For all the complicated talk around sustainability, there is one simple thing consumers can do starting right now—buy used clothing.
But having a rewarding shopping experience at a yard sale, thrift shop, clothing exchange, or for that matter on eBay or Poshmark isn’t so always easy.
“How do you make the process of buying used things not suck?” Archive co-founder Ryan Rowe told Sourcing Journal. “The mission for us, as a company, is to solve that problem at scale.”
The “pure software” company co-founded by Rowe, who doubles as CTO, and CEO Emily Gittiins has a bold plan to reinvent resale with its white label resale platform that on Tuesday announced a $15 million Series A round of fundraising, spearheaded by Lightspeed Venture Capital. Additional participation from Bain Capital and other investors bring Archive’s total funding to over $24 million.
“Resale is a massive online category already and growing three times as fast as new apparel sales,” said Alex Taussig, partner at Lightspeed and Archive board member. “Archive has become the standard of choice for well-known brands from Oscar de la Renta to The North Face, that want to embed resale into their supply chain.”
Archive is a third-party platform, but what sets it apart is that the consumer will use it and never even know it. It exists invisibly, essentially, right on a retailer’s website using a tactic known as white labeling.
By way of demonstration, Rowe pulls up the website for The North Face, one of more than 30 brand partners the company has already, from Dagne Dover to M.M.LaFleur. He clicks on the tab called Renewed and what comes up is a list of second-hand options to buy the brand’s used apparel with the photography, typography and style indistinguishable from the rest of The North Face site.
Customer never knows they left the site, The North Face gets to preserve customer loyalty, Archive gets a commission on the sale, and everyone gets to feel like they’re helping the planet. The whole end-to-end journey is as “high quality and beautiful and filled with the rich kind of information and photography that you would get on a mainline shopping experience,” Rowe said.
“From the brand’s perspective, they see a huge opportunity in actually owning the customer data and customer relationship,” Gittins added. “From a customer acquisition and loyalty branding experience this is hugely beneficial for brands. You get a customer who might not be able to afford the price on a new item on your site and you gain loyalty because once you finish using the product, come back to us and we’ll buy it back from you… It keeps them within your ecosystem.”
The company claims that a majority of consumers who sell used clothing back to retailers using Archive take in-store credit rather than cash.
“It’s a way to say to a customer, ‘why don’t I sell this other one and upgrade to the new version from the same brand?’” Gittins said. “It’s exciting from a loyalty perspective.”
Rowe said resale on site can help retailers liquidate inventory, too.
“Brands are often sitting on a massive amount of stuff—that’s already kind of a ‘hair on fire’ problem—with stuff returned, damaged stuff, things that never even made it through production all the way,” he said. “This stuff just sits in warehouses and collect dust over time.”
Archive doesn’t just present a way for consumers to buy that stuff, but provides a logistics connection to move said goods.
“We built out a software suite so brands can use third-party logistics providers to work out massive amounts of inventory with our warehouse management system,” Rowe said. “We have a retail takeback program and brands can buy back from consumers as well. Basically, we look at Archive as a software platform ecosystem of anything that could facilitate resale from a brand.”
Gittins hopes that one day Archive can help pave a path that will make buying apparel not so different from buying a car.
“My view is a world where buying second-hand is the default and whenever you think of buying something and go to the brand’s website second-hand is the dominant option, always available, and you can make that experience the same as buying new,” she said. “Integrate it into the buying experience so that when you’re buying you ask, what is the resale worth? Much like the car industry… Over time, that means we can produce less new stuff but maintain newness and fresh experiences for consumers.”
And that shiny-new experience is key to engaging shoppers.
“When you interview buyers about what they’re looking for, generally people are craving a curated, on-brand experience,” Gittins said. “The other part is we work with a large range of brands from Oscar de la Renta to North Face, and across different countries so it wouldn’t make sense to have those all mashed in together [on a single site]. Instead, we’re allowing brands to own it.”
“It’s a reason why [investors] want to do something here, but often it’s not the main reason,” she said. “Ultimately, a lot of brands are public companies that have to show profitability, so showing profit with [sustainability] as an added bonus is the way of going about it. Our investors saw a tailwind pushing sustainability in resale even more than was anticipated. A lot of countries are mandating sustainability, which helps.”
As for sustainability, Gittins said that as much as people, including VC investors, like to talk about it, at the end of the day, the bottom line is the bottom line.
Gittins had been kicking around the idea that would become Archive ever since she was a teenager working at a London charity thrift shop, long before she earned an MBA and master’s of science in environment and resources at Stanford University.
“The vast volume of stuff, having to sort things one by one, asking ‘is this valuable? How do we price it?” she said. “There was so much friction in that, as a business.”
For Rowe, Archive is about making the world a better place by building a better product, not merely appealing to consumer guilt.
“I’m a firm believer in the idea that if you want to convince people to do the right thing you can’t just ask them,” he said. “I always bring up Tesla; they didn’t make an electric car to try to sell to the consumer by saying it’s better for the environment, they just made an awesome car everybody wanted.”
The North Face expands resale from clicks into bricks
Last month The North Face phased out its 12-year-old Close the Loop take-back program, replacing it with an Archive-powered scheme that only accepts goods from the brand instead of any clothing out there. Though Renewed, the brand’s take-back offering, has long existed online, expanding to physical retail with Renewed Take-Back should strengthen customer ties and reinforce sustainability messaging.
“It’s an exciting time for Renewed because we’ve had these iterative moments with Remade or the design residency but not as much with the product platform,” a brand rep told Sourcing Journal.
The switch-up was only a matter of time given the VF brand’s investments in designing for circularity, the rep said. Reclaiming pre-owned The North Face apparel at the exclusion of all else gives in-house designers and product developers better control when they’re turning used garments they’re familiar with into new product. Eschewing other brands’ clothes eliminates much of the uncertainty around fabric composition and other nitty-gritty details, helping to streamline and standardize the journey from ideation to design to new upcycled or recycled product.
“The impetus and the hope is that we’re scaling truly getting that shirt back from you and putting it on the platform, and that you’re incentivized to bring it back to us, and that we can resell or repair it or strip it down and reuse the product itself or the fabric itself,” the rep said.
To get a $10 future purchase credit for goods they want to ditch, customers must first sign up for The North Face’s XPLR Pass loyalty. Store associates use Archive’s white-labeled mobile app to guide consumers through not just the program sign-up and activation process but also the brand’s efforts to design with waste-minimizing circularity in mind.
On the back end, The North Face worked out a new product tagging system so take-back and recycling operational whiz Tersus can more quickly sort items flowing through its Colorado facility and funnel items into the appropriate processing stream. Tags display a disassembly rating level so intake professionals can make a snap decision about wear gear is headed next.
The North Face prefers to keep product in a customer’s hands but understands that’s not always feasible. When someone wants into a store with damaged jacket, boot or other item, “our No. 1 [priority] is to repair it,” the rep said. But products that truly reach their end of life and aren’t fit for resale need the infrastructure in place to get recycled or donated.
New circular design products are starting reflect a more evolved “sewing intent,” according to another rep who showed items made with fewer and simpler seams for simple dismantling. Some of The North Face’s trademark color-blocked garments that are traditionally made with 50-50 split of fleece and a second colored fabric now incorporate a greater percentage of fleece so more of that material can be recovered farther down the line.
Still other items might skip additional finishing treatments so products are easier to pull apart if—or when—it comes to that. The changes, though “subtle,” create a meaningful impact at scale, the rep said.