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Up Close: In Conversation with Trove CEO Andy Ruben

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, Andy Ruben, CEO of circular retail solution provider Trove, explains the opportunity in brands owning their resale operations and what food retail gets right about traceability.

Andy Ruben Trove
Andy Ruben, cofounder and CEO, Trove photographed in January 2021 by McNair Evans for Forbes.
McNair Evans/The Forbes Collection

Name: Andy Ruben

Title: CEO

Company: Trove

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

The food industry. It’s crucial that food companies tightly manage their entire supply chain, as the products are perishable. There’s very little cushion in terms of timing. I spent several years overseeing Walmart’s private brand operations, and the perishables supply chain is remarkable. The nature of the product requires complete supply chain visibility and traceability—both for safety and quality.

Apparel has already learned a great deal from the food supply chain. For example, fashion and apparel companies are now using some of the tracking and authentication technologies that the food industry has long relied on for safety and quality control. Think about the codes printed on products that help companies and consumers track items throughout their lifecycle. We’re used to seeing codes printed on what we buy at the grocery, but some fashion brands are printing them on garment labels now—and the best ones are digitizing by specific item rather than by SKU. Those codes enhance supply chain efficiency and they give consumers a way to authenticate the items, learn about the materials used in them, and how and where they were made by just pointing their smartphone at the label.

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How would you describe yourself as a consumer?

I love well-made, well-designed pieces. It’s been tremendous to grow a business in the resale segment—it’s given me the ability to access and enjoy a Tom Ford shirt or an Arc’teryx sweater that I might not have otherwise discovered. And resale works like that for a lot of people, while also being better for the environment. I’d also say I’m pretty mindful about the effects my purchases have on a larger scale.

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

Trust, authenticity, consistency and good service. I appreciate brands like Patagonia that embody all of those things. They stand for their beliefs, make great, high-quality products that people love, and provide stellar service. I’ll never forget the time in college when I brought a shell that I had worn through on a trip back to a Patagonia store in Seattle. The store associate took care of me and I was instantly loyal for life. It’s part of the reason we launched our business with the brand.

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

Levi’s jeans. They work year-round in the Bay Area. They go with everything from a like-new Lululemon T-shirt to a luxury brand button-down.

Which fashion era is your favorite?

I don’t have a favorite era, but I definitely appreciate how fashion, like any form of expression, follows society and culture. I get a bit obsessed with learning more about the history of fashion and culture when I read about things like how dress styles during WWII evolved to include ties in the back to accommodate more sizes when being passed down from one wearer to another. And I love watching how luxury brands are looking to gaming culture for inspiration today and incorporating more elements of gaming into their designs.

Who’s your style icon?

I don’t know if I have a style icon, but at the moment, I love what Gucci is doing around self-expression. Gucci’s Vault—the online concept store they just launched that features vintage pieces alongside new items from emerging designers—is beautiful and inspiring.

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

Raising money in 2019. It was a big bet ahead of the amazing brand growth we’re now seeing in resale. It was a bet that brands would ultimately need to own their secondary market, which would require technology that would cost tens of millions to build. At some point in the near future, every brand will own the secondary market for its own items instead of handing over control of that market to a third-party resale platform. That will allow the brands to maintain their product quality, voice, reputation, customer relationships and data, and let them capture profit from additional sales of products they designed, developed and manufactured.

Owning that secondary market requires intense technology and logistics to manage items in a highly customizable way that creates overall value for the brand. Raising capital in 2019 allowed us to be on track to provide that technology and those logistics to serve leading brands as they move into this new space.

How would you describe your corporate culture?

Very open, highly collaborative and mission-driven. We always assume that people have the best of intentions and we take great pride in both what we are doing and why we are doing it.

What can companies learn from Covid-19?

There are opportunities in crises, but taking advantage of them requires incredible agility and leadership, both internally and externally with partners. The pandemic has affected everyone in some way—if not professionally, then personally. Companies, and management teams in particular, benefit when they focus on the human beings they work and do business with, their needs in challenging times, and the opportunities ahead.

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

The industry should be creating better models for getting far more use and value out of what we produce. Today’s consumers, especially younger generations, are much less patient with the excessive waste that current business models generate and they’re much more likely to respect companies that lead in supply chain innovation. They’re looking for brands whose values align with their own, and they value sustainability. The industry is coming along slowly, but consumers are very sensitive to greenwashing and a lack of true supply chain innovation at the core of a brand’s business model.

What keeps you up at night?

Thinking about if I’m doing everything I can to take advantage of the recommerce opportunity and if I’m making the right hiring decisions and building a culture where everyone is doing the best work of their careers.

What makes you most optimistic?

My teenagers and their friends. They have access to so many ideas and online communities and they’re determined to create a better society.

Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction:

We’ve recently rolled out in-store trade-in technology for Lululemon, Patagonia, Arc’teryx and Levi’s stores to enable the brands’ sales associates to accept trade-ins and hand customers gift cards in exchange for items. It’s another way we’re empowering brands to make it easy for customers to find value in items they no longer wear. It allows customers to trade in items in the way that’s most convenient for them—and be rewarded for it instantly—and it builds traffic and loyalty for the brands on top of generating additional sales.