Startup spotlight: Queen of Raw applies new technology to old fabrics

Resale companies that enable consumers to offload unwanted clothing are booming, thanks to technology that makes it easy for consumers to buy and sell items. Now, entrepreneurs are hoping to do the same thing for materials that didn’t get made into clothes at all.

Startups have sprung up to make it easier for retailers to buy and sell deadstock fabric or materials that brands own but never used and don’t want. Queen of Raw, a three-year-old marketplace with 325,000 buyers and sellers globally, enables users to list, sell and buy deadstock materials. To date, it’s worked with companies, including LVMH, Cartier and H&M. It doesn’t hold inventory, but rather is a tech marketplace in the vein of Poshmark or Ebay, and takes an undisclosed portion of sales made through its marketplace (in addition to subscription fees for its proprietary software). Since the pandemic, interest has intensified as brands became aware that inventory might not match demand, according to the company.

Competitors include AmoThreads, a deadstock material platform based in the UK, and Fabscrap, a New York non-profit, which uses fashion studios’ unwanted materials. Others have applied tech to re-using old materials in other ways: Designer Emily Bode, in working with Microsoft, developed a way to catalogue and identify old quilt patterns using computer vision. Queen of Raw’s goal is to achieve enough scale to build a network effect and automate as much as possible, says Queen of Raw co-founder and CEO Stephanie Benedetto.

It’s received industry support to do so. In 2020, it was a recipient of the Cartier Women’s Initiative and a finalist for the LVMH Innovation Award. It has also raised $1.5 million from True Wealth Ventures and MIT Solve. In 2019, it was the first recipient of Thredup’s Circular Fashion Fund, a non-profit focused on supporting sustainable fashion efforts, because both Thredup and Queen of Raw share a mission that centres around keeping products out of landfill and encouraging circularity, says Erin Wallace, Thredup’s VP of integrated marketing.

Brands historically have stored or destroyed unused fabrics, but the concept of using deadstock materials has gotten increased attention as fashion works toward creating less waste. Less than 1 per cent of material used to make clothing is recycled, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. But connecting the dots between what a buyer will find valuable and what a seller would otherwise consider a business loss can be challenging, says Benedetto. Many brands who have created items out of deadstock do so from their own coffers.

“We don’t tend to use a lot of deadstock because of the challenges of sourcing, and the commitments with lead times can be challenging,” says Dana Davis, VP of sustainability, product and business strategy at Mara Hoffman. Since the brand has begun transitioning to a direct-to-consumer model, there are more opportunities to use deadstock, she says. Already, Mara Hoffman has worked with Queen of Raw to list its deadstock for sale. As clothing resale platforms have found, sellers often become buyers: Mara Hoffman is now considering the technology for sourcing materials as well.