environmental damage it prevents by increasing the life of the clothing product.
Here is an edited version/excerpts of our conversation with Sujata Chatterjee about the company, concept, and plans thus far. For the full discussion please watch the video.
Tell us about yourself and your journey before Twirl Store?
I come from a very different background, I am an engineer by degree and my previous work experience has been in the IT sector. I used to work at Hewlett-Packard. I was not at all associated with this industry or this kind of work.
I think that was probably one of the main hurdles in front of me. Not only was I trying to build a business model that had never ever been done before. At the same time, my educational background and my previous work experience had nothing to do with this industry. I did not know anyone in this industry or in this segment or fashion or retail. I still don’t know anyone.
These are the challenges that were piled up before we started with Twirl Store.
How did you start with this concept?
My journey started from my wardrobe around 2-3 years back when I felt that I have filled my wardrobe with a lot of things. I didn’t know what to do with that. I knew that I wasn’t going to repeat most of them and yet I was struggling to find out what I could do with them.
While I was looking for an option for my own clothes that I realize that actually there’s no one really talking about this very relevant issue. This problem was not limited to just my friends or my family, everyone has the same problem. Everyone said that they don’t know what else to do with the mountain of old clothes.
At the same time, we live in a country where lakhs of people live in slums & villages and struggle to find basic clothing. On the other side, there are so many talented women who need a decent source of livelihood.
Another problem is the environmental aspect because we live in an age of fast fashion and we have to realize that this is coming at a huge cost to the environment.
In fact, every time the fabric is made it takes a lot of natural resources, gallons of water. If we can in any way we reuse this fabric and our clothing, it not only contributes to the society around us but also to the environment.
A personal problem you have extended and taken to the market
A personal problem but at the same time, I realize it’s a problem that is felt by so many people around us. In our own country and across the world. Wherever there is a trend of fast fashion and shopping throughout the year, this problem exists in all cases.
My very personal problem is actually something most of us are now facing
When did you start your company and what was that trigger?
We started the Twirl store towards the end of 2017.
As mentioned, I was on the lookout for answers to my questions and seeing that no one was doing anything or talking about it. That prompted me to think if no one else is doing it, why I cannot be that person who brings about a change.
Towards this wish of becoming a change maker, it propelled me to start Twirl Store and offer people a solution to their problem. Along the way it also provides benefit to the society and environment.
How did you go about setting up Twirl?
The idea of Twirl took a lot of time to formulate & finalize. Doing something which was not done before, and keeping the stakeholders satisfied were my major concerns initially.
I spent a lot of time creating Twirl to the best possible solution and then slowly build up my team and finding the right set of women.
I would confess, the first set of clothes was from my wardrobe, I had to empty everything, but the initial customers were not my friends and family. The people who loved and liked the concept have come forward and become our customers. That gave us the confidence that we are on the right track.
What is the process like?
If you have unwanted clothes, they can be sent to Twirl for which you are rewarded points. Anyone from across India can send in their request for clothes pickup and Twirl Store would arrange the collection. Then you can redeem these points to buy new products from our website.
The old clothes which Twirl is collecting, we either donate as clothing to those who need it or we upcycle it to create a new product. This entire work of upcycling is done by rural women, thus it gives them a source of livelihood.
We make clothes like bags, accessories, gift items, which are available on our website, offline stores, and also are taken as bulk gifting.
People can buy our upcycled clothes from anywhere in the world.
What kind of clothing do you accept?
We accept anything that is made of fabric, which can be clothes, bedsheets, curtains, table cloths. Anything which is made of fabric, which you are not using in your homes, we would be glad to take that.
The only request is that it should not be completely torn or discolored, because then it is difficult for us to upcycle. Anything which would be in fairly decent condition, we would be happy to take them and give a new life to it.
In earlier days, there was a concept of exchanging utensils with clothes. In a way, you are bringing that up
It was in Indian traditions, that our grandmothers and great grandmothers used to make bedsheets and curtains with old sarees. It was very much part of our customs and somewhere in between, we have forgotten about it.
We have taken a step back into our own culture and reminded people that upcycling is the thing we need to go to.
How big is your team?
My core team is very small, but the extended team includes all these rural women. In addition, I would like to say that Twirl is entirely a girl’s team. Every role in the organization is done by ladies from diverse backgrounds.
Everything put together, there are about 50 women.
Do you have designers as well on the team?
We work with designers on case to case basis, but I would like to add that rural woman that I work with, they have a very good idea about upcycling. In a way, that is their natural inherent talent and we are very proud to be able to support that.
They are naturally talented in designs etc. and they do a great job.
How is the customer response?
We have customers from across the country who have not only sent their clothes to us and embraced this concept. We work with much-reputed organizations that have partnered with us and who believe in the concept. They have helped us spread the message to their customers and their employees.
It is very encouraging that a small startup from Kolkatta is recognized by many organizations and loved by so many people. In fact, many celebrities have come forward and appreciated our work.
What are your future plans?
Plans for Twirl Store are really big, we want to bring everyone towards sustainability. Personally, I believe that sustainability cannot remain a niche segment. It cannot be that only a few people get involved.
Sustainability can be successful when it becomes a mass movement and all of us become part of it and Twirl Store is step towards that.
Everyone can become part of sustainability if they contribute to Twirl store by giving us those unwanted clothes for upcycling. In addition, even buying an upcycled product now and then.
We aim to make sustainability a mass movement and make it accessible & affordable for everyone. For this reason, all our products are very reasonably priced.
Any plans to raise money?
I started the Twirl store as a self-funded initiative because I believed in it and was passionate about it. We are proud to say that we are 3 years old now and are self-sustaining. It is the love of our customers that has sustained this and nothing can be more satisfying.
While we talk about sustainability, it is also important that we build a sustainable business and this was something which I was very conscious about. Then only the positive work which we do can be taken forward.
Our focus has been and would be to sustain ourselves. If in the future more things come our way we will take it as it may.
What is the idea behind the interesting name Twirl?
The word Twirl means rotating, going round very fast and that is where I want to take fashion into. Right now retail is into the linear trajectory – buying, using, and then keeping. We look at retail to become a full circle, you buy, you use, you donate to Twirl and then again you buy – making a whole circle.
This is a wish which we want to take ahead, from linear to circular
What is your personal connection with the environment and nature?
I think we live in one world and what we do to this world is going to affect our future generations and that is something which I feel passionate about. I want to leave a better world for my children and our children.
That is my selfish motive behind doing the things that I do. A better society and a better environment will mean a better future for my children.
At the end of it, If we can do it together, we can TWIRL to a better future.
You can watch the full conversation here!