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Up Close: In Conversation with Recurate Co-Founder Wilson Griffin

Up Close is Sourcing Journal’s regular check-in with industry executives to get their take on topics ranging from personal style to their company’s latest moves. In this Q&A, Wilson Griffin, co-founder and chief operating officer of Recurate, a resale technology firm that works with brands like Mara Hoffman and Outerknown, discusses alternative revenue streams for apparel and what fashion could borrow from single-origin sourcing models.

Wilson Griffin Recurate
Wilson Griffin, co-founder and chief operating officer, Recurate Courtesy

Name: Wilson Griffin

Title: Co-founder and chief operating officer

Company: Recurate

Which other industry has the best handle on the supply chain? What can apparel learn?

I started my career at an environmental NGO working to connect sustainably managed producers of tropical commodities—coffee, cocoa, tea, flowers—with buyers. Since that time, I’ve been fascinated by how well single-origin coffee tells the story of their product. That the beans were grown on a specific hillside, by a specific farmer, in a given country and region. I think that level of understanding of exactly where things are coming from, and the entire chain of custody until the end consumer is really amazing. Someone, someday will sell a single-origin pair of selvedge jeans, and I’m here for it!

How would you describe yourself as a consumer?

I would call myself a deliberate and patient consumer. I’m a bit of a minimalist and prefer fewer, better things. I like brands and styles that are timeless, and usually when I finally decide to make a purchase, I’ve already been thinking about it for a few weeks. I obviously prefer to buy secondhand when I can!

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As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?

Quality, quality, quality. I tend to hang on to things for years, and I don’t want to have to replace them all the time. On the marketing side, I will admit that I’m a sucker for a good outdoor adventure photoshoot—the kind of stuff that a Filson or Patagonia would do.

What’s your typical work (or weekend) uniform?

Ha, it’s the same! Aside from working out or special occasions, I wear some version of jeans, a T-shirt and flannel. Maybe a Henley under the flannel if I’m feeling crazy. I usually finish it off with a baseball hat and pair of sneakers. It helps that I live in San Francisco and you need a layer year-round. I have a few shirt jackets from Outerknown, Taylor Stitch and Western Rise that I wear nonstop.

Which fashion era is your favorite?

I’m a big Old West nerd, so workwear and brands like Levi’s, Woolrich and Pendleton let me feel like there’s a bit of that heritage carrying through to today.

Who’s your style icon?

Have you seen the “Succession” episode in season three with Adrien Brody where he is wearing 17 layers for a walk along the coast? That’s basically me in San Francisco.

What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?

We try to make every decision by putting our brand partners first. What we want to do is help grow the resale ecosystem, and put brands at the center of it. So as long as we are putting our clients first, we’ll make good decisions.

How would you describe your corporate culture?

I would describe us as fast, humble and fun. We want to move quickly, learn and iterate. We aim to follow the best ideas, no matter who came up with them, and then listen to our customers to see what’s working.

What can companies learn from Covid-19?

I think the learnings should really be split into two categories. The first thing they should learn is to make their business more resilient to disruption. In our industry, that means diversifying revenue streams and supply sources—things that resale directly addresses by monetizing items without manufacturing or traditional supply chains.

The second category is learning how to operate in a remote or hybrid world. Our business is a pandemic startup, so we’ve grown up in the remote world and it works incredibly well for us. We can hire the best talent regardless of location and everyone is on the same plane as far as relationships and access. There is obviously value in meeting in-person and that will always have a role, but we all learned that we can operate remotely and it isn’t as intimidating as we thought.

What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?

This may sound self-serving, but I believe it 100 percent: The top priority of the apparel industry needs to be figuring out alternative business models that work for all stakeholders—companies, investors, employees and consumers. That means moving away from a purely linear economy depending on resource extraction to make money, and instead diversifying your channels. Look at resale, rental and at services—like Lululuemon acquiring Mirror—that can grow revenue without simply creating more products. And then as the final step, figure out how to incorporate what is no longer used back into “new” products in the form of recycled textiles.

What keeps you up at night?

The existential threat of climate change is what keeps me up. The lack of urgency, despite the data and the fact that we have the know-how to improve is incredibly scary. The pace of our improvement when it comes to reducing emissions, if there is any improvement at all, is just not fast enough.

What makes you most optimistic?

I’m optimistic that consumers and workers are holding companies accountable. Sustainability and responsibility are continuing to move up the list of concerns from consumers, and certainly from workers. And that gives me hope.

Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction:

We’ve hit the ground running in 2022! We launched Steve Madden Re-Booted in January, with Dolce Vita coming up in February. We’re partnering with our first international brands in the U.K. and Australia soon. Beyond that, we’re continuing to innovate with features like auction functionality and facilitating charitable donations for funds raised via resale.

And I’m proud of the omnichannel capabilities we’re developing. We have an upcoming partnership that leveraged in-store take-back to collect pre-loved items in exchange for brand credit. Those items will eventually be sold through the online resale channel to continue bridging the physical and digital realms.