Thriftify, the online charity retailer, is one of a growing number of Irish startups that have sprung up in recent years promoting sustainable habits in the face of climate change.
While green companies have been heralded as part of the solution to the crisis, Thriftify founder Rónán Ó Dálaigh believes the newfound focus on these growing companies spearheading much-needed change has been misguided.
“Science says we are near the end of human civilization and there has been little or no action,” he tells me over a video call from Hackney in east London.
“That’s because we bow to big fossil fuel companies and big agribusinesses,” he says.
“At the moment we are being put there as a solution and are getting the full range.”
Instead, he believes that the pressure and publicity must now be directed at “those who hold the most power and responsibility”.
The work of social enterprises like Thriftify, combined with the actions of these big players, forms his vision for a better future. “That [work] is important and necessary and should happen, but they have to happen at the same time,” he says.
Right now he’s working to get his half of the deal.
Thriftify was originally an idea that Ó Dálaigh pursued for his university graduation project in 2014. The company was then officially launched in 2018.
Ó Dálaigh enjoyed browsing the wares from his local charity shops but was frustrated that “you could order any takeaway or order a taxi at the push of a button”, but there was no digital platform that allowed people to buy clothes directly from charity shops to buy.
Now, four years later, the company works with 98 per cent of Ireland’s charity shops, many of which have large storage locations for donations. There, Thriftify uses its technology to automatically score each clothing donation.
It then lists all items on its own website as well as several online marketplaces like eBay, Facebook, Instagram, and Depop. “The more eyes that are thrown on these products, the better,” he tells me.
Thriftify also handles marketing, customer support, and fulfilling donation orders from charity businesses like SVP and NCBI.
“The way our model works is that we charge a transaction fee for every sale,” he explains. “The highest it could be is about 15 pieces, but mostly it’s a little cheaper for everyone. This then results in a full scope of services.”
We had to be very careful about who we took money from
Thriftify is a venture-backed startup. “We invest everything to grow, every penny we’ve earned so far has been reinvested in the growth of the company,” he says.
Thriftify has received a €1.6 million investment led by the Halo Business Angel Network Impact Syndicate. These included participation from Themvar VC, as well as angel investors including former River Island chief executive Ben Lewis.
From pitching to negotiating, Ó Dálaigh offers insight into the journey of startups in seeking outside funding.
“We spoke to many organizations. Of everyone we spoke to, one percent is participating in this round. There were 300 odd communications and 100 pitches,” he recalls.
For Thriftify, its green credentials also played a role in who the company saw as a suitable organization to present.
“We had to be very careful about who we took money from,” he says, citing financial institutions like JPMorgan, a leading fossil fuel lender, that have previously invested in social enterprises.
With the new inflow of investment, Thriftify will expand its 30-strong team, with employees currently based in Dublin and London, as well as in Moldova and Pakistan.
By the end of the year, Ó Dálaigh expects the team to have grown to 50, with recruitment already underway. He says the focus will now be particularly on the digital marketing and e-commerce departments.
We are in a capitalist crisis, not a public finance crisis
Ó Dálaigh also has his eyes firmly set on the UK market, where he moved to scale the business a year ago.
“It’s a lot bigger than Ireland, there are 15,000 charity shops compared to 500. It’s a different challenge and different expectations,” he reflects.
The platform now aims to have all UK charity traders on board by the end of next year, which will result in a whole host of new partners, donations and improved service.
One type of item that has increasingly been donated to charity shops and Thriftify is clothing items from fast fashion brands — some of the top contributors to climate change. Ó Dálaigh says the rise of Shein and Boohoo items in these outlets is inevitable these days.
“The situation we have at the moment is that fast fashion companies produce up to 50, 60 seasons a year. Shein produces thousands. They’re able to turn inventory in a matter of days,” he explains.
“Charity shops have always been the problem solvers for this industry and while they play a really important role, we have to address the two big challenges, which are overproduction and overconsumption.”
Thriftify’s ethos of investing in something new for you, rather than just new, may also be more enticing for people in the face of ongoing challenges related to the rising cost of living.
“We are in a crisis of capitalism, not a budgetary crisis of the people – the people know how to budget,” says Ó Dálaigh.
While he believes the challenges will be “very beneficial” to the company by helping buyers save money, he thinks it’s time for governments to step in through measures like nationalizing energy companies.
“Responsibility for solving the cost of living crisis cannot lie with small businesses and social enterprises like us,” he concludes.
https://www.independent.ie/business/irish/charity-shops-have-always-been-a-problem-solver-for-the-clothes-industry-says-thriftify-chief-ronan-o-dalaigh-41952051.html Charity shops have always been a problem solver for the apparel industry, says Thriftify CEO Rónán Ó Dálaigh