Revolutionizing the fashion industry one yard at a time. The Sustainable Mag talks to Stephanie Benedetto, co-founder of Queen of Raw, about her online marketplace that is turning deadstock fabric into profit.
Where did the idea for Queen of Raw come from?
My family has been in the fashion industry for over 100 years.
They were Jewish immigrants who came to America and settled on the Lower East Side of New York. This was the original Garment District. I grew up around my great grandfather, hearing the stories about the way he did business. It was a time when immigrants would bring over articles of clothing that they weren’t using anymore. He would repurpose them by hand into the most beautiful fashion garments and sell them to local customers.
It was a very profitable, successful business. So, I started to think about the way he did business, how it was sustainable, and how it made sense. I was also thinking about how we could use technology to build a future supply chain that would be on-demand, local, and sustainable. It was always in the back of my mind, even if I didn’t go into the family business.
I worked on Wall Street as a corporate attorney, but I did end up specializing in technology and sustainability. At the end of the day, we are who we are! And when the market crashed in 2008, there was this period of darkness around the world, so I took the opportunity to go out on my own.
When did you start to realize that there was this opportunity to repurpose textile deadstock?
Prior to Queen of Raw, I had a start-up doing leather alternatives.
It was at a time when innovation, textiles, and sustainability were just starting to be talked about. We were so proud of the work we were doing. We were doing something new. But I would go to the factories and the warehouses and just see all this stuff just sitting there collecting dust until it would be burned or put into a landfill. It was great stock, it was just a supply and demand thing.
How much material do you estimate is sitting in warehouses doing nothing?
We have run our numbers and looked at the different reports and analysis.
We estimate that it is about $120 billion every year.
A certain percentage of this will be unusable. Some will be finished goods. But we are talking about huge volumes of perfectly good fabric that is not second hand. It is in mint condition and it is fabric that ends up in a landfill.
Since you started Queen of Raw, how much textile has been moved through your platform?
Since COVID-19 we have seen an 80% increase in transactions and a 40% increase in our user base month over month, and that is without any additional PR, marketing, or advertising expenses.
How does Queen of Raw work in a nutshell?
At its core, we are a global marketplace. It is a global platform for anyone from a student crafter to the biggest retailers in the world who want to buy and sell their textiles. It keeps textiles out of a landfill and turns that pollution into profit.
We focused on fabric because no one seemed to be paying attention to it. There were all these solutions down the chain to keep finished goods in circulation. But it felt like nobody was paying attention to the root of the cause, the systemic issue up the chain of why we have all this waste.
In addition to our marketplace, we now have a full enterprise software solution to help businesses figure out why they have waste. Where does it come from? And how can they monetize it? And, most importantly, over time, how can they collect the data?
Could you give us an example of how one of your Queen of Raw clients would benefit from your service?
I can’t mention clients but say, for example, we were working with a company like H&M. There are a couple of different ways we could work with them.
We usually come in through their sustainability and innovation department. We help them figure out what has been wasted in the first place and oftentimes we find that it’s 10 to 15 times more than what they think.
So, we work with them first to identify what they think they have. And then, through a partnership with SAP, we can integrate directly into their inventory management systems to pull data from all the different touchpoints and key suppliers in their supply chain.
We figure out what they actually have in waste, where is it, and why they have it.
Like this, they have all of their unused inventory in one centralized place and can access it with a click of a button. They can then choose to sell any inventory in the marketplace, or reuse it internally, which is the optimal solution. Anything they want they can sell on Queen of Raw. So over time, we give them a real-time dashboard of things like how much water they have saved, as well as toxins avoided, and the energy and dollars saved by working with Queen of Raw.
It is quick and easy and they can get started right away. And then, over time, the algorithms get smarter and start to learn about behaviors and start to make predictions about why the waste is there. When it comes to the marketplace, we do take care of everything end to end, from processing to fully automated international shipping logistics, which is a big part of it.
Is Queen of Raw a global platform?
It is global. We are on every continent now and we are growing especially in Europe and Asia right now. Our matchmaking algorithm will help you find what you need, located near where you are, or where you are manufacturing.
Who is buying textiles from Queen of Raw? Is it big companies buying in bulk or could it also be a fashion student in London, for example?
We work from one yard to over a billion yards plus.
Even the biggest retailers are not only selling, but they are turning around and buying too.
Supply chains are suffering from a period of disruption right now with China trade wars and coronavirus. Companies need what they need when they need it at a discount and located away from areas affected by disruption. Like this they get the sustainable story to tell.
How do companies communicate to their consumers about how they are helping to protect the environment with Queen of Raw?
We have a tool to connect to the RFID thread or QR Code of finished goods, that tells the end consumer the story. So, when you buy a shirt, you can verify that it is made from deadstock and has saved energy and I think that’s kind of a critical piece here. Millennials and Gen Z, who care about the planet, can have this information quickly and easily.
Has Queen of Raw received any interest from luxury fashion brands?
We work with everyone from fast fashion to luxury haute couture.
Working with the luxury industry, their stuff is really valuable and beautiful.
So for them, it can count for 15% of their bottom line. So they really want to be able to get value for it, it helps them survive what is going on today.
We also work with fast fashion, which has less valuable inventory but they are in a crisis of supply right now. We know what is out there and how to use it.
What makes the textile industry such a polluter?
When it comes to the environment, the textile industry uses massive amounts of water.
I’ll give you one interesting fact from the World Wildlife Fund who says that if the textile industry continues at the same pace of production, by 2025 two thirds of the entire world’s population will face shortages of fresh water.
The textile industry also has an incredibly complex supply chain.
It uses metric tonnes of water, chemicals, and oils in the production process. But that is only part of the problem. It is one of the most powerful and valuable businesses in the world. And yet it is the furthest behind in terms of technology.
What changes have you noticed since you started Queen of Raw?
We have definitely stirred things up.
As a start-up, we came across a lot of resistance.
People didn’t get it and didn’t believe in the urgency. A lot of companies said no back in 2014/2015. We didn’t launch until 2018.
We found some of the early adopters who really got it and stood behind us and believed in what we were doing.
But now a lot of those original nos have become yesses. Timing is everything. I think also that the coronavirus situation has shown people how broken this industry actually was.