Fashion’s Waste Problem Tackled by (Re)vive: Transforming Returned Items into Revenue

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The fashion sector faces a significant challenge: Despite many returned items being unworn or undamaged, a considerable amount ends up discarded. An estimated 9.5 billion pounds of returns went to landfills in 2022, based on data from return logistics software firm Optoro. New York-based (Re)vive aims to provide a better solution for these returned items.

(Re)vive refurbishes products deemed too damaged to sell, performing tasks such as washing, reattaching buttons, or removing pet hair. These items are then sold through various channels, with (Re)vive’s data platform assisting retailers in waste management and monitoring.

The technology behind (Re)vive is quite intriguing. Founder and CEO Allison Lee shared that the company’s software allows employees to sort, label, and determine the fate of a box of returned items in roughly three minutes. The software also provides retailers with insights on the volume of a specific SKU being returned and the potential revenue from reselling the items.

Refurbished items that remain in season are returned to stores, while out-of-season products are sold on third-party channels such as eBay and Poshmark. (Re)vive earns a commission from each sale.

Lee noted a growing demand for the company’s services, driven by increasing pressure on retailers to minimize their environmental footprint. She added that investors and shareholders are scrutinizing retailers more closely over damages and losses, which can no longer be simply written off as a standard business expense.

This approach has many benefits. Technology that enhances sustainability and reduces environmental impact is particularly commendable, even if it’s not the primary motivation for engagement. While some companies may be attracted by (Re)vive’s sustainability benefits, many are likely to be influenced by shareholder pressure or cost-saving opportunities. It’s a bonus that they can also reduce their environmental footprint.

Moreover, the transition to using (Re)vive’s service is relatively simple for companies. Retailers already dispatch their “damaged” items from stores, and Lee humorously mentioned that collaborating with (Re)vive is as easy as changing the shipping label on the box to a (Re)vive warehouse instead.

(Re)vive has seen significant demand, with Lee reporting a near 15x increase in revenue last year. However, the road to their current strategy wasn’t straightforward.

The company started as an in-store tailoring service named Hemster in 2017, raising a seed round and operating in over 300 stores before the pandemic interrupted the business.

“I felt I had found product-market fit and raised millions, but then the pandemic hit, and it was like, what now?” Lee recalled.

The next step was an online repair portal targeting consumers, but it was soon used predominantly by retailers seeking to repair inventory in warehouses. This realization led to a strategic pivot. Since then, (Re)vive claims to have saved companies $23 million in GMV and kept 150,000 garments out of landfills.

“With Hemster, we were a nice-to-have,” Lee said. “If you are a nice-to-have, you don’t become a priority in a retailer’s roadmap. When we pivoted, we became essential.”

(Re)vive has now secured $3.5 million in seed funding, led by Equal Ventures and Hustle Fund, and including Banter Capital, Coalition Operators, Mute VC, among others. Lee mentioned that they weren’t planning to raise venture capital after their latest pivot but were persuaded after Equal Ventures, which had conducted extensive research on the sector, approached them.

I found this fascinating because I spent years managing returns and damages as a sales associate at Anthropologie. Many returned items, due to minor flaws, were labeled as damages and headed for the landfill. Employees were forbidden from taking these items home, risking immediate termination, which meant I witnessed a growing pile of nearly perfect products destined for waste daily.

My perspective reflects the experience of a single employee, at one store, on one shift, at one retailer. It’s daunting to consider how much all that wasted material accumulates. Hopefully, (Re)vive can make a significant impact.

Rebecca Szkutak
Rebecca Szkutak
Rebecca is a senior writer that covers venture capital trends and startups. She previously covered the same beat for Forbes and the Venture Capital Journal.

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