Two years ago, New York-based entrepreneur Adarsh Alphons was looking in his closet and started noticing all of the clothes he never wore. “I’m thinking, I’ve literally not worn these jackets once in the last two years, and they’re sitting here in impeccable condition,” he says. “And then I take them from apartment to apartment when I move.”
He started reading about the overproduction of clothing. There are roughly twice as many clothes produced now as there were 15 years ago, each item with its own environmental impact: Making a pair of jeans has a carbon footprint similar to driving 80 miles. Every year, people throw away clothing worth around $400 billion. And, of course, many more clothing items just hang in closets, unworn. “The average woman has 57 items in a closet that she doesn’t even wear once a year,” Alphons says. He decided to launch a new platform, called Wardrobe, to make more use of those clothes. Starting first with women’s clothes, it lets women rent out their unworn clothing, with neighborhood dry cleaners serving as distribution hubs. It’s like Rent the Runway, but the company owns no inventory itself.
“We realized what we could do is build a platform that’s a bit like an Airbnb of fashion,” says Alphons. “That’s essentially based on the fact that we can build utility into all this underutilized stuff. And just by wearing an item two or three times over a two-year period, you reduce its carbon emissions by 24%.”
The startup launched last year serving consumers in New York City and is now launching nationally, with investment from Airbnb cofounder Nathan Blecharczyk. Anyone with extra high-quality clothing can list it on the platform; then they mail it to one of the dry cleaners that the company has partnered with. The dry cleaners store it on their premises, shipping out an item of clothing each time someone rents it, and then cleaning it each time it returns.
“People have tried this before,” says Alphons. “But there was just one big operational hurdle that no one had solved for.” In past attempts, he says, lenders and renters had to coordinate swaps themselves, meaning that the timing was unpredictable, and it also wasn’t necessarily clear that an item had been cleaned. By managing the process itself, along with its dry cleaning partners, Wardrobe makes the platform more appealing, especially for the people who own the clothing.
So far, early lenders to the platform tend to have very large wardrobes, consigning an average of more than $8,000 worth of extra clothing. “Several of them have already made thousands of dollars off of those things,” he says. “And they can retain ownership of it, which means they can either sell it later on a different platform—or maybe two years from now we’ll have our own sales platform as well.”
Correction: Due to an editing error, one the quotes in this story was misattributed to investor Nathan Blecharczyk instead of Adarsh Alphons. The article has been updated.