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Shark Tank’s Mark Cuban Throws $300K at 17-Million-Ton Textile Problem

A report released earlier this month by Markets and Markets projects textile recycling to grow into a $9.4 billion market opportunity by 2027. So what better an idea than a service allowing consumers to recycle their clothes without ever having to leave home and help solve a 17-million-ton textile waste problem?

It’s a concept former MAC cosmetics marketing executive Amelia Trumble turned into a business she co-founded in July of 2020 called Retold Recycling, and it drew the attention of the ABC startup game show “Shark Tank“. Last Friday, the episode featuring Retold Recycling finally aired, affording founders Trumble and Alan Yeoh the chance to exhale under the lifted weight of months-long confidentiality agreements. Of the four sharks, including guest investor Emme Grede of Good American fame, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban displayed the most interest, and when the dust from the negotiations settled, Cuban and Retold Recycling were business partners, the former getting 25 percent of a stake in the company and the latter $300,000 to invest.

The Retold Recycling bag holds up to 5 pounds of clothing with dimensions of 15x15x4. Courtesy Photo

The Retold model follows a fairly familiar concept. For $14.50, or $0.49 less than what ThredUp charges, a customer can request a biodegradable bag capable of holding 5 pounds be delivered to their home, fill it with used clothing and home textiles such as towels and bed sheets, leave it for the mail carrier to ship it back to the nearest of three regional hubs in the continental U.S., and Retold Recycling facilitates the rest.

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“There are a lot of companies in this space doing very large volumes of textile recycling,” Trumble, Retold’s CEO, told Sourcing Journal on Monday. “The thing is that a lot of them are very B2B focused and they don’t like [dealing with individuals]. We all come from a consumer marketing background, so we’re able to bring that consumer interaction to the landscape, basically.”

All that’s asked of customers, Trumble said, is for the clothes to have been washed.

“It’s really only things that are very soaked in oil or paints…that are problematic,” said Trumble, who pointed out to “Shark Tank” judges that Retold gets roughly $0.10 per pound from its recycling partner. “They all get shipped off to our recycling partners’ depots and they’ll clear items through their own thrift stores. Then it gets put into a sort of marketplace where other companies can buy into the inventory and then they will produce what they need for it.”

The biggest challenge, and one of Cuban’s chief concerns, was the shipping cost associated with carting each bag back to Retold and how it’s such a huge unknown, case by case.

“We don’t know what the volume is of what the customer is going to put inside. They might just put in some panties and socks, or they might put in something quite heavy like a duvet cover,” Trumble said. “So it’s an interesting part of our model that the actual value of that label isn’t triggered until it’s scanned in the postage system.”

Prior to “Shark Tank”, the only seed funding Retold sought was a small friends and family round. The No. 1 priority for Cuban’s money is to leverage more affordable logistics.

“We have volume through Mark’s network, and through the platform of the show—that gives us greater negotiating power to be able to ship to more hubs,” Trumble said. “The great thing though, is with our model, it’s all based on USPS routes, so everything is sort of like slow freight and gathered in those existing routes. It’s not like we’re adding truck[s] and adding emissions or anything like that; we’re sort of playing into existing networks.”

Trumble said she discovered the need for something like Retold Recycling when cleaning out her closets in her small Brooklyn apartment left her with a pile of overstuffed plastic bags. She ended up using Ubers to haul the bags to Goodwill to donate them.

“I was trying to sell items online, and in my brain I’m like, ‘but what about all of the stuff I can’t sell and can’t donate?” Trumble said. “Is there a service that could take that? So that’s kind of the idea of how Retold was born.”

A review of the business landscape revealed a somewhat barren expanse.

“There was nothing providing this service service at all and the actual textile recycling industry was very fragmented and sort of ripe for innovation,” she said. “So, yeah, we naively jumped in.”

In the edited-for-TV moments after Trumble and Yeoh tried to counter Cuban’s “non-negotiable” 25 percent offer down to 22, only to capitulate to his original terms, Cuban was chided by fellow shark Joe Pardo, who thought the service was superfluous, because he could just as easily take his clothes down to the Salvation Army and save the $14.50.

“Your time isn’t worth much,” Cuban jabbed back. “For some people, it’s worth a lot more.”

Grede, however, questioned whether people will pony up for the service “when consumers are having to pay so much more for like gas [and] the cost of living.”

“To do this, I feel like you’re going to have so much price resistance in the market,” the Skims founding partner chimed in.

A Retold Recycle graphic illustrating the problems associated with trying to take used clothes to a thrift store one’s self. Courtesy

Taking old clothes to recycling bins is something many people promise but few follow through with, and even when they do, Trumble points out, thrift stores can’t take everything and often what they can’t ends up in the landfill.

“There’s a lot of dumping, unfortunately, that happens with the charity stores,” she said. “People do drop off a lot of stuff that’s not appropriate. So it’s not the be-all, end-all use case, for sure.”

Recycling-as-a-business couldn’t come at a better time, both in terms of consumer sentiment and legislation.

A 2021 survey by Capgemini Research Institute found that 70 percent of all shoppers are interested in recycling their products and just last week, fast fashion giant H&M Group entered into a joint venture with a recycling company that aims to extend the highest use of roughly 40 million garments this year.

On top of that is increasing pressure and urgency from governments in the U.S. and abroad to promote recycling, chiefly the European Union’s Product Passports, set to take effect in 2025 that will track the contents and life-cycle of a garment using a QR code. Legislative changes in the U.S. are mostly coming at a state level, where recently, New York mandated recycling for carpets, effective in 2026, and Massachusetts last November announced that home textiles such as curtains, sheets and towels, as well as clothing and certain other fabrics and mattresses are banned from disposal or transport for disposal in landfills.

Retold is based in California, home to some of the most progressive sustainability laws, but Trumble said the company is partnering with the Tennessee Environmental Council to create the first textile recycling program in the Volunteer State.

“So we’re the back of the house for the textile programs, and basically in Tennessee, there is no state-based program for recycling. They’re plugging in with external services to help people who want to do the right thing,” Trumble said. “Across the country it’s ripe for innovation and expansion, but we’re lucky that it’s all moving in the right direction.”

Trumble, whose marketing background is in e-commerce, said she’s beginning to see some competitors trickle into the field, and while the entrepreneur in her must see those peers as competition, it’s a competition her conscience knows is exactly what the planet needs.

“We have an advantage in that we can white label that service and be brand-agnostic and really power programs for any brand across any category that makes sense,” she said, noting on the show that Retold has already signed one brand with another preparing to launch “in the next couple of months.”

Grede co-signed the white-labeling concept. “All brands are looking for something that they can offer their consumers to appear to be more sustainable,” she told the co-founders during the episode.

Retold is not without its peers in a marketplace where parking-lot clothing donation bins like PlanetAid’s yellow installations are among the most common touchpoints for clothing castoffs. Companies such as resale platform ThredUp and For Days will also send people a bag in the mail for $14.99 and $20 respectively. Though the former is focused on resale, it ensures all items it receives avoid ending up in a landfill and will recycle or otherwise offload whatever isn’t in a condition suitable for another life in someone’s closet. The latter, a circular brand making 100 percent recyclable clothing it can take back to turn into new garments, accepts “socks, underwear, sheets, pillow cases, towels, linens, shoes, and handbags in any condition” in exchange for store credit equal to what the bag costs.

Trumble said what sets her company apart in that regard is a wider variety of options for user rewards.

“From a customer perspective, the main differentiator is that we have a subscriber system with Retold Rewards, a gallery of discount brands that we offer subscribers,” Trumble said. “With others you only get credit back to spend on their website whereas what we offer is a variety of brands—coffee or detergent, Vitamin A supplements—a wide array of benefits and you unlock those each time as a customer.”

Trumble went on to reinforce the upsides of any new entrants who take on the textile recycling space. “So right now, no, there’s like no true competitors for us, but to be honest—not that I want to welcome competitors into the space… but there is such an enormous landfill problem that, honestly, even if some other company did emerge in this space, I think it would actually only cement the category and submit the need amongst the general population for a service like this,” she said.

That said, Trumble admittedly fantasizes about the proper noun “Retold” becoming a verb in the everyday vernacular, no different than Xerox or Kleenex or Google or Uber.

Shark Tank’s Mark Cuban invested $300,000 for a 25 percent share of Retold Recycling’s business during Friday’s airing of Shark Tank on ABC. Christopher Willard/ABC via Getty Images

“We’re really all about becoming synonymous with the category; we want to be a verb,” she said. “That’s really what we wanted to use the Shark Tank platform for—to really be that mouthpiece for our brand and our mission.”