Welcome to this column within our broader sustainability section which focuses on what retail is doing to address the issues in its industry.
This month our sustainability column is an interview with the co-founder of Rites – a new site that is trying to bridge the disconnect between the luxury fashion market and charity shops. We talked to Meg O’Hara about how Rites is using sustainability concerns to also tap into a huge underused source of funding for charities.
Meg O’Hara originally launched Rites as a side project but it is rapidly becoming more than that as word spreads, influencers get on board, and lockdown clear-outs mean the clothes keep coming. She and her Rites co-founder, Drew Evenson, who each live at opposite ends of London, are being kept busy collecting items from sellers all over the capital.
O’Hara’s background is in the digital and tech side of the clothing industry and she has worked with some of the biggest names including fashion sustainability’s High Priestess Stella McCartney. Evenson is from the sales side of the business but together they are hoping to encourage the relatively slow-to-adapt luxury consumer to embrace the idea of re-using products.
In essence, Rites is a luxury resale site, which takes the hassle out of either selling or donating in return for a chunky slice of the sale price being given to charity. A simple enough idea but one which no-one else is doing in quite the same way. And aided by some high-profile support from influencers like Jessie Bush they are hoping to make a real difference.
The first hurdle is that the ladies who buy Valentino jackets do not tend to schlep down to their local charity shop with said jackets in bin bags. Or as O’Hara more politely puts it: “We needed to make it as easy as possible for our users who just don’t have the time. Plus they know that the high street charity shop is very unlikely to achieve the full value of the item.”
These users do not tend to have the hours to photograph and list clothing themselves on resale sites either so Rites does everything for its users. Free pick-up, site listing, accompanying images, and the back-end payment processing, which automatically takes a minimum of 20% of the price for a charity chosen by the user.
It is a fine balancing line between incentivising people to use the site and enforcing the charity donation – initially O’Hara explains the site operated a wholly charitable donation where, after taking Rites’ admin fee for handling and selling, all other monies would go to the charity. But clearly this turns off anyone who is interested in making even a bit of money out of their luxury clothing so it is now up to the user how much (beyond the default 20%) they wish to give to their nominated charity. Any UK-registered charity can receive the donation and the user will receive email notification of how much they have donated when the item sells.
One of the main benefits O’Hara points to – along with saving clothing from landfill and extending its useful life – is the site’s ability to introduce a raft of unknown charities to the luxury sector and their audience. There are two charities currently profiled and highlighted on the site but an online pop-up launched on July 16 as part of Plastic Free July showcases Ocean Generation. Users can shop by charity or by item as they wish and Rites makes the generated donations once a month.
So far O’Hara says users of the site are two very different communities. “Our sellers tend to be high net worth individuals, London-based, older demographic, not so worried about letting things go (one user gave us 200 pieces!), just generally more established,” she explains, “while the buyers are younger, coming to us through Instagram and looking for a bargain”.
These early sellers have often just given their clothes to Rites, allowing the founders to decide what is worth selling on the site and what to give to high street charity shops. This has given them a good base to begin selling but ongoing O’Hara envisages having more of a conversation with potential sellers. “We’re still working out lots of things but there might be a WhatsApp service whereby they send images and we take decisions from there,” she says.
In the future O’Hara wants to begin selling children’s wear as well – a sector with an obviously high churn-rate – and the search is on now for the right children’s charity to partner with.
“Some charities already have a luxury audience, what we can do is to introduce that audience to a charity they might not know about,” she comments. O’Hara has also received interest from brands who are interested in partnerships – and one can see the attractiveness of this option after recent scandals where high-end names have tried various means to get rid of their unwanted stock.
In terms of scaling up, with the target sellers being a fairly international crowd it is entirely possible that Rites could start accepting items from overseas and O’Hara has already had interest from Goodwill in the US, which has lots of high-end fashion items to sell but no capacity to price and sell them online.
She concludes that the time is exactly right for this site: “Resale is not naturally a luxury concept but it is now increasingly acceptable. The outlets didn’t exist before but now they are there and this trend really is driven by consumers”.