The textile industry generates 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually, more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined, according to a damning report issued in 2017 by Britain’s Ellen MacArthur Foundation. At the same time, large clothing retailers are being accused of destroying thousands of tonnes of new unsold clothing to ease the pressure on storage facilities.
It’s been five years since the fast-fashion scandal triggered by the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh that killed 1,135 people working for major Western brands. Yet few fashion retailers have kept their word to provide basic safety for local textile workers.
In Belgium, several projects aimed at raising consumer awareness of the ethical and environmental problems associated with the production of limited-use articles have flourished in recent years. This growing awareness is a natural offshoot of the "zero waste" movement, even if it is still mostly prevalent among middle-class and/or eco-conscious consumers.
One of these is Tale Me, a four-year-old Brussels-based startup that rents reasonably priced, clothing to future mothers and young children, providing an alternative to buying expensive clothing that will be banished from the wardrobe after a few months.
"From the beginning, we had a strong selling point, since we offer an alternative for those times in life when clothes are worn for a limited period of time," says Tale Me founder and engineer Anna Balez, who specializes in analyzing the impact of industry on the environment.
“People need to realize that renting something doesn’t necessarily mean losing money. We shouldn’t think like that anymore. What’s more, the 25 to 30-year-olds of generation Y are our best ambassadors because they adopt different consumer behaviors. They are the ones who will bring about this shift in mentality. Today, the circular economy concept is no longer frowned upon.”
How does it work? The client subscribes online to a package and has a choice of three to five items of maternity or children's wear (0-8 years) from among the thousands available in the Tale Me e-shop. Their selection arrives a few days later, at home or a pick-up point. A showroom area is also available for fittings if necessary. When the monthly subscription expires, the customer returns the rented items and can start shopping again.
"Big brands know they are stuck in a loop"
Subscription fees remain affordable: from 19 euros (USD 22) for three children's articles to 45 euros for five items of maternity clothing, with several offers in between. There’s also a custom subscription option for those who wish to rent more.
What if a hole or a tough stain appears? The risk of a child wearing out the garment or damaging it crossed the mind of project designer Balez, a mother of two, who decided to include spot and hole insurance in the subscription fee. Without it, she felt that customers might be reluctant to sign up.
Tale Me is a rental system with unlimited exchanges, benefiting parents looking for another way to consume products (or who are on a tight budget) and young creators struggling to find customers who can afford their chic, ethical, yet highly-priced clothing.
All items for rent are bought new from independent creators whose products are manufactured in Europe under decent working conditions and from organic or sustainable materials. Tale Me emphasizes that their products do not come from factories mass-producing clothing for big-name brands. The only exceptions to the rule are two fair-trade suppliers, whose workshops are located in India and New York.
The startup has also begun offering its own creations. As well as sending fibers of unused fabrics to traditional recycling facilities, Tale Me favors upcycling, which consists of converting old or discarded materials into something useful, ultimately giving them another purpose.
Tale Me has 2,000 subscribers, employs about 15 people and currently delivers to Belgium, France, Germany, England, the Netherlands and Spain. In June 2017, the company opened a showroom in Paris’ 10th arrondissement.
For 2018, Balez is aiming higher. She hopes to convince small businesses and certain big brands to join the circular economy movement. "Big brands know they are stuck in a loop… their profit margins are decreasing and they spend a fortune on marketing. Today, we are ready to sell our concept and services. We have the expertise, since we invented everything!”
The textile industry generates 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually, more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined, according to a damning report issued in 2017 by Britain’s Ellen MacArthur Foundation. At the same time, large clothing retailers are being accused of destroying thousands of tonnes of new unsold clothing to ease the pressure on...