“Extend, experiment, express” is the motto of Material World, the sustainable styling subscription service attempting to reinterpret the conventional fashion space, while boxing up to 90 percent off traditional retail prices and focusing on “circulating existing materials.”
Disruption has occurred across the fashion system, with traditional brick-and-mortar evolving into experiential retail environments led by pop-up shops, stylized subscription box services such as Glossier reshaping demand, while resale apparel climbs the ranks of consumer shopping preference.
Sustainably-minded while curiously evolving their personal taste, Gen Z and Millennial consumers are drawn to the thrift prices and sustainable motives. Having something no one else is wearing is an added benefit of shopping secondhand.
In an interview with WWD, Rie Yano, founder and chief executive officer of Material World, speaks with irony of her business and the place it has in the ever-growing resale landscape, which is expected to consume $41 billion by 2020, according to ThredUp’s recent report.
WWD: In a world guided by material possession, what prompted the name “Material Box?”
Rie Yano: Material Box comes from our company name, Material World, and our goal to redefine this material world we live in by creating a service that isn’t about selling new things but rather about circulating existing materials.
We specifically focus on circulating high quality, pre-owned fashion items, and discourage fast fashion, fast disposal lifestyles. Material Box is our subscription service we launched this year and the only service that curates pre-owned fashions in a box with the option to send them back any time in the future to be passed on to someone else.
WWD: Who is the Material Box customer, and what differentiates this service?
R.Y.: Material Box customers are women aged 18 to 45 nationwide who love shopping great deals and living a sustainable lifestyle, but who often find themselves overwhelmed with their busy lives. While they love experimenting with new looks, they are time constrained, and thus seeking a more convenient way to live a stylish and sustainable lifestyle without too much effort.
Our service is differentiated since we are the only subscription service that curates pre-owned designer pieces to be tried on at home. We are also the only box service that collects items from customers’ closets to be bought back and passed on to others. Our four years of reverse logistics experience gives us the capability to match inventory between customers efficiently, so it takes the hassle away from shopping and selling used. Also, our merchandise is differentiated since unlike most subscription services carrying a limited number of new stockkeeping units, our preowned merchandise is all single sku and unique, giving us a larger set of fresh merchandise options to curate and match each box.
WWD: Can you speak more on the free shipping and returns — does the box packaging serve to influence your sustainable mission? Explain.
R.Y.: You pay a $29 styling fee per box to have five items curated and shipped to your home. The shipping cost to and from your home is free, and if you purchase at least one item, the $29 styling fee is waived.
We believe the fashion industry is over-manufacturing, causing too much waste in this world, and thus 100 percent of items we curate in a box are either pre-owned items collected from our own customers or pre-purchased items sitting in warehouses needing a match before going to landfills.
Our box packaging is 100 percent recyclable, however, we’re excited to share that we’ve developed our own reusable bags to replace our boxes in 2019 to further eliminate the waste created from our business and focus on reuse across our entire business operations.
WWD: How does Material Box service a creative or style-obsessed community?
R.Y.: With Material Box, you can wear what you want for however long you want and pass it on to others in your future Box at your own pace. For a creative or style-obsessed member, the Material Box serves the perfect solution to enjoying an evolving closet full of new looks without feeling the guilt of harming the environment or breaking your bank for designer pieces. Also, the style-obsessed community can enjoy more diversity, surprise and newness from our boxes.
WWD: Noticing your influencer-backed editorial, with our very own Emily Mercer, making a site appearance — do you find endorsements easy, reflecting a greater interest in sustainability?
R.Y.: Absolutely, I think every influencer struggles with the dilemma of needing to constantly refresh their style for their readers and the wastefulness of the clothing they no longer need after appearing on social media, not to mention all the unsolicited gifts they receive.
When you combine the fun and excitement of unboxing items curated just for you, with the ability to participate in a more sustainable lifestyle and pass on your items to others, the offering is much more compelling for influencers and seems to resonate well with their readers as well.
WWD: What lasting thoughts do you want to share?
R.Y.: While the fashion resale space has grown tremendously over the past five years, pre-owned still remains less than 10 percent of the U.S. fashion market share. In comparison, a majority of today’s U.S. car market share is dominated by the pre-owned category.
While the growth of online marketplaces and consignment stores have increased the visibility of pre-owned fashion supply, we believe the friction of dealing with pre-owned fashions is still too high.
With regards to the sustainable motives of today’s consumer, convenience and ease of access to styled subscription services may prove advantageous positioning in the coming market.