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City Weekend

Meet the Hong Kong-based fashionista-turned-children’s clothes recycler

Motherhood inspired her online platform for buying and selling second-hand clothes

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 September, 2017, 1:30pm
UPDATED : Monday, 11 September, 2017, 5:49pm

Second-hand children’s clothes are packed in a studio at a Hong Kong industrial building, where a team of six carefully inspects and photographs each item before reselling them online.

After working over a decade with high-end fashion brands such as Lane Crawford and Shanghai Tang, this is how Sarah Garner had been wanting to help the environment in the face of a fast-changing fashion industry that she described as “an unsustainable engine”.

Last year, the Canadian national, who has been living in Hong Kong for 10 years, launched Retykle, an online platform for buying and selling second-hand children’s clothes.

At Retykle, sellers can schedule a free pickup or drop off unwanted clothes, shoes or accessories at the company’s studio in Wong Chuk Hang. Retykle staff photograph, set retail prices and list items on its website. For each item sold, sellers can earn 50 per cent of the retail price if paid in cash and 55 per cent if in credit.

Garner, a former director of merchandising and product development at Shanghai Tang, said she was inspired to start the company right after she became a mother.

“I had lost a sense of purpose in what I was doing in my corporate roles in luxury fashion and wanted to contribute to a better side of fashion and stand behind something I could be proud of while using my experience to build a great company,” she explained.

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Now a mother of two, Garner, 35, chose to target this niche because of the rapid turnover in children’s clothing. She added that the industry’s production cycle was both costly and hard on the environment.

Retykle only accepts sizes from newborns to eight years old. Clothes and shoes should retain all their original brand and care labels and must be freshly laundered, without stains.

I wanted to create a new model which helped parents do the right thing
Sarah Garner, Retykle

Clothes not up to Retykle’s standard are donated to charity unless sellers want them back.

Garner said of her business plan: “I wanted to create a new model which helped parents do the right thing when it came to their kids’ revolving wardrobes – buy better-made clothing and recycle them – without having to lift a finger.”

Retykle digital marketing manager Armelle Liverton described Garner as strong-minded. “She knows what she does and does not like,” Liverton said.

Garner recalled she felt “fabulous” when working in high-end fashion, but then became more aware of its fast pace, which she said led to her losing a sense of purpose.

She entered the high-end fashion industry in her 20s and spent most of her time travelling to Milan, Paris, London and New York in what she called her “dream job”.

Before moving to Hong Kong, she worked in Canada as a buyer for high-end department store Holt Renfrew. Garner said she was looking for where the action was.

“I wanted to go somewhere that fashion was really exploding, and at the time, China was where everything was happening,” she recalled. “It had the most growth and lots of excitement. So I came to Hong Kong to pursue my career.”

“I was very much on the corporate ladder and had high ambitions,” she continued. “And then everything changed when I had kids. I enjoyed my work, but I wanted to feel purposeful.”

Garner said many designers felt they needed to stay on trend by producing more clothing, resulting in an increasing amount of textile waste.

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“People are trading down to have more, and they are not necessarily thinking about classics in their wardrobe, and brands aren’t putting out many classics either. They are putting out more and more products to be on trend.”

Garner said she understood there was always a need for creativity to put out new products on a regular basis to draw attention. But fast fashion, she believed, had become especially detrimental.

“Buying good quality clothing and then upcycling when you don’t want it is the best course of action to lighten our impact on the environment.”