Two years ago, Zalando, a leading European online platform for fashion and lifestyle, expanded its reach to Estonia. Around 1 400 brands are represented on the e-commerce platform, such as Lindex and Topshop, but also brands like Marimekko and Vivienne Westwood to name a few. Now Reet Aus among other big brands is available in eleven Zalando markets.
We sat down with Reet to talk about Zalando and expanding to European markets.
Reet, when I think about Zalando, I imagine endless warehouses from which thousands (if not tens of thousands) of plastic-wrapped packages are dispatched every day. Packages containing clothes, a significant part of which was bought not out of necessity, but rather out of momentum: "I’m in the mood, I want to buy something".
How do the sustainable ideals of REET AUS and Zalando, a fast and convenient shopping platform, fit together? Or do they even fit together?
REET: We are one of the few industrial upcycling brands in Zalando, all our products are made from textile industry leftovers. But this question lands into the same category as asking why we work with factories in Bangladesh. This question’s undertone indicates that if we also produce in Bangladesh like everyone else, we are not one gram better than others. Without delving into the matter, it is easy to fall into that deception. But we are in those factories for a reason. And the reason is that by producing T-shirts in our Telliskivi studio, we would never be able to have an impact on global production supply chains.
Yes, we could make art here in the studio, make costumes for a production, or make clothes for a truly eco-conscious niche consumer, but none of that will help us solve the problems that plague the world's fashion and textile industries.
The Upmade system, of which our collection is a good example, is based on a lot of scientific research, and from this research, it is clear that the most useful thing is to go where the problem is most extensive. This means: going to large manufacturers or, in this case, large sales platforms, and helping them notice the problem and solve problems together with them. To introduce and help to implement upcycling and circular design.
If we look at percentages, 20-40% of materials remain in factories as waste. It is immensely difficult to make big brands aware of the problem, but for manufacturers - those same factories in Bangladesh or Poland or Turkey - it is a daily problem. They send the products out, but the waste stays there and accumulates. Millions of tons of textile are being left in factories and often its journey ends in nature - at the bottom of a river or in a rice field, or this toxic waste is set on fire.
The most difficult part of implementing Upmade has been the involvement of big brands. Upmade does not require any additional investment. It's a matter of design thinking. You simply have to map out your leftovers and then you are able to produce more. The problem lies in changing the mindset, not the money.
And the very reason we joined Zalando is to show that the Upmade system can be implemented in production, that it is scalable and that it can be done industrially. At Zalando, we are side by side with brands whose leftovers we make our products from. And this position - being next to them - gives us the opportunity to show them that it is not only possible, but also beneficial for both the entrepreneur and the environment.
What does selling on Zalando mean for you? What are the biggest challenges?
REET: It certainly tests us in terms of quantities, but even there the factories we work with have assured us that they are impatiently waiting for our orders to grow large enough to transfer our upcycling production to larger production lines.
They have no shortage of leftovers, so we have almost endless room for growth. If it should happen that we reach the maximum potential with one manufacturer, we have more than ten factories on the list that could be Upmade certified. We have not approached them so far precisely because the market is too small.
The important part of REET AUS story is also that you don't go along with massive seasonal sales and discounts. Will this principle also remain at Zalando? Is there a situation where a person can get, for example, Calvin Klein products at a 50% discount on Black Friday, but not REET AUS?
REET: Our products are not seasonal, and this also means in the Zalando channel that our products do not have automatic seasonal discounts.
We are still a slow fashion brand and our core principle is that once we have developed a product, we sell it for as long as we can. It often happens with t-shirts, for example, that a certain colour combination is available in a very limited quantity because there is simply no more of such material among the leftovers from which the product is made of.
How difficult was it to get into Zalando? Were you welcomed with open arms or did it take a certain amount of proving your brand’s value beforehand?
REET: It's been a lot of hustle for such a small company as we are. We are one of the first upcycling brands out there that have sustainability written so deep into the concept. In addition, we were the first Estonian brand to dive head-first into the Zalando universe. Navigating the German bureaucracy has taken a lot of time and energy.
But the important thing is that in this environment even a person who may not know anything about us can come across not only our clothes but also our understanding of the future of the clothing industry. This means that we also raise the awareness of customers. We are slowly seeping into people's consciousness.
The REET AUS upcycled collection is now also available in Zalando in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Sweden. This means that, in addition to you, who is reading this post and is familiar with both Reet's design and philosophy, a person who usually walks past the Telliskivi with a big arch can now also meet with sustainable fashion. Chance has tremendous power, but only if you create opportunities where a person and chance can meet.