A CHAT WITH: THIS IS UNFOLDED
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Have you ever been frustrated at the amount of waste the fashion industry makes? Do you want to support a brand who is conscious of the industry's waste problem and takes active measures to tackle it? I spoke with Cally Russell, the co-founder of This is Unfolded, who has created a new brand that reduces waste and helps support the education of children in India.
Collection 02 of This is Unfolded offers 23 carefully chosen items; ranging from mini and midi dresses for summer days and nights to basic tees that will fit seamlessly into your wardrobe.

Whilst Unfolded doesn't claim to be a fully sustainable brand yet, and they are open about the fact that their sustainability journey is a work in progress, they have tackled the waste issue so commonly associated with the fashion industry. In future collections, they are working to integrate more sustainable materials as, with scale, they say they can look at sourcing sustainable materials at a better price.
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Image from thisisunfolded.com
What is This is Unfolded?

This is Unfolded is a new form of retail, focused on removing the waste from the normal retail model and creating a new form. We're doing this because 30% of products are wasted in the normal retail model and our approach is to reduce this waste. So, every time you order from Unfolded you stop clothes going to landfill because we don't produce clothes until they're ordered. We also support children in education. In fact, Collection 01 supported 550 children in India in education for the following 12 months.
How did the idea come about?

It came out of our previous brand Lost Stock. Lost Stock was our attempt to support the garment industry during Covid-19. Brands and retailers cancelled $2 billion worth of clothes because of Covid. We created a way for consumers to buy this cancelled stock by making mystery boxes of clothes. In the end, 125,000 boxes were sold and 113,000 people in Bangladesh were supported for a month each.
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Image from thisisunfloded.com
How does Unfolded's business model work?

In a normal retail model, about 30% of products created are wasted. We remove that waste by doing a few different things. Firstly, we use data and customer insights to create a framework for design. Then, we pass this onto a designer who designs clothes based on the insights. We then go to the community and ask which designs we should make or change. So, we listen to the feedback from the community and narrow that down. For Collection 01, we narrowed 47 items down to 14.

These items then go up on sale and, instead of a customer coming to buy 1 item or the same thing in multiple styles, we sell an Edit. You pick what you want to go into that edit, with a minimum value of £48 and 23 products to choose from for Collection 02. Every item you choose increases the impact you have. For instance, if you choose 2 dresses, which might come to £70, you would be supporting a child's education in India for 4 months.

After you've placed your order, that's when the items are made, and it takes 4-6 weeks for your items to be produced and delivered to you. This results in no waste. By saving this 30% of waste, we can put this into paying workers better wages, creating better value for customers, and having a positive social impact.

Another way in which we reduce waste is within our community. On our community page, people can swap items that might not be the right size for them but might fit someone else. So, instead of it being sent back, it goes to a new home.
What's the charity that you work with?

It's called Pratham which is a big Indian education charity. The reason we've partnered with them is because we believe that education is what drives change. About 50% of children in India by 11 years old can't read or write. And, because India has a tiered working system, comprised of unskilled and skilled workers, you can't become a skilled worker if you don't have these literacy skills. Pratham runs literacy camps to help these children and that's what you're helping to fund when you buy from Unfolded.
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Image from Pratham UK
Do your garment workers receive a living wage?

As a relatively small brand, we can't change the wage structures in the factory so what we have done instead is created the Unfolded Worker Fund. The Fund pays additional wages to all the workers in the factory. This supports the workers and it benefits the whole workforce. We only work with factories that meet a high standard regarding payments to workers and working conditions.

Do you think the Unfolded Worker Fund is something that fast fashion brands can implement?

Wages are something that we all need to improve on and what it comes down to is the fact that many of these retail models that we've created make so much waste. The way that we've looked at it is that we need to remove the waste and we can then have a positive impact and do those other fantastic things that people often find excuses not to do.
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Image from thisisunfloded.com
Have you had any complaints from customers about having to wait 4-6 weeks for their items?

No. We own it. It's on the packaging, the packaging literally says 'good things come to those who wait'.

It's also about the experience. If you buy from Unfolded, you get an email at each stage of the process as your garment is being made. Fast fashion succeeds because you buy something for that hit of dopamine, that hit of enjoyment. With fast fashion you get that twice, when you purchase an item and when it's delivered. At Unfolded, we're extending that dopamine hit out over 4-6 weeks which makes it much more of an experience.

So, for example, you get notified when the fabric is resting, when it's being cut, stitched, finished, shipped, and delivered. The enjoyment hit is extended and then you don't have to go shopping every week.
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Image from thisisunfloded.com
What other ways can brands reduce their waste?

There are so many ways in which brands can reduce waste. The current traditional model is getting a load of stuff and throwing it at a wall and seeing what sticks. Everything that doesn't stick, falls down and that's where the waste is. There is no need for brands to bring out 200 new black dresses to market every year – chances are that only 20% will sell and 80% are just being made to try and figure out what sticks. What we need to do is stand back and think more about what we're producing at the start of the journey to have the least wasteful impact at the end of the journey.

It's quite a big mindset shift that's needed. What we need to do is look at retail totally differently. We need to make a new model to allow this to be operational. As a consumer, you might not have as much choice but, by removing that choice, you'll have a really positive impact on the world and society.
Have you seen consumer attitudes change in the past year since starting Lost Stock and Unfolded?

Yes. With Lost Stock, people waited 6-8 weeks for a mystery box That is two things we asked them, to wait and to accept it was going to be a mystery. All this is quite a lot to ask consumers, and it's a lot to ask people to do this every time and keep shopping in this way. But it showed us that people are open to doing things differently.

So, we needed to roll back from that: if you want to make change, you've got to think about what you can ask of customers. With Unfolded, we've asked consumers a lot of questions, we've talked to a lot of people to figure out how we should do things, and we'll keep learning to find the optimal model.

What do you think you'll do differently with the next collection?

We'll always learn and improve. That is the joy of doing something from scratch. We're entirely led by the customer regarding how we should improve things. We have 700 people in our community group that are helping us to shape things. This is not ours; this is all of ours. It's a movement. To do that, you have to be listening all the time.

You don't have long left to shop Collection 02 as it will no longer be available after the end of May, after which they start working on Collection 03. Go and create your Edit now at thisisunfolded.com
Article by Catherine McAteer