YEAR ESTABLISHED: 2015
WHAT IT DOES: Helps women sell and buy pre-loved clothes.
Factories are churning out trendy clothing at breakneck speeds and even lower costs, encouraging reckless purchasing. Yet, only 6 per cent of the 151,000 tonnes of textile/leather waste generated in Singapore last year was recycled. The rest was incinerated before being rubbished in Singapore’s only landfill, which is predicted to fill out by 2035, a decade earlier than the original 2045 projection.
Which is why Aloysius Sng wants more women to purchase pre-loved apparel, the premise of his three-year-old secondhand clothing business, Refash. “Twenty per cent of our top sellers don’t wear the same piece more than three times. We even receive clothes with price tags still intact! It’s impulsive spending,” he says.
The 20,000 active buyers have so far racked up over $1 million in transactions, where the average cost of each piece is $15. Its 15,000 sellers are paid in Refash points, which can be used to buy clothes from Refash, or to redeem for cash donations to charity organisations such as The Salvation Army and Minds. Sng, 30, says: “The points system ensures that Refash is responsible; we’re not selling secondhand clothes to encourage the purchasing of more brand new clothes.”
By his own admission, he did not start out “wanting to change the world”. As an apparel wholesaler, he wanted shoppers to buy more. “When the manufacturers started producing better quality products, I asked them to revert to cheaper alternatives.”
But as a flea market organiser, he saw how women were lugging home bags of clothes after a day of dismal sales. His then girlfriend, now wife, often complained about her lack of clothing, despite a bursting wardrobe. He says: “It’s no longer about selling them. It’s a hassle to get rid of unwanted clothes, so accumulation happens. So I thought to off er women instant gratification by helping them get the clothes out of the house and freeing up closet space.”
With a small retail space in City Plaza, he started Refash and saw $500,000 in sales in the first year. Although the concept scored with consumers, investors were not moved. Recalling the difficulty in raising capital for expansion, Sng says: “A venture capitalist told me that I was a high-class karung guni. I took it very personally. But it made me rethink how I presented secondhand clothes to consumers. The last thing I wanted was for people to think of us as a rag-and-bone business.”
“My first store had dangling light bulbs and cheap racks. Since that incident, we have strived to off er a boutique-like experience. Clothes are in excellent condition, steam- ironed before being neatly hung on racks and well-priced.” Refash currently has five stores in Singapore, two in Malaysia and also exports clothes to the Philippines.”
This month, Refash is rolling out a subscription plan, where customers pay a monthly fee and receive a weekly selection from Refash’s wardrobe. These are to be returned the next week and the cycle continues. “After three years, we still haven’t built that ecosystem of having more owners for that one piece. This way, we predict that each will have at least six ‘owners’.”
Two of Sng’s biggest challenges remain getting better quality clothes and looping more buyers into the ecosystem. He’s slowly changing mindsets, and the acceptance among older shoppers is testimony. “Once they realise that we sell secondhand clothes, through their expressions, you can tell that they are already rejecting the items. But since the condition is so good and prices are so low, they get them anyway.
“If thrift store finds make up just 30 per cent of every woman’s closet, I think we’ve done something good.”
IN 60 SECONDS
I wanted to be a comedian, like my childhood idol and local funny man Mark Lee. As a kid, I would come up with skits and make my sister laugh.
I used to be a long distance runner and could clock 21km under one and a half hours. Now, I’d be delighted if I could finish it under three hours.
I play soccer every week and am a regular at F45 gym classes.
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