And never doubt that you can go change the world
A conversation with The Queen Of Raw
I had the immense privilege of meeting Stephanie while researching textiles for Buci’s first line. I was attracted to the website while looking for deadstock fabric resources and retailers online.
She invited me to her office to come look at some swatches and I was immediately struck by her warmth and how she spoke so knowledgeably, with such generosity. She emanates strength and power and yet carries it through a gentle nature. Her work speaks for itself. Just last quarter Queen of Raw, her international deadstock fabric platform, saved over a billion gallons of water.
I was lucky enough to sit down with her and speak about everything from fast fashion giants making small steps towards sustainability, to her Great Grandfather in the Lower East Side repurposing furs in the late 1800s, to Greenwashing and to what I believe is the future of not only America but of the world; For Profit businesses that have a strong social mission but are still making money.
Her fluid perspective on sustainability is such a breath of fresh air, but I won’t give it all away. I learnt so much about the state of the fashion industry and the world, both terrifying and exciting from this conversation. I hope it takes you on the same roller coaster that it took me, leaving you aware of the imminent challenges and dangers we face, but also empowered to make a difference in your own way.
Where do you feel the fashion industry is right now in terms of waste and our footprint?
Right now I think we're at a Tipping Point. After what has felt like a long time the world has woken up and the fashion industry has woken up to these issues. So there's an awareness for sure, even at all of the Sea Suites at the biggest fashion brands in the world. I think that was a challenge when I started my business and first looked at this issue… people weren't aware of the problems and when we would go and talk to major fashion brands and retailers, from fast fashion to luxury around the world, they sometimes didn't believe there was as big of a problem of waste as there was or that they had that much waste on their books.
Well since working with us many of them have realised they have up to
15X or more what they thought they had in waste on their books! That’s a major hurdle that we have overcome. So now they are aware.
It’s massively damaging we all know the statistics, the second biggest polluter in the world of clean water behind oil and agriculture which it contributes to... but what I think is interesting and one statistic we've tracked closely, is that by 2025 two-thirds of the entire world's population will face shortages of freshwater and be exposed to hazardous chemicals from textile production alone, if we don't make a change.
So this is not a hundred years from now. It's happening today and on our shores. I say that's interesting because a lot of brands and retailers have come out with commitments to go sustainable by 2025. So they see this year and this present need for change, now how they get there quickly and efficiently is what we're all working with them on.
But I think the tipping point is here and now that they are aware only good can come of it.
I wanted to ask you, for people who don't necessarily know what deadstock fabric is, What is it? And what does it do to contribute to this problem in terms of waste?
(SB) So we have been obsessed with waste for a long time, looking at everything from raw materials to finished goods.. and a lot of brands and retailers right now are aware of their problems with finished goods.
They have a lot of clothing that for whatever reason doesn't sell; they forecasted wrong, they decided to change the color or a style and ended up not using everything they had, you know, a lot of reasons happen around the world and they’re stuck with all this finished goods. That's a massive problem. But what I looked at was what I believe is the real root of the problem and that is what's going on in their supply chains, up the chain. And the reason I believe we have all his waste in finished goods down the chain is because of all these systemic issues in broken supply chains and over buying of raw materials up the chain. So I thought If we can solve for that too we can also help them with their issue down the chain in finished goods.
So we focus on deadstock fabrics and by that we mean, pre-consumer fabrics on rolls, first rate in mint condition, but for whatever reason doesn't get used in the production cycle.
So this stuff sits at factories and warehouses in Brands around the world collecting dust, and they've been burning it or sending it to a landfill because they didn’t know what to do with it.. And it’s often caused by a lot of the same issues down the chain with finished goods. They changed a pin stripe and a colour, they overbought fabric thinking they were going to make a certain number of something and then they changed how many they did or a broken supply chain. They didn't realize they had that much there in the first place! So for all these reasons there’s actually $120 billion of unused fabric created every year. It estimates up to 15% of every step of every production that ends up as waste, from pre consumer to post consumer.
I think that now that they have tuned into this issue, it can't just be about the finished goods. They need to look at the root of the problem, and that is what's going on in their supply chains and understanding why there are these breaks and holes and that’s really what we focus on.
So for us deadstock fabric is any fabric that was paid for, pursuant to some order by someone and already exists in the world, but the alternatives are It's going to be warehoused, burned or landfilled... and the impact that you have by us putting it back into the supply chain and people purchasing this dead stock is massive.
We use the Higg index, another publicly available information source to determine the relative amount of water, toxins and energy that are saved by people purchasing already made textiles as opposed to manufacturing new. So for us last quarter we saved over a billion gallons of water, and we're just getting started. So it has real impact and real significance.
That’s incredible. How did you start Queen of Raw? where did this idea come from and how was this born for you?
(SB) For me my family has been in fashion and textiles in New York for over 100 years, since 1896, the Lower East Side. My family were immigrants from Austria and they settled into the Lower East Side, which was the Jewish tenement housing but also the original garment district.. and so I grew up around my great-grandfather and my grandfather who were in the business and hearing the stories of the old school ways of doing business. And what did they do, They would find materials and supplies nearby, things people had brought over maybe on the ships with them. Old furs and clothes they weren't using any more. They would repurpose them by hand with minimal waste and minimal toxins, cause their bottom dollar depended on it, into beautiful fabrics and garments that they sold to local customers. And it was a very Profitable, successful business and many of those clothes I still wear today.
All of my great grandfathers furs from the 1890s. And I see that because I looked at Queen of Raw and wondered how can we use technology to get back to the way my great grandfather did business, which absolutely made sense. For people for planet but also for profit! It was a very profitable, successful business. Of course growing up my great grandfather didn’t talk about it as sustainability or circular economy but at the end of the day that’s very much what it was.
A quick google of deadstock fabric will bring up some quite controversial results. The term greenwashing is used a lot and I wonder how you combat that, and people using sustainability just for profit and marketing?
(SB) You know what, like my taking a broad view of sustainability and like my being very willing and open to work with fast-fashion. I take a very broad view of deadstock, because there are some people in the sustainability community who will come to our platform and see that we sell exotics and skins. I absolutely do. I believe that it's better than letting it burn or go to a landfill and waste it.
That being said, some people in sustainability get a little frustrated when they see that. Well then, don’t buy the exotics and skins. That doesn’t fit with your definition of sustainability and that’s ok by me. But to me I can quantify water toxins and energy saved, you know tanning and leather and skins are very very damaging to the planet, and there is this massive value we can have with working with what’s already out there as opposed to making new. So yes deadstock can be very controversial. When it comes to greenwashing, look, if people are doing it, as long as they are actually doing what they say they’re doing I’m ok with it. If their reasons are to do it for their business to make money that’s ok! They are a for-profit business. They absolutely have to make money. We are for profit with a social mission, I believe I can do a lot of good by making a lot of money, right, and that is okay! I think the industry needs to think about that. We do have a non-for-profit arm we absolutely support. We pledge a portion of our proceeds to that non-for-profit. But like I said, I think it's okay if people are doing things that are sustainable but also have profit in mind, they have to! And that’s why we have built the technology we’ve built to help empower other businesses to do that as well.
This is a more general question that everyone in this series will be asked at the end of our conversation, but what do you do everyday, obviously your whole careers is about making a difference but what is one thing that you would want to share with people that they can do to make a difference?
(SB) My whole career is very much rooted in people, planet and profit and finding for profit with social mission businesses and business models that can support the future that makes sense for that triple bottom line. That being said sustainability, that S word means a lot of things to a lot of people and I take a very broad view of sustainability so I am big supporters of everyone including fast fashion for making little changes that have a massive impact around the world, and I do stand behind that. So for us and for me personally, It's small changes we can make everyday. It can even come down to, not never purchasing fast fashion, but thinking about maybe one less shirt a year. Buy one less T shirt a year new and buying instead consigned secondhand from thredup, to poshmark, to depop, the real real, you can save 700 gallons of water. And if every person did just that, that is enough water for one person to drink for 3 years. One T shirt!
So little things like that. The other thing is also check your labels. Just like we check ingredients we put in our body we should be checking the labels to understand what is touching our skin, the largest organ 24/7 in the day and if you don't understand something on the label, it probably isn't the greatest thing for you. That can help a lot.
That being said there's some great new apps and platforms like good on you and if you're not sure about a brand type in the brand’s name and you can know immediately what their ethos is and if it matches with your definition of sustainability, and never doubt that you can go change the world.