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Tackling fast fashion and retail’s sustainability problem | Interview with Save Your Wardrobe founder Hasna Kourda

The fashion and retail industry has gotten a pretty bad reputation for its contribution to sustainability. With the rise of fast fashion that has taken over the world in recent years, retailers are producing an immense amount of garments, at a crazy-fast pace, and as a result, are exploiting people and the planet. 

Companies that have become household names (we’re not going to name and shame…), have hit the headlines for some appalling reasons- including worker exploitation, quasi-slave labour, the use of toxic materials, the destruction of ecosystems, and the widespread use of pollutants. The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters on a global level  – emitting high levels of carbon into the atmosphere as well as polluting water systems with microplastics. While some of these brands claim to have ‘eco’ products, the levels of greenwashing are quite frankly astonishing.

But since the past few years, we’re seeing a revolution start to happen – the growth of circular thinking in fashion. Circularity is the new black – tell your friends. 

Reuse, recycle, buy second-hand, explore preloved. Some of the attitudes that are now hitting the fashion industry with big impact. Now, there is a new generation of shoppers and influencers who are opting to go for a more circular approach when it comes to style – and we love to see it. European startups are helping lead this new revolution, and it’s picking up pace. 

One startup that is helping to close the fashion loop by taking on the aftercare service – meaning garments can enjoy a longer life and aren’t simply tossed away –  is Save Your Wardrobe. Founded by Hasna Kourda in London in 2017, Save Your Wardrobe offers an on-demand repairs app. It was inspired by Hasna’s first hand experience with the impact of climate change in Tunisia, and it’s disrupting the sector for good. Currently, with over 100k downloads, we chatted with Hasna to learn more about how fashion can go circular, her experiences as a founder, and why the time is now to become more sustainably-minded. 

How do you define the circular economy?

The circular economy is a systems solution framework that tackles the sustainability issues within the fashion industry. The current systems in place are linear and based on throwaway culture, meaning that clothing is discarded at an alarming rate. The aim of the circular economy is to change this by reshaping the industry so that clothes circulate for longer. Our role at Save Your Wardrobe is to support consumers and brands in the journey to extending the lifetime of garments though aftercare. 

Save Your Wardrobe offers a circular wardrobe – what exactly is this?

Save Your Wardrobe is on a mission to close the fashion loop by disrupting the aftercare experience through a carefully curated ecosystem of service partners for repairs, alterations, donations, upcycling and cleaning. Its integrated platform offers an ecosystem of easy to access and fast aftercare services that connect fashion labels, fashion lovers and local craftspeople everywhere. This enables users to repurpose their well-loved existing items of clothing rather than disposing of them. We see the platform as encouraging people to breathe new life into their wardrobe not only through alteration and repair but also eco-cleaning, customisation, and upcycling. 

We all are now aware of the damaging impacts of fast fashion – yet people still buy from these sites, brands like Shein are still invited to big events (like Web Summit). Why do you think this is?

Shein is a 100 billion dollar company that has compressed its value chain so much that it has alienated consumers from the process. Their hyper fast business model means consumers can’t even begin to understand how and where garments are being made due to the distance created between them and the supply chain. The popularity of fast fashion brands like Shein has been entirely driven by social media and the pressure to keep up with trend cycles. Consequently, some organisations believe these brands deserve a seat at the table. 

How can we change things? 

We believe that the solution lies in the ‘care and repair’ model, which should be adopted by all major brands and retailers. The model encourages customers to repurpose their well-loved existing items of clothing rather than disposing of them, ensuring that they last as long as possible, and for this opportunity to be available to as many consumers as possible. 

And can you just remind us what are the consequences of fast fashion brands? 

The impacts of fast fashion are far reaching, from the high amount of greenhouse gases used in the rapid production of the clothing. And then there’s waste. Globally, a staggering 92 million tonnes of textile waste is sent to landfills each year. Extending the life cycle of garments through repair ensures reuse of clothes and redirects waste away from landfills. That’s where we step in. Our solution is helping to close the loop in a wasteful cycle. Let’s mend it, not end it. 

What makes circular wardrobes better? Thinking environmentally and ethically?

Creating a solid repair infrastructure is vital to a sustainable fashion future, both environmentally and ethically, as it helps to extend the lifeline of the large amount of garments being purchased and thrown away. Repair is the most important phase in the circular economy as it supports ethical consumption and helps reduce the environmental impacts of discarded clothing that end up in landfills.

The circular system offered by Save Your Wardrobe aims to solve the issue that people only use about 20% of the clothes they already own by helping them rekindle an enthusiasm for their wardrobes and make the most of them through its different features. 

How is greenwashing manifesting itself in the industry?

Greenwashing is rife throughout the fashion industry, with global campaigns portraying retailers as environmentally-friendly with their ‘conscious connections’. These campaigns have been proven to be less effective than they claim, to the point where legal cases have been mounted. Unfortunately for consumers it’s easy to fall for such marketing techniques, by these big brands in the fashion world that continue to make overly ambitious and often false claims through subtle advertising and without any transparency. 

How can we better police it and call it out and ultimately, put a stop to it?

As consumers, we can be more vigilant by looking at the figures and resources that support certain claims that these brands are making, including being aware of what measurable targets they have set and digging into what they’re doing to achieve them. At Save Your Wardrobe, we’re trying to address the root cause of the problem, which ultimately is overconsumption. When consumers learn more about the value of clothes, they’ll feel more empowered and recognise when a brand is pushing an unnecessary “conscious collection”, or when they’re claiming repair warranties. 

What role does the fashion industry play in combating the climate crisis? And why should it?

The recent regulatory pressure from organisations and governments across the world have made it clearer than ever that the fashion industry holds a responsibility to play their part in combating the climate crisis. 

Going forward we hope the fashion industry will work to integrate circular systems into their business models in pursuit of putting people and the planet at the forefront of everything they do. Save Your Wardrobe strives to reinvent the fashion industry in a way that benefits both the consumers and the planet by reducing waste, treasuring clothes for longer, and shopping more mindfully. 

Tell us about Save Your Wardrobe. What is your company’s vision?

Since its founding in 2017, Save Your Wardrobe has set out to drive a systemic change in the fashion industry with its accessible circular platform that brings consumers, local businesses, and global brands together in a bid to close the fashion loop.

Save Your Wardrobe aims to build a global ecosystem to promote better management and maintenance of consumer wardrobes across the globe, using its platform to support  consumers in making better choices and care for their garments together with brand and service partners.

What have you achieved so far – and what do you want to achieve going forward?

Earlier this year Save Your Wardrobe raised $3 million in seed funding, the largest investment in a circular wardrobe platform in the UK! The Save Your Wardrobe app currently has over 160,000 app downloads, and 800,000 clothing items having been digitised on its in-app wardrobe feature.

Going forward the plan is to continue our investmenting into our mission to be a pioneer in the circular fashion movement with our practical aftercare solution for brands. By scaling our B2B offering, building our domestic operation, expanding into Europe with a focus on Germany and France, as well as growing our product and technology teams.

We collaborated with Zalando to power their Care & Repair initiative. The SYW hosted and managed platform connects to an interactive and guided digital booking system for post-purchase services directly to Zalando’s e-commerce site, supporting its sustainability target to extend the life of at least 50 million fashion products by 2023. Through this partnership, we were able to expand our aftercare services across the German market and help reduce the damage caused by the throwaway culture of fast fashion.

Tell us about your personal story. Growing up in Tunisia, seeing first-hand the impact of climate change, and founding a successful startup is quite the story. Can you give us some insight into your background?

Growing up in Tunisia, my family instilled the concept of a circular economy in me from an early age. We always made sure nothing went to waste, even when an item’s initial purpose was fulfilled, a second one was found. Our culture is inherently circular, and there is life after life in everything we own.

For example, my grandmother used to repurpose old garments into the most exquisite carpet, known as a kilim. The finished kilim would be used to keep the floors cool when the temperatures soared in summer. It was beautiful to experience the act of taking something no longer in use and transforming it by giving it a second life and new function. Seeing her do this from such a young age meant that as I grew up, I was always considerate in my purchases and the impact they may have.

What led you to founding a company? What motivated you? Was it inspiration or frustration?

The motivation to found this company came as a result of the stark contrast to what I experienced once I’d moved to London. I realised just how different the lifestyle was from Tunisia, and I grew increasingly concerned about the throwaway culture that was thriving, especially across the fashion industry. 

When I dug a little deeper, I realised just how disconnected people were from the contents of their wardrobe, and how the items in it were made and that’s how the concept of Save Your Wardrobe came about. Here is a problem we might be able to fix – helping customers make the right purchases and the right decisions for the environment.

What have been the biggest challenges along the way?

When we first started working on the platform, there was little to no discussion on the benefits of care and repair or circular business models. The lack of understanding meant many thought these business models were infeasible, and this was a challenging first step to overcome when founding the business. We needed to find a way to break these boundaries by educating consumers and businesses alike on the circular economy’s role in the industry, so that the true merit of the platform could be appreciated.

And the most memorable moments?

Watching the business grow to such a scale the way it has and seeing how our team has developed along the way has been so wonderful to watch. Save Your Wardrobe’s partnership with one of Europe’s biggest e-commerce retailers, Zalando, was truly one of the greatest highlights of working on the platform so far. I am incredibly proud of the many memorable moments we have had and I know there are many more to come.

Patricia Allen
Patricia Allen
is the Head of Content at EU-Startups. With a background in politics, Patricia has a real passion for how shared ideas across communities and cultures can bring new initiatives and innovations for the future. She spends her time bringing you the latest news and updates of startups across Europe, and curating our social media.

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