Stephanie Joy Benedetto is the brains behind the deadstock marketplace Queen of Raw, an online store where companies of all shapes and sizes buy and sell unwanted fabrics. The concept not only saves businesses money – it reduces enormous amounts of waste and saves millions to billions of gallons of water every year.
The manner in which the online marketplace has turbocharged the circular economy in both the fashion and fabrics sector has understandably garnered serious attention, and Stephanie’s business has been showcased by the likes of Forbes, ABC Television’s Good Morning America, Vogue, The New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.
The Queen of Raw co-founder is no stranger to partnerships and specialist projects either. The European Union, New York City, H&M and the United Nations are among the companies and organizations Stephanie has worked with on sustainability projects.
Keen to find out how Queen of Raw is making supply chains more sustainable, we got in touch with Stephanie ahead of her appearance at next week’s Global Sustainable Supply Chain Summit, held by B2G Consulting and Alcott Global.
Read on to learn Stephanie’s thoughts on:
- How Queen of Raw uses blockchain
- To what extent Queen of Raw will face competition in the future
- The sheer volume of fabrics that change hands between supply chains
- Why the ultimate aim is to reduce shipping almost entirely
- Whether Queen of Raw’s marketplace could work in other sectors
- Ending the problem of waste in the supply chain
- Fast fashion and the circular economy
Hi Stephanie, thanks for taking the time to talk to us at Trans.INFO. Your startup and its sustainability goals have captured the imagination, hearts and minds of both business owners and the general public across the world. But ambitious concepts such as Queen of Raw require the technology and systems to make the concept work as intended. In your case, blockchain technology was one of the technologies that was utilised. As interest in blockchain has risen in recent years, so has the amount of people touting the technology as a solution for almost anything. This, in turn, has created a bit of scepticism around the word blockchain. How have you managed to make this technology work for you?
Well, we know that the B word (blockchain) is a buzzword that means a lot of things to many people. For supply chain, I do think blockchain technology is a game changer when it comes to sustainability, but it’s about how we use it.
We’re focused as a business on finding waste and inefficiencies in supply chains. When you look at complex supply chains, they often have a tier one to a tier 14 supplier. A lot of this waste sits deep in a supply chain’s inefficiencies.
That’s where I think blockchain technology can be incredibly valuable, you can learn about those inefficiencies all the way down to a tier 14 supplier and see what errors occur and correct them down the chain. I think it’s fascinating. The other thing when it comes to sustainability and blockchain is that it’s important to track things like the amount of the toxins, the carbon emissions and the dollars saved.
We now have a record and proof that we can share with our enterprise customers. That means they can tell their stakeholders and communicate to their end consumers information on all the good work they just did. Because for sustainability, knowing how to communicate it and measure it is very important. It’s at the core of what we do.
Admittedly, there are carbon emissions caused by the energy used by blockchain. The technology is getting better and better every day though, and it’s now possible to offset those emissions against the positive of rescuing the deadstock fabric.
Photo credit: Queen of Raw
You have mentioned how companies with outdated supply chain tracking mechanisms (e.g. pen & paper, excel) are inevitably generating waste and filling up warehouses with excess materials, which makes a service such as Queen of Raw so useful. However, the pandemic appears to have made companies, even traditional ones, noticeably more open to digital solutions that can reduce that waste. Do you always feel there will be a place for a market like Queen of Raw amid companies finding their own solutions and others becoming your competition?
I love that question. Well, historically, in the textile industry, and especially as it’s been applied in fashion, it is notorious, as you mentioned, for doing things the way my great grandfather did in 1896 – good old pen and paper, or maybe if you’re a little better, an Excel spreadsheet.
And in many ways, for the largest companies in the world, that is still the way a lot of this inventory and deadstock and supply chain are managed. Some of the most powerful companies in the world are still doing things that way.
And it makes sense, right? They’re focused on their business, making more items increasingly faster and satisfying their end consumers, and not necessarily so much on how they manage the supply chain and the underlying data and the technology. And that challenge has created a lot of fragmentation in this industry.
But obviously, that also means there’s a lot of opportunity to be more efficient. And to answer your question about what we’re building – we want to be part of the solution to partner with the largest companies in the world to solve this problem, because you can’t do it alone.
Like I mentioned, they’re focused on doing their business and what they do best. That’s where partnering with innovators, technologists and startups like us comes in, as we can do things quickly, innovate, iterate and customize for their specific purpose. And we can be experts in what we do best. And that’s down to the technology and the tools that we’ve built.
So it’s great that we are known for building a marketplace to sell waste. But what people may not know is that we actually sell large companies pretty powerful software and tools that are behind Queen of Raw and make our engine work. And that software is a part of how we sell this waste automated and at scale. It also provides really valuable data and analytics in real time to help businesses, some of whom are the largest in the world, to minimize this waste going forward.
So not only are we selling this waste in the marketplace and helping them make money, but giving them the information to minimize waste and do better tomorrow and going forward. I think that’s truly how we’re not only going to survive the pandemic, where there’s more waste than ever before and challenges to business’s bottom and top lines, but it’s truly how we’re going to thrive tomorrow and build for the supply chain of the future – one that is more on demand, more local, and more sustainable.
I mentioned that because I’m glad that there’s competition in the space. Honestly, when I started this industry and looked at this problem years ago, it definitely wasn’t top of mind in the way it is in the world today. So we are fortunate to be market leaders in the space, to have been building the technology and the tools and have a community that’s now over 325,000 around the world and growing on every continent.
We have been fortunate to do that, but now, of course, people are keyed into this. And it means there’s more of a demand than ever for what we’re doing. It may also mean there’s going to be healthy competition. That’s great, because it gives us opportunities to learn from each other, to partner with each other sometimes and support each other. And this market is so huge and so valuable. Unused fabric costs businesses to the tune of around $120 billion a year. Another $168 billion a year is also lost in warehousing costs and inefficiencies.
That’s a huge bucket. There is enough good work to be done for all of us, and by there being competition, it means that there is something really powerful and valuable here for us to be working on. We can continue to iterate, innovate, and hopefully, be the last player in the market to really dominate.
Is the quantity of particular deadstock fabrics available on Queen of Raw enough for clothing manufacturers to create their primary new fashion lines with? Or is it just a case of using what is there to experiment and create some unique lines with what’s available?
When we first started looking at this issue, we knew that there was waste out there. I had seen it first-hand right from my family, as well as in the past and from my prior startup. So I knew it was out there.
I assumed that the large companies would want to sell it and make money, but that they would sell their sample yardage and smaller volume to smaller brands and retailers and students, makers, crafters and quilters. What I didn’t realize before launching Queen of Raw, was that the amount of deadstock out there isn’t just scraps off a cutting room floor. We have, for some of our large companies, tens of thousands of SKUs with hundreds of thousands to millions of yards of mint-condition first-grade fabric still sealed on rolls in warehouses that is going to be burnt or landfilled.
At that volume, I like to say waste is not just environmentally irresponsible. This is a CFO issue – we’ve already talked about the economics of it. But now that we are able to unlock such huge volume, it means that the largest brands and the retailers, they not only just sell – they can also turn around and buy.
We have sold fabric to people from fast fashion to luxury haute couture, because that volume is out there. So when you go to queenofraw.com, which is our B2C marketplace, that’s typically where anything 250 yards and under go. For anything over that volume, we have a private portal where the large companies can participate in a marketplace and can find volume up to, as I said, hundreds of thousands to millions of yards.
So the volume is out there to satisfy that demand and that need, and you’re going to see that in the future coming very soon. Some really cool large brands and retailers are doing entire collections featuring Queen of Raw deadstock and also communicating that story to their end consumers so that when the end consumer goes to buy that shirt or that shoe, they can scan the QR code and see it was made with Queen of Raw deadstock, as well as the amount of water and carbon emissions they just saved by purchasing that item. That is powerful, I think, for the future.
It’s fascinating to learn how you’ve got these massive companies buying large amounts of deadstock and then using it for themselves. Is it just a case of one person’s junk being another person’s treasure? Is this why one major company may perceive a piece of material as almost useless, whereas another will see it as a great opportunity to create something and make some money in the process?
That’s exactly right. This is just a supply-demand mismatch. The magic of what we have done is to take this stuff that traditionally sits fragmented and fractured all over the world quite silently in warehouses, and typically piles up so much that eventually when the brand or retailer knows about it, it gets burned or landfilled, because it’s just too much to manage. We take it quickly and easily from all those warehouses to the web, and into buyers’ hands.
At that point, the power of what we can do globally to match that supply and demand efficiently is really incredible. And that’s why we did what we did. Again, that is not these companies’ businesses – let them focus on doing what they do best, and then let us come in and partner with them and help them save all that valuable time and resources and waste.
We use a lot of tools in addition to blockchain, for example we leverage a lot of machine learning AI. That’s how we make the match between buyer and seller happen globally, quickly and easily. Buyers can find what they need, when they need it and at the right price – located where you’re actually manufacturing, away from areas impacted by disruption.
So you can cut down on those costs and the carbon emissions of shipping this stuff all over the world. But someone had to bring it to life from the warehouse to the web. And that’s really what we’re able to do from all those fragmented and fractured spaces. The beauty of machine learning AI is that the quicker we can match a buyer between a seller using all this data and intelligence, the quicker we can keep this waste out of landfills and turn pollution into profit.
Naturally, by avoiding waste, Queen of Raw makes a huge difference to carbon footprints when clothing retailers create upcycled lines using deadstock. However, there is also the matter of transporting the deadstock from one warehouse to another, or from a warehouse to a factory. How important is it for you to reduce carbon footprints further by matching buyers and sellers locally and regionally?
That is a huge part of it. Transportation is costly, and it has carbon emissions. And I’m really proud that we have FedEx, DHL and UPS as some of our green logistics partners. We do use lower carbon emission shipping methods as well as recycled packaging.
So we can start there, but I can be totally transparent about the future – I hope we never need to ship anything, anywhere across the world ever again. Because we can honestly find what we need, when we need it located where we need it. And I truly believe once we map the world’s deadstock and unused inventory across all raw material categories that we will be able to do that.
Ultimately, with our machine learning intelligence, we prioritize mapping who the buyer is to where they are – that is very important. And so it’s all part of our intelligence. Understanding where everybody sits, and where they’re located, what volume they buy, what kinds they buy, but also how we can reduce those shipments.
The other thing we do now is mapping where these goods are moving all over the world. Being able to consolidate shipments from going from common locations to other common locations, also helps bring down those costs and carbon emissions.
We partner and are looking at some really cool new innovative technologies that are working on cutting down the cost and carbon emissions of shipping using more sustainable practices. We welcome the opportunity to partner.
A lot of these brands, retailers and big companies, they want to sell their deadstock. They want to make money. But they don’t know how to manage this process. They’re in the business of shipping their goods, but not traditionally this stuff.
So the way our solution works, we take care of everything when we partner with a large company, from payment processing internationally, to fully automated international shipping logistics. That is a part of our offering and we want to manage this process for them and make it quick, easy and cost effective for everyone participating.
Are there other sectors of the economy generating waste that could make use of a marketplace like Queen of Raw?
I think there are a lot, and we’re just at the beginning. We call ourselves Queen of Raw, because this is truly about empowering people to take control and be the kings and queens of their raw materials and their supply chains.
We started with fashion and textiles as by some accounts, textiles is the number two polluter of clean water globally. It also means that textiles have the power to solve the world’s water crisis.
Fashion, of course, is a huge consumer of textiles. But that’s just the beginning. Textiles are also used by automotive, aviation and computer electronics. It is the material on your chair, the inside of your car, the carpet under your feet. How other industries can benefit from our solution is a huge piece of where we’re going. This isn’t just about textiles, there are lots of raw material categories in those industries – things that are valuable, get wasted and could have a marketplace to resell it, as well as tools to minimize it.
In the future, we will take this across other raw material categories and industries and around the world. I think it’s truly the future of the circular economy, not just because it’s sustainable, but because it’s the way good business is done and because it makes economic sense.
Here in Europe, you’ve also gone live with Herewear, which aims to find a way to turn sustainable bio-based raw materials into fabrics for a more sustainable fashion supply chain. Do you believe this could be a game changer for the fashion industry if such materials can be used to create clothes that are both attractive to consumers and commercially viable?
I 100% do. In my platform, we will deal with all forms of deadstock; we deal with the deadstock for the truly innovative sustainable fibers. However, because we can quantify the impact and measure, we also rescue things like leathers and synthetics. To me that is important.
There’s a value I can ascribe to it in that by rescuing it and having people reuse it, we bring down the overall rate of textile production. We do want to be a part of the solution.
At the end of the day, ultimately at some point in the future, I hope we write ourselves out of the marketplace business because once we have everyone on our software and tools, we’ve solved this waste problem.
Then, in the future, we can be part of the solution where we are only manufacturing new bio based innovative materials that are regenerative and recircular at their core and avoid microfiber plastics pollution. So we want to be a part of that solution.
That’s why we joined the EU with the Herewear initiative to try to look at what those kinds of solutions look like globally, and how we can bring them to scale. So that’s a very important part of our core spirit, and quite honestly, it’s important because of the world we want to build and the economics of it.
The laws are changing though. In the US, we’ve got new ESG and SEC disclosure requirements. In Europe, we have new EPR policies and recycling laws that are going to also have an impact on how businesses think about the goods they make and how they move through their supply chain and what they do with them at the end of life.
So we need to have solutions. We don’t just slap these businesses with millions of dollars in liability on the books, but we give them solutions to help offset that coming legal liability.
What are your thoughts on the emergence of fast fashion?
I have to say that with fast fashion, as much as we are all a part of the problem, as I mentioned, we’re all a part of the solution too. Fast fashion is a big piece of that. We are very proud to work with fast fashion because, as I mentioned, changing just a small percent of the way they do business can have a massive impact. And we have written a white paper with H&M as part of the New York Circular City Initiative, which shows what the solution could be and how much good jobs and money can be created and made by New York City going circular and solving these textile recycling and circularity issues.
H&M is a big part of that, as well as other fast fashion companies. So they are part of solving this problem and working together. Honestly, until consumer appetites change, we are going to produce what people want to buy. I keep hearing people saying well, fast fashion and fashion in general, is dead. But unless we’re all going to be naked, the world and population is growing. And we’re going to wear clothes, just how we make it, how we consume it, what it’s made of and where it goes to is what’s changing. We’re at a fascinating tipping point right now when it comes to innovation in that space.
Fast fashion is a part of it too. Before Covid struck, I was on a panel with one of the founders of thredUP, in which he was talking about thredUP and Queen of Raw’s business models of circularity and reuse. He said that in many ways, what we’re doing is kind of a competitor to fast fashion because we just do it sustainably – we allow people to buy more things to change clothes and outfits, or Instagram and social media quickly and easily. But whenever they’re done with it, they can put it back into the chain of supply and demand and it gets reused, recycled or repurposed.
I thought that was an interesting way to think about it. There is this consumer appetite to consume clothing at a discount that’s readily available and to be able to change outfits often. But if we can keep reusing items of clothing, even when we’re done with them, there’s something interesting there. There’s a lot to unpack and a lot of opportunity to build on here. I think they’ll be some very cool business models of the future, whereby fast fashion and other types of fashion can still touch their consumers by doing things better and more sustainably.
Finally, what does the future hold for Queen of Rock?
Ultimately, at our core, we are about people, planet and profit. In order to deliver on our promise, we have a big challenge in the world ahead of us to solve this. So it’s a big opportunity.
At the end of the day, we want to be part of solving the problem. That is truly why we built the software that lives behind our marketplace; it is to be a part of that. As I mentioned, that’s why we’re doing this and why we’re also part of the Microfiber Innovation Challenge with Conservation X Labs.
As a group, along with some major players in the industry, we put $650,000 behind innovators who are trying to solve the microfiber plastic problem. We want to be a part of all these solutions.
Our software just connects those dots and empowers them to do better. Then at that point, we will have solved the world’s water crisis. As a business, we can then move on to the next challenge. But we have a bit to go to get there, but we know we can do it and I think the future is bright.
I hope everybody can feel inspired and that they can be a part of solving these challenges by the small acts they take as well as the small acts that our community and our business has taken. We’ve already saved over a billion gallons of water and we’re just getting started. That’s actually enough clean water for 1.4 million people to drink around the world for three years.
I mentioned that not just because I’m proud of what we do, but because you should never doubt that the small acts you can take can have a massive impact at scale.
Photo credit: Queen of Raw