Innovations That Matter

Lost Stock CEO Cally Russell on Sustainable Retail Innovation Amidst COVID-19

Wise Words

Cally Russell, the CEO of Lost stock, on how to prevent the mass of COVID-related cancelled clothing orders from ending up in landfill.

This week’s Wise Words feature dives into the mind of Cally Russell, founder and CEO of Lost Stock — an organisation aiming to address some of the lesser salient unsustainable practices present within the textile industry.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and the closure of brick and mortar shops in its wake, many large retailers have stopped ordering from textile factories. 

Coupled with nearly two billion euros worth of unsold garments stored in warehouses, most textile factories are located in low-wage countries such as Bangladesh. With the textile industry accounting for nearly 85 per cent of Bangladesh’s exports, millions of workers have lost their wages. 

This inspired the founder of the purchasing application Mallzee to launch Lost Stock. The British startup allows consumers to order clothes directly from textile factories in Bangladesh, preventing cancelled orders from ending up in a landfill. Through a partnership with a local NGO, almost 40 per cent of sales will be donated to support the workers and their families. 

1. What change does Lost Stock want to facilitate and why is it important that other retailers follow this paradigm?

Due to COVID-19, over $2 billion (€1.7 billion) worth of stock orders was cancelled by leading Western retailers, which means millions of garment workers are now unemployed and face starvation.  The unwanted new season stock is also destined to end up in landfill which has a harmful impact on our planet.

Lost Stock aims to combat this by using a fashion box model to connect consumers with billions of pounds worth of cancelled stock orders while supporting garment workers and their families. Every Lost Stock order feeds a family for a week in Bangladesh and prevents brand new clothing potentially going to waste.

2. Where did the idea for Lost Stock come from and what inspired you to materialize it?

It all started from reading a quote from a garment factory owner on the BBC website that said: “If coronavirus doesn’t kill my workers, then starvation will.” This drove us to try and find a solution to help in this situation. 

The fashion industry is my industry and I couldn’t stand by and watch the poorest in it suffer further. So the Mallzee team decided to use our consumer insights, industry knowledge and contacts to create a business model with a positive impact, which materialized into Lost Stock.

3. What was the most difficult part of creating the Lost Stock brand?

We set an initial target of selling 10,000 boxes in the first month and 50,000 by the end of the year, after two months we’ve sold 110,000! It was incredible to see so many people showing their support for Lost Stock. However, such a huge demand also meant we had to scale-up our operations fast so that we could connect the stock to all of our customers as effectively as possible. 

4. When it comes to being a business, do you think the planet and profits can co-exist?

Yes. Especially because, for companies to succeed in 2020, both financially and for society, they need to understand that consumers are changing. People want to understand the impact their purchases have on the planet and society.

5. While the charitable movement to support workers in textile producing countries like Bangladesh is applaudable, is it enough? And should the retail industry be taking further action?

Our focus right now is on helping deal with the current situation. However, longer-term, we hope that we can play our part in finding sustainable solutions that will minimise waste, support workers and reintegrate unused stock back into their supply chain. We also keep asking brands to do better but maybe it’s time to build better brands? 

6. How can this crisis generate sustainable opportunities? And what post-crisis strategies should retailers consider?

It is definitely an opportunity for retailers to recognise the weaknesses in the system and find creative solutions that will make their operations more sustainable. We’re also trying to empower this change on a consumer level. We are informing our customers about ways to re-home their unloved garments through charity partners and swap schemes. 

Retail now has a huge number of inefficiencies within the model and this is what creates unbalanced supply chains, we believe that by tackling these inefficiencies we can create a more fair and balanced retail landscape in the future. For example, through our insights arm, we work with a range of companies to help them make better buying and merchandising decisions – allowing us to reduce potential wastage.

7. So, what’s next?

We’ve been amazed by the support we have received around the globe. We have now expanded deliveries to Ireland and Australia, and are going to be launching  Lost Stock in even more countries in August. Plus, we plan to expand on our current kidswear, menswear and womenswear clothing packages by introducing new types of garment options. 

8. How do you plan Lost Stock to be sustained post-COVID-19 and retailers start re-ordering again?

When the crisis began and we became aware of the cancelled orders and struggling workers, we similarly looked for an innovative way to connect shoppers to stock whilst helping those in need. However, when we founded Mallzee in 2013, we had already recognised that consumer habits were changing and saw the opportunity to create a platform that can connect shoppers with products in an easier way. Thus, we hope to continue Lost Stock as long as there are demand and available stock.

9. Do you have any other thoughts or wise words for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Like most things in life you only know what’s going to happen by giving it a go — so just go for it. Half the battle is in starting.