This Startup Is Selling China’s Landfill Fabric To The US

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Shanghai-based startup the Squirrelz launched its new ‘materials’ platform today, which takes fabric waste from factories – defective and overstocked goods – and sells it online to designers, craft hobbyists, and eco-friendly brands all over the world.

“It’s that insane idea of throwing new stuff into the garbage that we want to bring to an end,” says Ryan J. King, the head of marketing and communications at the Squirrelz. “It’s brand new material – good to go, perfectly fine.”

The company is hoping to act as “the bridge between factories and creatives” by working with factories in China and relieving them of overstocked and defective goods. By selling their products to the Squirrelz, these factories save themselves the hassle and cost of moving their products to a landfill or processing it for recycling. The Squirrelz can then resell the material at a low cost.

“It’s a bit of guanxi but it’s pretty straightfoward,” says Mr. King, using a Chinese word that means “networking” or “connections.” “It’s not a difficult sell. You can guarantee if it’s a factory, they’ll have boxes of things they can’t get rid of.”

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An example of an “inspiration pack.”

Currently, customers can purchase knit and woven fabrics by yard on the Squirrelz’s platform, as well as buttons. Both fabric and buttons – which the platform categorizes under “trimmings” – can be bought wholesale. The platform has also added the new concept of “inspiration packs,”  which are one-time products that are sold in smaller quantities. They include a few samples of fabric and accessories that designers can experiment with. It’s a clever way of reselling fabric that can’t be sold wholesale, such as leftover fabric from pieces that have already been cut to create other products.

“What we compete on is selection, range, and price,” says Mr. King. “Manufacturers of garments in North America [are] not as big as [they are] here. We’ve got a wider range and bigger selection of stuff.”

The materials platform is primarily targeting customers in the U.S, where there is a thriving sustainable fashion industry. Unlike companies like Overstock.com, the Squirrelz focuses on selling raw materials that designers and hobbyists can use and modify to create a more finished product.

Founded in 2013 by Bunny Yan, the Squirrelz began as a brick-and-mortar shop and evolved into an online marketplace for products with an “eco-friendly design and a positive social impact.” Now, that platform includes the wholesaling of eco-friendly material. The startup was part of Chinaccelerator’s 3-month program in 2015 and has raised $500,000 USD in seed funding.

In the future, the Squirrelz plans on adding more types of fabric and accessory material, such as hooks and eyes. The company will also add different kinds of “finished” clothing products, like blank T-shirts, that can be customized by designers.

Image credit: the Squirrelz

Update (2/22/16 19:15): This article has been updated to correct a factual error. The name of the startup is “the Squirrelz” not “Squirrelz.”

Update (2/22/16 19:16): This article has been updated to correct the units of fabric sold.