By now, we all know that the textile industry is second only to agriculture as the biggest polluter of clean water globally. Plus, the amount of wastage that is produced by the fashion industry alone is alarming. In a world where transparency has become a no-brainer and sustainability a necessity, Queen of Raw wants to rise as the number one ecommerce platform to re-introduce wasted raw materials back into the supply chain. In short, they want to save Planet Earth one yard at a time.
Queen of Raw is a premium online platform where suppliers and brands can sell unused fabrics and buy high-end raw materials. It was co-founded by a core team of Stephanie Benedetto (CEO), Phil Derasmo (CTO) and Corbin Chase (Creative Director). We met up with Stephanie and Corbin to discuss the last three years leading up to the official launch in 2016 to being recently named a LAUNCH Innovator by NASA, NIKE, IKEA and DELL.
Stephanie was brought up in Connecticut but had always considered herself a New Yorker. A 2002 Penn grad, she studied Politics, Economics and Philosophy and in 2006, she officially became a lawyer, graduating from Emory Law in Atlanta. After a six-year gig on Wall Street practicing law in fashion, tech and ecommerce space, she realized that it was time to go out on her own.
“In a world of see now, buy now, we are trying to make things easier for designers.”
Hailing from a lineage of textile manufacturers, Stephanie’s great grandfather landed in the Lower East Side from Austria, traveling through Ellis Island, and started in the handkerchief factory in the 1890s. He eventually went on to become a master furrier, designing fur jackets and stoles. Her grandfather was an army surplus, who collected excess stock post WWII, refurbished it and sold it as fresh new stock. Fast forward to today, Stephanie’s father-in-law owns global textile factories so it comes as no surprise that she would follow their footsteps in leading Queen of Raw.
Taking a break from Wall Street, Stephanie co-founded Paper No. 9 in 2009. A sustainable textile manufacturing company, it used a proprietary process to convert recycled paper to create new design fabrics that would ultimately end up as custom leather products. Everything was handcrafted in Brooklyn and sold to many fashion houses and it was then that Stephanie saw an opportunity.
“We saw a big problem in the industry that we wanted to correct. Many creative designers were struggling to access innovative and sustainable materials. On the flip side, we saw incredible mills and major factories sitting on million tons of quality stock collecting dust in house and ending up in a landfill. So, the idea came from wanting to bridge these two sides and introduce unused fabrics back into the supply chain.”
“Learning how different industries are sourcing cross-industry fabrics was very interesting!”
Queen of Raw’s back-end technology took over three years for development. Today, it acts as a multi-vendor ecommerce marketplace boasting a customer base of 20,000 and 13% month-over-month growth. Customers include emerging designers to well-established brands across fashion, interior design, automotive, crafting and computer technology. With no membership or listing fees, the portal allows emerging designers to search fabrics, create mood boards for their product line and order samples with a day’s turnaround time. The mood board tool in turn gathers real-time data by collecting images the designers are pinning and can be shared with suppliers so they can feed inventory for those designs. Basically, it’s Pinterest on steroids!
Similarly, big brands can sell their excess stock to monetize, be able to show their sustainable efforts to investors and seek innovative fabrics to meet consumer demands. Fun fact: A recent 10% rule in New York demands that if brands have more than 10% of raw materials wasted, they must find a way to get rid of them sustainably and ethically.
But the benefits are even greater for suppliers who would have otherwise shown sunk costs for the wasted raw materials. “We negotiate with each supplier to see how much work they want us to do (marketing, creative, etc.) and based on that, we decide upon a commission.”
Why the Name?
Believe it or not, Queen of Raw was the first and last choice of brand name the team came up with. As Corbin recalls, “We took so long fighting over it with no contenders in sight. But, if you think about the name, it symbolizes female empowerment, raw materials, no additives, no seasonal items and what is at the essence of something. Stephanie adds, “raw material touches everyone on this planet one way or another so Queen of Raw seemed to fit perfectly!”
“It’s a new way of doing business in a circular economy and there is no one-liner to describe it.”
While the business relies on the complicated back-end structure, matching supply and demand was the biggest challenge for the team. “Knowing what is sitting in which factory in what part of the world that can meet consumer demand was tough at first.” With streamlined processes, Queen of Raw can now provide analytics and insights to its brand partners so they can save on shipping, cost of goods, and wherever they see fit in their supply chains.
Another challenge was convincing suppliers to come on-board. “Some suppliers who had institutional clients didn’t understand what ‘putting stock online’ meant. They were unaware of the power of technology in opening up a whole new market.”
With varied areas of expertise and having worked together to launch this “baby,” Stephanie and Corbin reminisce on key learnings.
- To build a brand, create original content and go behind-the-scenes of whatever story you are trying to tell. Our goal was to make fabrics look sexy.
- For business advice, ask everyone and anyone (even strangers).
- Don’t wait for the perfect technology to get out there. Instead of perfecting, get feedback early on to learn from your customers and iterate.
Understanding that they have a role to play in sustainably saving our planet, Queen of Raw also has a podcast, Material is Your Business, where they promote education and feature their partners. Plus, knowing that this is a touch-and-feel industry, the team is now exploring innovative ways (think mobile app, 3D printing, machine learning tools) to make the community more self-efficient and ultra-connected.
Meet the team at Texworld in January 2018, where they will showcase new materials for jewelry and athleisure. Have ideas to partner with them? Contact us and we’ll put in touch.
Photo courtesy of Queen of Raw.