By Serina Tatham
With the Coronavirus pandemic shaking the foundations of the fashion industry, our shopping habits have had to change. As a result, brands have had to adapt to meet the reduced demand for clothes. One initiative, Lost Stock, was set up to help both the consumers and the workers in Bangladesh in a more transparent approach to fashion.
In Bangladesh, the garment manufacturing industry is responsible for 84% of export income. With over $2 billion worth of retail stock orders cancelled in the wake of Covid-19, millions of workers became unemployed and faced starvation.
High street shops shut and customers weren’t buying at the same speed as before, meaning that the unwanted stock was destined for the landfill, exacerbating the already devastating waste culture that the fashion industry fosters.
Set up by Edinburgh-based entrepreneur Cally Russell, who is also listed on the Forbes 30 under 30 list of Retail and Commerce visionaries, Lost Stock is able to help support garment workers in Bangladesh.
Each box retails for £35 but contains £70 worth of clothing that would have ordinarily been in high street stores such as Topshop. When ordering, the customer is able to personalise their box based on size, how they like their clothes to fit, and their colour palette and print preferences in order to have the clothes matched to their personality.
Not describing themselves as a charity, Lost Stock strives for full transparency. Their goal is to meet consumer demand whilst simultaneously making a difference to the lives of garment works and reducing the environmental impact of the industry.
By partnering with NGO SAJIDA Foundation, Lost Stock ensures that the money made from each sale goes straight to those who need it most. With the mission of ‘health, happiness and dignity for all’, the foundation’s team of over 3,700 people work across the country to distribute the care packages. Find out more about their incredible actions in response to the pandemic here.
To dig down on the work that Lost Stock is doing, we spoke with founder Cally Russell.
How did you become aware of the issues that the pandemic caused on the fashion industry’s supply chains?
As an aggregator marketplace app that uses data to help retailers improve their buying processes to reduce waste in the industry, we were very aware of the impact that coronavirus was having on shopping habits and retailers here in the UK.
It was through reading news reports that we learnt about the situation in countries such as Bangladesh and it was when we read the following quote from a Factory Owner on the BBC; “If Coronavirus doesn’t kill my workers, then starvation will.” that we decided we couldn’t stand by while the poorest in our industry suffered like this, we had to try to do something to help.
How receptive were brands to get on board?
We buy directly from factories, not the brands. The clothing we are buying is cancelled stock that was originally destined for brands and retailers who in the wake of coronavirus cancelled the stock orders leaving factories with unpaid for, unwanted stock.
Why did you decide to remove the brand labels on the clothing?
We launched Lost Stock in response to retailers cancelling stock orders to try to alleviate the humanitarian and environmental crisis that these cancelled orders were causing in Bangladesh.
We have always been clear that we are buying cancelled stock (and it’s been widely reported which retailers have cancelled orders) but we can’t specify which brands these products were originally destined for as (a) its illegal for us to promote and sell garments with another brand labeling in the UK, (b) the factories we are buying from have agreements in place with the retailers to de-label all items before re-selling them and (c) longer-term factories need to maintain and build their relationships with retailers as they will most likely be working with them again in the future.
There are many organisations and campaigns seeking to hold brands accountable for cancelling stock orders and that is commendable but our focus is on helping to support workers quickly whilst also preventing brand new clothes going to waste and to be able to do so we have to remove brand labels.
Will Lost Stock continue, or will it come to an end?
We keep asking brands to behave in a better manner – maybe though it’s time to just build better brands? We will be announcing more around this in the coming weeks – alongside a range of charitable partners to donate unwanted clothes too, a series of upcycling activities and also access to a range of swap platforms to help Lost Stock products do even more good in the world.
The pandemic has revealed to the public the gritty reality of the fashion industry and the truth about how workers in third world countries are treated. Do you think this awareness will continue after ‘normality’ has resumed, or do you think that people will switch off and go back to old habits?
We deliberately positioned Lost Stock to appeal to as wide an audience as possible allowing consumers to directly help workers in a quick and simple manner. Alongside this our approach has also brought significant attention to the issues facing workers right now, often from consumer groups that wouldn’t normally donate to a charitable cause, sign a petition or from publications who haven’t previously featured these types of stories.
Whilst we are keen to play our part we believe there is no one solution to all of the industries’ problems in this crisis, instead it comes from many sources and people taking action in multiple different ways.
What do you think the future of fashion looks like? Do you think fast fashion still has a place?
The future of fashion is what consumers choose to make it – if we take anything away from 2020 it should be an unrelenting focus on building offerings that drive positive change in society.
Lost Stock has partnered with charities including the British Heart Foundation to ensure that any items not loved are passed on in a sustainable way. For more details on the charity partnerships and clothing drives, read their website here.