There’s a lot you can unearth during a closet clean out. You’ve got the stray unmatched socks, the gorgeous jacket you’ve decided to part with, swimwear that’s seen better days, a random gym towel that you thought you had lost years ago— the list is endless. After sorting through it all, the last thing you want to do is trek across town to the thrift store that may or may not end up throwing most of your donations into a landfill. It also doesn’t even take those old socks and swimwear.
Amelia Trumble knows your struggle. It’s part of why she and co-founders Alan Yeoh and Noelle Sadler Delory launched Retold Recycling in 2020. A mail-in service for unwanted clothing and household textiles, Retold Recycling and its partners sort your donations and filter it out to charities, thrift store, reuse partners, rag companies and other up-cyclers. All you need to do is order one of the biodegradable Retold bag, fill it up and send it back (It comes with postage!). Already, Retold Recycling has recycled and diverted 18 tons of waste from landfills and struck a deal with Mark Cuban on Shark Tank.
The Retold Recycling team knows more and more of us are looking to partake in fashion in a more sustainable manner, so they let us in on a few secrets to being more resourceful. Read below for tips from Trumble, how Retold Recycling works and more.
Your trio worked together at MAC Cosmetics in marketing and frequently discussed making a pivot to start a business that was doing good for the earth. Why have you felt a long-term passion for merging entrepreneurship and making the world a better place?
All of us are generally philanthropic people who care about others— we all found great joy in contributing to the MAC Aids Fund during our time at MAC (working on campaigns, volunteering, etc.) for example. That experience, combined with working for a large corporation, naturally had us ideating on how to start our own thing that was more aligned with our values from both a business and corporate culture perspective. Once we landed on the idea for Retold, it unlocked such a passion within all of us that we knew we had to pursue it. It's that old adage of when you do something you love, it doesn't feel like work. That's Retold for us!
The conception of Retold Recycling happened as a result of decluttering your own closet and mulling the idea over dinner. Can you break down the moment the lightswitch went off and you thought, ‘I can solve this issue myself?’”
Well, I didn't necessarily think I could solve it myself, but I certainly wanted to find a solution and I was obsessively focused on making it my future career and purpose!
Basically, I was renovating my closets in my small Brooklyn apartment and was frustrated to find no solution to easily declutter unwanted clothes, particularly without adding to the global landfill issues or contributing to carbon emissions. I was Ubering unwanted clothes to Goodwill only to find them not accepting donations that day or trying to work out what to do with old undies/ solo socks because I realized throwing them away was bad. Noelle and I crystallized the idea over dinner one evening and I went home and documented it in an email and that idea is basically our business plan today! Not long after, we met up with Alan and he volunteered to join us in the business! (Lucky for us, because he is the numbers guy/a customer data guru).
Since its launch in 2020, Retold Recycling has recycled and diverted 81 tons of waste from landfill. How so?
Via our convenient mail-in bag service! Customers can simply order our bags from retoldrecycling.com and declutter their homes of unwanted clothes and other household textiles like sheets, towels, stuffed toys, etc. Each bag comes with a pre-paid label attached so once you have filled it up you can easily drop it to a USPS/ your mail room/ leave out for your mail person. Then our recycling partners do the rest: sorting the items in each bag and giving everything a second life. We like to say we are “Telling a new story with your old textiles!”
Items in a Retold Recycling bag are sent to thrift stores, charity stores, recycling companies or places that take scraps to be reused as insulation, car seat inners, etc. What thrift and charity stores and recycling companies do you partner with?
We now have a web of recycling partners across the country who either sort the items in the bags and then divert the contents to other partners or just directly breakdown the textiles into a pulp and, yes, this is then purchased by other companies to make the inside of punching bags, car seats inners, insulation, etc.! The companies we work with prefer to be behind the scenes, but they are often decades-old firms who are excited to be partnering with a digital business like Retold to disrupt the category!
How do you decide if an item in a Retold bag is good to be sent to a thrift store or if it’s time to be recycled?
Our partners do this via their sorting process, but basically, if something can be resold, it generally is via thrift stores. That's 50% of our bag contents on average. The rest of the items are then sorted to the pulp producers (downcyclers) or rag companies to be repurposed, which is most commonly for hospitality or medical needs.
Is there anything you don’t take?
If it's a household textile, not really! We struggle with any very industrial fabrics (high visibility/fire retardant items) or items that are covered in thick paints/oils.
Retold Recycling successfully made a deal on Shark Tank earlier this year with Mark Cuban. What difference has that made to your business so far?
A HUGE DIFFERENCE! Both the exposure from our episode of Shark Tank airing and working with Mark and getting our funding have propelled Retold into another stratosphere. Mark has been very supportive and communicative, but even just being associated with him has opened many doors and given our mission of #nolandfill such legitimacy. We have so many companies and brands coming to partner with us too (many are based here in L.A., which is exciting!)
You have plans to develop new recycling solutions and expand into retail partners. Can you tell us more about that?
With Mark's funding, we were able to kick off these major projects soon after our deal closed! We should hopefully have our first pack of bags for sale in retail stores by the end of this year. We are also working on two new bag products and international expansion (although this is a longer play). We are VERY excited to get Retold bags into the hands of many more customers and to become synonymous with textile recycling. We want to be a verb, a.k.a. “to Retold” is to send your clothes for recycling!
A lot of people feel jaded about recycling and if it actually makes a difference. Why is it worth taking the time to put my worn-out socks and unwanted clothes in a Retold Bag instead of just throwing it away or giving it to a nearby thrift store?
It makes a huge difference! Not just you actually doing the act of recycling yourself, but also telling your friends and family so they begin to practice more sustainable habits too. That's why we focus so much on education! Unfortunately, 85% of all textiles are thrown away in the U.S. and roughly 13 million tons are either dumped into landfill or burned. The average American has been estimated to throw away over 80 pounds of clothes every year. So landfills are just growing. Then you factor in the impact on the earth producing fabrics, with added chemicals and omissions + transporting it all around etc. Please please know that any action in the right direction makes a difference!
Do you have any insider tips on how I can be more sustainable in my day-to-day life in terms of clothes/shopping?
Just start small and start today! Even if it's just dropping solo socks that have lost their partner in a Retold bag that sits ready next to your washing machine, starting a recycling practice can be very easy. Making it a habit will become second nature and you will never throw out old textiles again! Because you will have a raised consciousness over what you are throwing away versus recycling, we find it means people become more aware overall about their impact to landfills.
Photography by: Courtesy of Retold Recycling