Queen of Raw works with everyone from independent designers to fast-fashion brands and luxury maisons helping to “map, measure and trace” their deadstock textiles — resulting in up to 15 percent off their bottom line in cost savings.
Today’s “business as usual” approach relegates 73 percent of the world’s clothing to landfills, according to the Pulse of the Fashion Industry report completed by the Global Fashion Agenda and Boston Consulting Group in 2017. Putting a number to it, an estimated $120 billion worth of unused textiles are sitting idle.
That staggering amount of waste coaxed native New Yorker Stephanie Benedetto and Phil Derasmo from jobs on Wall Street to cofound and formally launch Queen of Raw in 2018.
When not playing “matchmaker” between inventory (which would otherwise be burned, landfilled or wasted) and buyers in its online managed marketplace, Queen of Raw is capturing the “dark data” behind the world’s deadstock using technology such as its blockchain-enabled software platform, machine learning and tools such as the Higg Index.
Joining the company in its waste reduction mission are partners and clients such as Launch.org (including NASA, Nike, Ikea and Dell); WeWork (the company won the top prize at the Nashville WeWork Creator Awards last September); Techstars; MIT-Solve (the company was recently a winner of the global circular economy challenge), and Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network (a nonprofit in partnership with Aveda, Kering and Stella McCartney).
As far as what she sees in the future, activated by a tumultuous geopolitical climate including increasing costs of raw material, energy and labor and the impact of tariffs, Benedetto said, “I believe deadstock is the answer in the future.”
Here, Benedetto talks about her history with textiles, why they started Queen of Raw — and how you might one day be able to “feel” a fabric through your phone.
WWD: With a 100-year-old family history in the textile industry, what are you doing differently?
Stephanie Benedetto: In many ways what we’re doing with Queen of Raw is powered by their business model.
My great-grandfather came over on a ship from Austria, landed at Ellis Island, and he settled into the Lower East Side, which was the original Garment District. He was an immigrant chasing the American dream.
He would find materials and supplies nearby: old furs, and fabrics from clothes that people weren’t using anymore, repurpose it by hand into beautiful fashion garments with minimal waste and minimal toxins because his bottom dollar depended on it, and he sold to local customers. It was an incredibly profitable, successful business. It made sense for people, It made sense for the planet and it absolutely made sense for profit.
Today’s supply chains are much more complicated across the globe. I loved the industry but I disliked all the waste it produced. I figured there had to be a better way and could we use technology like global marketplaces, software, blockchain, and machine learning to get back to the way my great-grandfather did business.
WWD: That’s interesting that you use technology to go back to the “old way” of doing things but making it better.
S.B.: Yes, I’m always surprised when we go to our customers — which are some of the biggest brands and retailers in the world — to see a lot of times they’re managing their inventory, whether it’s pre-raw materials or finished goods, with Excel spreadsheets and departments that have hand-written notes and inevitably there are going to be errors in that.
Now there are better ways and tools to deliver real returns that can help save them money and make them money. There’s no reason to have to still use those Excel spreadsheets.
WWD: Can you tell me more about those tools and how the technology works?
S.B.: We built the marketplace as a managed marketplace, a platform for businesses small to large to buy and sell their unused textiles. It’s global. As we were building it was important that this was not just a Shopify web site — this would not work for this industry.
One of the biggest challenges we had when we first started working with these enterprise customers was we didn’t know what they had in pre- and post-consumer waste. We realized very quickly we had to build some tools to help them identify waste in real-time in their supply chain and we can do that in a variety of ways.
We can take those Excel spreadsheets that have errors in them and upload them into our cloud-based software and start to identify and catch where are the errors and discrepancies in waste. We can also integrate with any of their existing inventory management systems, PLM systems and do a data push-pull to start, to categorize and identify the data.
WWD: What are some of those standardizations and data points that you really look to?
S.B.: We have the business-to-consumer marketplace that you see on Queenofraw.com but we also serve business to business. And when you’re dealing with that you need to know what is this fabric, where does it come from, what is it made of, are there any testing or sustainability certifications ascribed to it, where does it go to? These are touchpoints in data that were previously dark data in the old school ways of just a jobber or traditional middleman.
Now we can capture that data using blockchain. That tool allows us to apply integrity to that data.
WWD: What are the average cost savings?
S.B.: Some of our customers see up to 15 percent off their bottom line in cost savings, just by now identifying waste in real-time, not spending all that money in a warehouse and with logistics and instead, monetizing it for real value in a marketplace and have a sustainability story to tell.
And that helps with their topline because they can share that story with their consumers. And in the past quarter alone, we’ve saved over 1 billion gallons of water. So it does have a real impact as well.
WWD: So you help to identify the waste, monetize that waste?
S.B.: Yes, and we haven’t gotten to the third piece. So now we’ve identified the waste, we’ve given them an active platform where we monetize the waste, and it isn’t just about posting product on a web site. You need tools to be matchmaking [deadstock inventory] to potential buyers.
The ultimate goal with Queen of Raw is you can find everything you need, when you need it, at the right price, located where your manufacturing is. No more shipping all over the world.
WWD: What other partners help map, measure and trace the world’s deadstock?
S.B.: Integral to this process is understanding the key players who are sitting on this inventory.
It’s about connecting the dots between all these players who were never connected in the digital space. Some of the fast-fashion players have thousands of suppliers. Of course, not every factory may be key and need to participate, but if they see value in it, which we believe they do, then they can opt-in.
WWD: You’re taking the opaqueness out of the textile industry.
S.B.: And there’s so much you can do with this information now. When we see certain behaviors within a brand or retailer’s own supply chain, we can then start to help them make intelligent predictions about how to minimize their waste streams going forward.
For example, you see in our database every time [a brand] sends a certain [contractor] fabric. [If the contractor] only ends up using half, then [the brand] has half to sell. OK, next time only sell [that contractor] half.
Or this particular fabric always ends up with extra waste, then maybe that particular fabric isn’t what your customer wants. These kinds of things that you may not have seen in your supply chain before.
WWD: How do you define “deadstock” versus “sustainable” versus “recycled” textiles?
S.B.: We take a very broad view of sustainability in our marketplace. For us, anything that is readily available that exists pursuant to an order that was made but goes unused — is deadstock.
This was already made, it’s sitting in a warehouse collecting dust or is going to be burned or sent to landfill. This includes all categories of fabrics and fibers. We do sell leathers and exotic skins on our platform, so we take a broad view.
For sustainable fibers, by that I mean something that has an additional sustainable property to it. It is recycled, repurposed; it uses a new manufacturing process; it minimizes water, toxins or energy; is made in a fair trade factory; is a new innovative fiber — we do have a category for that in our marketplace called “sustainable,” but it’s still deadstock.
WWD: What other metrics do you look at?
S.B.: We are measuring the amount of tonnage of textile waste that we are diverting from the landfill, looking at the fiber composition of what’s in the marketplace using the Higg Index and other tools of our own to see how the water impact and toxin levels compare to what’s created new as opposed to what already exists.
One of the criteria that we add on top of that is the shipping logistics because if we have a customer in New York that’s sourcing in New York instead of China, then we have those reduced carbon emissions.
WWD: Is there ever a point that you want to take this physical?
S.B.: We get that question a lot: “Will you warehouse and drop ship?” As a managed marketplace, we don’t physically store the goods but we do everything short of that.
The factories already have the inventory sitting there, I want to match it with one location instead of shipping it to another.
WWD: What is the value of textile trade shows today?
S.B.: We do partner with trade shows like Texworld, big fans — they have been wonderful supporters of ours and sustainability in general.
Of course, trade shows can be in the digital world now, but there is a value in bringing everyone together in one room for people to have active conversations.
And they bring samples there, now what do they do with those samples? Well, we give them a platform for any deadstock that they have or any samples that they have so they don’t have to fly it all back around the world.
Another thing with a digital marketplace is you have trend rooms. Now imagine being able to shop the trends in real-time, sustainably out of deadstock, and we can integrate with trade shows and do that as well. There are a lot of opportunities for cross-synergies.
WWD: You’re working in a digital marketplace, how do people physically touch the goods?
S.B.: There are a lot of opportunities there that we are exploring around how you can actually touch and feel fabric through the phone with a hardware piece that can actually mimic the hand and feel of a fabric by blowing air through the phone. There are also visualization tools with augmented reality and virtual reality. The technology is not quite there at the fiber level yet.
Unlike traditional samples and swatches, the beauty of our platform is you actually get to test from the exact lot that your production run will come from.
To me, swatching is not only a very inefficient and costly process, but an unsustainable process, and it doesn’t make business sense. This little square tells you nothing, and it doesn’t match what your production run is.
Editor’s Note: Green People is an ongoing series of articles spotlighting individuals who are leading the way in sustainability in the fashion, retail and beauty worlds.
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