Black Friday. A difficult day for us. Do we participate or do we shy away from joining the
commercial show? It is a day where we experience most evidently what it means to be a
social enterprise – stuck between our social and commercial mission. How do you straddle
both objectives effectively over time? It’s a balancing act. But this year we have little choice.
We must lean into the commercial show to survive. And it exposes our weaknesses and
imperfections. But in so doing, we want to share with you what’s going on behind Vinokilo’s
closed doors, the discussions we have, the thoughts that keep us up at night.
As an event-based business, COVID-19 has hit us hard. Harder than we could imagine back
in 2020. And it continues to hit. Protecting our incredibly diverse employee base? Important.
Making sure everyone is paid on time and that visa requirements are fulfilled so they don’t
get deported? Important. Keeping Vinokilo afloat financially to ensure the above? Vital.
And then there is the environment and climate change. The immense increase of
consumerism. Do we want to do everything possible to protect the environment and
contribute to alleviating climate change? Of course. Vital, too.
You see our dilemma?
The Textile Waste Created Each Year is Horrendous and People Buy More Than Ever
The environmental price of newly produced clothes is the reason why Vinokilo exists. Our
founder, Robin Balser, made it his purpose back in 2016 to reduce that price and over the
past five years managed to attract hundreds of people from all over the world to join in on his
cause. It is not new that the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon
emissions as well as numerous human rights violations in the places where the worlds
clothing supplies are produced. We also know that humanity creates over 92 million tons of
textile waste each year, and that this waste will increase to 130 million tons by 2030. Each
year, ½ million tons of plastic microfibers are dumped into the ocean. And we could keep
going. By telling you that it will only get worse. As the world population is exploding and the
demand for cheap clothes is on the rise (consumers today buy 60% more clothing than they
did 15 years ago!), fashion companies are keen to produce more.
And we will create more waste. More greenhouse gases, more pollution.
We as a global community thus have a problem. But why should you care?
Why Textile Waste is Your Problem Too
The issues described above sound like abstract problems, but they impact us all. The
amount of resources we use in the production of new clothing, most prominently water, oil
energy, and CO2 emissions, are a significant contributor to our climate crisis.
Granted, the negative effects of overconsumption are experienced in particular by countries
in the developing world, most prominently on the African continent. It is them who have to
host Western production facilities, face water pollution, and need to figure out what to do with
the textile waste dumped back onto them when we decide not to wear our clothes anymore.
This can have a devastating impact on local economies. Local producers can’t compete
anymore and lose their livelihoods as marketplaces are flooded with discarded clothes.
It’s a sad truth that the current state of the fashion industry has a terrible impact both on the
environment and on social justice around the world. We currently live at the expense of
future generations as well as people in other parts of the world who have to bear almost all of
the immediate negative consequences of our consumerism. We think that this is neither a fair
nor a sustainable way to live. Vinokilo was founded to disrupt the cycles of this system.
With Vinokilo, we want to be part of the solution
For us at Vinokilo, fashion is our passion. We love vintage clothes and want as many people
as possible to have access to them at an affordable price. In so doing, we try to avoid many
of the negative effects mentioned above and we think we have found a way to make a huge
step in that direction. We believe that we don’t need to produce more clothes. We just must
become better at recycling, upcycling, and using what we already have. The more circular
and long-living peoples’ wardrobes become, the less resources we will need globally to
produce new clothes. And that is exactly why we get up every morning.
We offer handpicked vintage and second-hand items that often are of much higher quality
than the cheap new clothing that is produced today. The impact of integrating second hand
into your life can be massive. Buying an item of used vintage clothing instead of a new one
reduces its carbon footprint by over 80% and extending the life of a piece of clothing by just 9
months already reduces carbon and water footprints by up to 30% per item.
We obtain our clothes by collecting waste and turning it into treasures
The question we get asked the most is “How do you get your clothes?”
Put simply, most of our clothes come to us through clothing banks, sorting warehouses,
charities and goodwill stores that have too much in storage. To be precise, we work with 35
recycling warehouses, which in turn have millions of sources themselves.
From these 35 recycling warehouse, 1% of their total clothing inventory goes to our main
supplier who is a good friend of our founder Robin Balser and who sits in the Netherlands.
Robin and he started sorting clothes together in his living room before Vinokilo even was a
company. Since then, we have grown to a stage where he has trained people all over Europe
to go through clothes at sorting warehouses and pick the items that we believe our visitors
would love the most. These clothes are then washed and repaired before they are shipped in
sacks to our warehouse in Mainz Bodenheim in Germany. At our facility, the clothes are then
steamed, mended, and hand-folded before they go to our events or are uploaded onto our e-
commerce store. From past research, we know that 97% of the stock which arrives at our
warehouse is sold, and 3% upcycled, which is something we really cherish and are proud of.
A lot of things have changed in the vintage and second-hand world since we started our
company in 2016. The number of good, quality clothes that we find among recyclers used to
be much higher, but over the last few years it has dropped from about 5% of items to less
than 1%. So, to find the 420 tons of clothes that we brought to our warehouse last year, our
employees had to look through more than 42.000 tons of discarded clothing!
There are two possible explanations for this steep drop in quality items that are probably both
true to some extent. The depressing one is that more and more cheap and low-quality
clothing is being produced by the fast fashion industry. These items get damaged very easily
or are just thrown away quickly because people don’t actually need them, they clog the
warehouses and are completely unusable for a company like ours that values quality and sustainability above all else.
The more encouraging explanation is that we are already starting to see a shift in people’s
mindsets. Many consumers are not throwing away their perfectly good vintage clothes
anymore, they gift them to friends or trade them to other vintage enthusiasts so these clothes
never enter the second hand cycle. This might make our own sourcing process harder, but
we can only celebrate and encourage this trend and hope that many more people will learn
to see the value in their old clothes over the coming years.
Let’s come back to the point: We still screw up
You see, we care about the environment, and sustainability is at the core of our mission and
founding history. And yet, we still screw up. Often. Black Friday is a nice example. It exposes
that we sometimes need to make trade-offs, tough decisions. We cannot always tilt every
decision with the environment in mind only, we also need to survive financially.
We screw up in other areas too. While distributing secondhand clothing certainly avoids lots
of negative impacts that newly produced items create, we still leave a footprint through our
operations and supply chain activities. And we need to get better at tracking that footprint,
offsetting and limiting wherever possible and making decisions accordingly.
How many emissions do our events produce and what about the vans and trucks that we use
to transport our clothes? When will it finally be feasible to switch to electric trucks? How
much energy do we use in our warehouse and office building and how can we become more
energy efficient? How can we become better at reducing our waste and water use?
The honest answer to many of these questions simply is that we don’t know. Yet.
But we are working very hard on getting the answers to all these questions. And the first step
is to be transparent with you. Share with you our current thoughts and struggles. It makes us
vulnerable, but we want to walk this journey with you.
And it that sense, vulnerability really is power.
In that vein, enjoy our beautiful vintage clothes. And consume wisely.