Wherever you stand on the idea that having a child is an act of environmental vandalism, it’s a given that babies grow, their clothes do not. They outgrow seven clothing sizes in their first two years, in what feels like a constant cycle of buying and wondering what to do with all the garments that are slowly taking over any storage space you have left.
Bundlee, a CBI Sharing Economy member, has come up with a solution: a monthly subscription model that allows you to rent your baby a capsule wardrobe of fifteen items, and swap it for the next size when you need to.
The company is the brainchild of Eve Kekeh, who lived in a house with much younger siblings, so experienced the problem first-hand. A year in LA using US rental app Rent the Runway and a few months working for a dating app was all she needed to take the plunge.
“I’ve always had tonnes of business ideas, but none of them stuck until I had the idea for Bundlee,” she explains. “I firmly believe that any company setting up in this day and age should be a force for good in the world. One of the major issues we face is around the environment and this just made sense. It makes it easier for consumers to change their ways.”
Sustainability can build a business
“Rental is inherently more sustainable,” says Eve. The lifetime of the clothes rented by Bundlee customers is typically extended by up to 400% (an extra 12 months). And according to research Bundlee conducted with Green Story, each bundle rented reduces CO2e emissions by 86% and saves 96% of the water compared to buying 15 new products.
Eve successfully applied for an Innovate UK grant to help gather just this kind of data – on garment durability and rental lifecycles – with a mind to persuading baby clothes companies to rent through the platform to improve the lifespan of their products. Ultimately she wants to make a positive environmental impact on the industry by getting firms to make garments that last longer, so they can be shared, handed on, and reused – or rented.
And although Bundlee’s subscription model now includes an option for parents to rent eco-conscious brands such as Patagonia and Mori, Eve initially ensured the clothing on offer got the most use by creating her own range. Best described as “comfy, Scandi-cool”, the collection has been designed to have the broadest appeal, the ability to mix and match and, most importantly, to be played in.
Sustainability has featured heavily in other business decisions too, including the reusable packaging she sourced (with difficulty) and the fulfilment centre she’s contracted to clean and sanitise the clothes between families. “They have loads of sustainability initiatives, such as reusing heat and water,” she explains. “We don’t send anything to landfill either. When the clothes reach the end of their rental cycle, we’ll either donate them or recycle.”
Sustainability attracts investors
The business is not only drawing in other baby brands now, alongside a growing number of subscribers (up 350% since the start of 2020). It’s also attracting investors. Precisely because of its sustainability credentials. Bundlee qualified for an EU accelerator scheme, Climate-KIC, and this year undertook its first round of angel funding.
“Getting people interested has been relatively easy, compared to stories I’ve heard from other founders,” Eve explains. “Investors are wanting to add more sustainable businesses to their portfolios.”
Even so, Eve is acutely aware that the current regulatory environment does not support rental or sharing businesses as much as it could: investors in businesses that lease assets do not qualify for tax relief.
“The future is there for the taking for businesses like mine,” she says. Consumers are becoming much more conscious about what they buy, in terms of both quality and lifespan. Although the pandemic dampened word of mouth marketing for her business because baby groups didn’t meet, she believes it has accelerated the trends that will help Bundlee fly.
She also thinks the government is saying all the right things about the sharing economy’s potential and the role it can play on the road to net zero. “I think it just needs to put policies where its mouth is,” she says.