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Why Rhone and RTR’s Reusable Packaging Partner Pivoted to B2B

A reusable packaging startup that consolidates purchases from multiple fashion retailers into a single weekly delivery is taking a new route.

Olive, which previously wooed consumers, is relaunching this month as a business-to-business platform, allowing retailers to tap directly into its waste-free packaging and logistics network.

This required an overhaul of the technology that underpinned its system, founder Nate Faust, who co-founded before selling it to Walmart in 2016, told Sourcing Journal. Olive 1.0 was built as an app, with a Chrome extension that customers could use to bundle their orders from participating brands such as Anthropologie and Free People.

Now the year-old business is headed to the source by offering a way for brands to “seamlessly” integrate their customer experience through a Shopify app that displays Olive’s eco-friendly delivery service as an option during checkout.

By providing brands’ fulfillment centers with its reusable packaging, which is made almost entirely from recycled materials, Olive allows orders to be packed into the cloth totes “from the beginning,” Faust said.

If an item doesn’t spark joy in the customer, Olive will pick it up in the reusable packaging and return it to the retailer. But even customers who plan on keeping everything have the option to place items they wish to get rid of in the same packaging for processing by Linda’s Stuff, an eBay reseller that the Jersey City-based firm acquired.

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For Faust, tacking on this perk not only made sustainable sense, but it was also fiscally smart because brands don’t have to pay for every piece of packaging that has to be reclaimed, only for deliveries and returns.

“We cover the cost of those [other] pickups, but then the way we make that work viably is through the consignment offering to customers,” he said.

Olive is solving a burgeoning waste problem, Faust said. More than 10 billion shipments are delivered in the United States each year using single-use packaging. Apparel purchases, he noted, are projected to grow faster than any other category.

But the company also wants to tackle frustrations with returns. With Olive, customers don’t have to print out any labels, hunt around for a box or tape, or scramble to reach the post office or UPS store before closing time. All they have to do is scan a QR code on their package, indicate the items they want to return and when, and then leave it on their doorstep. No muss, no fuss.

Faust said that his biggest learning so far was that eliminating packaging waste from the source, rather than mid-stream, like Olive was doing previously, was possible. Now the challenge is figuring out how to scale all of this, whether by onboarding more brands—Rhone, a men’s wear company is an early adopter, as is Rent the Runway in the New York metropolitan area—or by increasing customer engagement with its consignment model. It helps that one of its logistics partners, Bergen Logistics, handles fulfillment for several hundred direct-to-consumer brands, simplifying any potential integration.

“From a supply chain perspective, we need a rather large shift and one that enables a much greater impact,” Faust said. Olive’s new permutation, he is confident, will help the industry get there.