Founder left fast mode to save the planet- POLITICO

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E-commerce entrepreneur Julie Wainwright rises from the ashes dot-com bubble failure (He was CEO of when it collapsed in 2000) and founded The RealReal in 2011, an online and brick-and-mortar store that authenticates and resells used luxury clothing.

Sustainability was not part of The RealReal’s mission from the start. But it has since become a priority that Wainwright went to Washington last week to push Congress to enact tax credits for consumers who buy used goods and impose tariffs on fast fashion imports.

The timing is right. There is an urgency to tackle climate change, and the global fashion industry contribute at least 4 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Plus, the resale market is on the rise as customers look for trendy items that are more affordable and sustainable. Second hand market for clothes and accessories worth about $40 billion globally and could grow by 20 percent in the next five years.

Despite the pandemic making a bit of a dent, The RealReal and its competitors – such as ThredUp, Poshmark, and UK-based Depop – are bouncing back. Wainwright says his company has more than 25 million members and he expects it good luck in 2024.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How has The RealReal’s stance changed your view of sustainability?

I started The RealReal because I love the business and know that I won’t get a good job unless I start it myself [after the failure of]. So in the beginning, it was all about finding the right idea that I could scale. I want to respect the brand and make people feel good about repurchasing – that you can look beautiful and it doesn’t have to be new.

The sustainability aspect wasn’t enlightened to me until about two years at The RealReal. I attended a conference hosted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and their entire platform was about plastic waste. I know the fabric composition is mostly plastic, but they don’t even talk about fashion.

So went to one of those conferences and realized they missed this, which means we missed it too – a light bulb went on. It woke me up.

Surprisingly, there is not much data proving the positive impact of recirculated goods.

It does nothing for the fashion industry to tell everyone that most of what they produce ends up in landfills or is burned, or that it takes 2,000 gallons of water to make one pair of jeans.

So we started educating ourselves to understand the magnitude of the problem.

What did you find?

We dig in the dark. We have to work with data and earth scientists to get data to measure the impact of circulating goods, which is different from recycling because it doesn’t require a lot of energy.

We dream sustainability calculator which now measures greenhouse gas, energy and water savings by reselling at The RealReal since the company was founded.

[So far, some 24,000 metric tons of carbon and 1 billion liters of water have been saved, according to the calculator. The method was validated by The World Resources Institute and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation].

How can you change the fashion industry’s business model based on selling something new to people all year round?

In fact, it would be difficult to change the biggest fashion companies, even if we used tariffs to try and slow growth.

H&M and Zara are feeling the pressure in Europe, but the Chinese brands are not.

Europe is moving faster and more aware of this problem. Industry will not change without laws.

In the US, we must educate Congress because they are just beginning to understand the impact of textiles and that reselling is a way to slow climate change.

A small tax credit, even as little as $100 if you purchase some form of resale, can come in handy. It doesn’t have to be specifically for textiles. We just want to get people to think about whether they bought something they had before and how good it is for the planet.

We also work at the state level to obtain tax exemptions on resold goods.

RealReal must also educate its own members. We want it to be acceptable and good to repurchase, but customers also need to be aware of the positive environmental impact it has.

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