Sarah Garner is the founder of Retykle, a children’s designer clothing resale platform based in Hong Kong. Retykle is funded by high-profile investors such as Lazada co-founder, Tim Rath, and social entrepreneur, John Wood. Having worked at luxury fashion companies such as Lane Crawford, DFS, and Shanghai Tang, she wanted to apply her experience to a side of fashion with purpose and positive impact. Her passion at Retykle has also led her to become a sustainable fashion advocate, where she speaks regularly at events on circular economies and the fashion resale market.
Growing up, most of us have received pre-loved clothes from our close relatives at least once. While many of us appreciate the idea of recirculating items amongst our family and friends, purchasing pre-loved clothes is largely unheard of in Asia. In this interview, we sat down with Sarah Garner of Retykle, a children’s designer clothing resale platform, to find out her journey of going into sustainable fashion.
Oasis (OS): How did the idea for Retykle come about, and why did you choose to launch it in Hong Kong specifically?
Sarah Garner (SG): I had been working in the fashion industry for my entire career. Having worked in both New York and Canada, I felt that the Canadian fashion market was rather conservative. At the same time, there was a lot of excitement surrounding fashion in China, and I wanted to be closer to the action. That was how I ended up in Hong Kong in 2007, after landing a job with Lane Crawford. Since then, Hong Kong has been where my life is.
The idea of Retykle emerged when I had my first child. With my child growing so fast, I started to have a problem of not knowing what to do with his outgrown clothes. In Canada, it would usually be quite easy to pass on outgrown clothes, or donate them to charity. However, the process was not as easy in Hong Kong. Charities in Hong Kong have limited storage space, therefore they are quite picky about what they accept. Also, trying to find a friend with the perfect match in gender and birth season was tricky. It was that sort of mismatch and the difficulty in recirculating outgrown clothes that led me to find the market gap, and eventually start Retykle.
OS: Given that you’ve had experience in the fashion industry, what were some of the initial challenges you faced with Retykle?
SG: The hardest challenge, in the beginning, was probably finding a tech team. I had the idea in my head mapped out for Retykle, and it was going to be an online company. That was actually a huge learning curve for me because my background was much more on the brick-and-mortar side of retail. Having no prior experience in tech, finding a person or a team that could actually execute the design and build the site was quite challenging. In 2015, the whole tech and developer talent pool was in quite an early stage, so there were not a lot of options in Hong Kong as well.
OS: Was there a reason why you took a brave leap from brick and mortar to the digital space, given that you had no prior experience?
SG: It’s pretty interesting, but I didn’t even consider an offline model for Retykle. It just felt like something that needed to exist online for utmost convenience. I became a mother to a newborn child at that point of time, and there was no time for anything. I didn’t have time to go to the mailbox, pay bills, and even finding five minutes to just have a shower was tough. That means that shopping is most likely out of the question too.
After becoming a parent, I understood the constant battle of time, and this was why I felt that Retykle had to be digital. It was the most convenient for parents, because everything would be accessible at their fingertips.
OS: Clothing is a very intimate object, and parents are generally more cautious when it comes to kidswear. Was it difficult to convince parents that clothes being resold at Retykle is safe?
SG: For Retykle, recirculating clothes was a problem I faced myself, so I was putting myself at the center of the experience. Personally, I would want a second-hand experience that feels as good as new. Therefore, the whole visual identity of the brand and site, and the experience consumers would have, was meant to mimic the seamless and delightful experience I’ve had in the luxury world.
I also wanted to focus on the education side of sustainable fashion, whereby we shared the benefits of shopping second-hand for the environment and our children’s future. This plays an important role in getting people to participate in recycling clothes. We’ve also worked with certain Key Opinion Leaders(KOLs) in Hong Kong to advocate for pre-loved clothes, which had a trickle-down effect. It took some time, but we’ve done a lot of education and community building to make it both aspirational and also have a feel-good factor of participating in a sharing economy.
OS: Do you think the fashion industry is changing to embrace sustainability?
SG: I started working in the fashion industry in the early 2000s, and sustainability was not even a mainstream topic until most recently. There was virtually no discussion about environmental footprint throughout my corporate fashion career
Patagonia is one of the rare instances of a brand that made the environment a priority because it was based on the founder’s principles and values.
For most of the established brands, I don’t think sustainable practices will come from their own brand values and objectives. They will be attempting to make a change in order to meet consumer demand. With emerging brands that are starting with a motivation to consider the environment and the afterlife of their products, the consumer is dictating what they expect from brands and their clothes. Those who do not comply will be left behind. The younger generations are pushing the environmental agenda through fashion, and affecting real change in the industry.
OS: Do you think sustainability is a should have or need to have?
SG: I think it’s a necessity because it’s having an alarming impact on our planet in peril*. We need to start considering the afterlife of the items we use, because this affects the environment we live in, and the planet we pass on to future generations.
Take for instance children’s clothes — They outgrow clothes so quickly. Although they are of temporary use to us, by buying better quality items, we can extend their useful life with other families rather than treating these temporary clothes as disposable. At Retykle, we try to instill a “buy less, buy better quality” mindset in our customers, and try to elongate the lifespan of the items so that it can be recirculated.
Mindsets are shifting, and consumers are starting to look for alternatives that serve a better purpose and also try to tread more lightly on the environment, so it’s up to businesses to shift to address this changing mindset towards adopting circularity.
*Author’s Note: Did you know that the fashion industry currently contributes to around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions due to its energy intensive production? It takes up more energy than aviation and shipping combined.
OS: What is the greatest piece of advice you’ve received?
SG: People should always be at the heart of a business and company culture matters deeply. By putting people first, the investment you make in your team will pay dividends in your business performance.