A report released earlier this month by Markets and Markets projects textile recycling to grow into a $9.4 billion market opportunity by 2027. So what better an idea than a service allowing consumers to recycle their clothes without ever having to leave home and help solve a 17-million-ton textile waste problem?
It’s a concept former MAC cosmetics marketing executive Amelia Trumble turned into a business she cofounded in July of 2020 called Retold Recycling, and it drew the attention of the ABC startup game show “Shark Tank.“ Last Friday, the episode featuring Retold Recycling finally aired, affording founders Trumble and Alan Yeoh the chance to exhale under the lifted weight of months-long confidentiality agreements. Of the four sharks, including guest investor Emme Grede of Good American fame, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban displayed the most interest, and when the dust from the negotiations settled, Cuban and Retold Recycling were business partners, the former getting 25 percent of a stake in the company and the latter $300,000 to invest.
The Retold model follows a fairly familiar concept. For $14.50, or $0.49 less than what ThredUp charges, a customer can request a biodegradable bag capable of holding 5 pounds be delivered to their home, fill it with used clothing and home textiles such as towels and bed sheets, leave it for the mail carrier to ship it back to the nearest of three regional hubs in the continental U.S., and Retold Recycling facilitates the rest.
“There are a lot of companies in this space doing very large volumes of textile recycling,” Trumble, Retold’s CEO, told WWD sister publication Sourcing Journal on Monday. “The thing is that a lot of them are very [business-to-business] focused and they don’t like [dealing with individuals]. We all come from a consumer marketing background, so we’re able to bring that consumer interaction to the landscape, basically.”
All that’s asked of customers, Trumble said, is for the clothes to have been washed.
“It’s really only things that are very soaked in oil or paints…that are problematic,” said Trumble, who pointed out to “Shark Tank” judges that Retold gets roughly $0.10 per pound from its recycling partner. “They all get shipped off to our recycling partners’ depots and they’ll clear items through their own thrift stores. Then it gets put into a sort of marketplace where other companies can buy into the inventory and then they will produce what they need for it.”
The biggest challenge, and one of Cuban’s chief concerns, was the shipping cost associated with carting each bag back to Retold and how it’s such a huge unknown, case by case.
“We don’t know what the volume is of what the customer is going to put inside. They might just put in some panties and socks, or they might put in something quite heavy like a duvet cover,” Trumble said. “So it’s an interesting part of our model that the actual value of that label isn’t triggered until it’s scanned in the postage system.”
Prior to “Shark Tank”, the only seed funding Retold sought was a small friends and family round. The number-one priority for Cuban’s money is to leverage more affordable logistics.
“We have volume through Mark’s network, and through the platform of the show — that gives us greater negotiating power to be able to ship to more hubs,” Trumble said. “The great thing though, is with our model, it’s all based on USPS routes, so everything is sort of like slow freight and gathered in those existing routes. It’s not like we’re adding truck[s] and adding emissions or anything like that; we’re sort of playing into existing networks.”