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When my son was born ten years ago I was shocked by how fast he outgrew his clothes. He outgrew the cute little sweater I bought for $40 before he even had a chance to wear it. Same with the teeny tiny shoes he never wore. Then there's the dark blue shirt he wore once to a wedding, only to be donated a month later. Seeing all the outgrown baby clothes is one of the many reasons I became interested in environmental solutions. I knew I wasn't the only parent frustrated by how expensive (and wasteful) nice baby clothes were. So when I learned you can rent baby clothes through Borobabi.com I had to learn more.
I was introduced to Carolyn Butler, the Founder and CEO of Borobabi, at the Circularity 20 online conference in August. Even though my own kids are too old to use Borobabi's baby clothes rental service, I know a ton of parents will be excited about this one. So I chatted with Carolyn and she helped explain how her clothes rental service works, and why every parent should try it.
Carolyn is a former chemical engineer turned Columbia MBA entrepreneur, and parent to 1-year-old daughter Avellina. Before she started Borobabi she worked more than 15 years creating business strategies, perfecting lean manufacturing solutions, and in supply chain logistics for large chemical companies. All this led Carolyn to venture into zero-waste design and Borobabi's baby clothes rental service was born.
The following is my Q&A with Carolyn. The questions are mine and the answers are hers, edited for space and clarity.
What inspired you to start a baby and children’s clothing rental company?
I saw first-hand in my old line of work that manufacturers and multinational corporations don’t put enough energy or resources into managing the lifecycle of the products they produce. I also saw how loosely the government regulates toxic chemicals in the products we all eat, use, and wear. Linear business structures put out products, and only seek to increase their profit.
When I began my studies at Columbia, I was determined that moving forward, I would only be involved in a new circular economy that addresses the entire life cycle of a product. One day, as I was folding piles of brand new baby clothes – which my infant daughter never wore – inspiration struck. I called my cousin Meris Butler, a fashion designer, and the words couldn't come out fast enough. It was time to evolve.
What’s the financial benefit to parents to rent baby and children’s clothes rather than buying them?
Our monthly rates reduce the cost of regularly priced items by up to 75%. Parents these days spend up to $750 dollars per year on clothing in each of the first five years of their children's lives. Often those outfits are only worn 3-5 times in a few months, if ever even worn at all.
At Borobabi, we break it down and flip the script by showing parents how many times their kids are actually wearing what they're getting, and proving that they only need to pay for what you use. Most families cut high-quality organic clothing from their budget because it costs quite a bit to produce sustainable clothing. But our renting model allows families to have it all – safe, organic, and sustainable clothing – at the same prices they're used to paying or less.
What’s the environmental benefit when parents rent baby and children’s clothes?
We've found many consumers do know at least a little something about environmental impact when buying kids' clothing. Many have heard the phrase “fast fashion,” but don't fully understand its environmental impact. Fast fashion's staple of synthetic materials or synthetic blends are not only bad for infant skin, they're sourced from oil, contribute to microplastic release during usage and accumulate in the environment.
At Borobabi we have strict criteria for partnerships – all our brands manufacture ethically and sustainably, utilizing natural materials and regenerative agricultural practices. We utilize our clothing to its fullest potential through rental, reducing the need to manufacture new clothes. And our end-of-life materials are all recycled locally, back into fibers for new clothing or safely composted – completely diverting landfills. Boro-Parents make a tangible difference, on average saving 5 pounds of CO2 emissions, 26 gallons of water, and a 1/2 pound of cotton for each item they rent per month!
What happens to the clothes that come back that are damaged and you can’t rent or sell?
We love to tell parents “send it back, any condition, we never charge.” At Borobabi we are all parents and understand things happen. We are committed to extending the life of a garment, and our team goes the extra mile to remove stains and repair clothing that's returned to us. We clean to the highest standards using infant safe EWG A rated detergents and state-of-the-art UV-C sterilization technology that kills viruses and bacteria. We have a rigorous inspection process to assess “like-new” quality before allowing the item to be re-rented.
In the event that the item doesn't meet our strict requirements, we disassemble the clothing, sort it based on material composition and send it for recycling through our network of local partnerships. These recyclers break down the clothing and spin it into thread for new garments, thus closing the loop.
The advantage of using natural materials is that, unlike synthetics, they biodegrade quickly in the environment. Our clothing is free from toxins and if we cannot recycle the garment, we can safely compost what remains.
How do you choose the clothing brands you work with?
Our partner brands are serious about sustainability. We've searched the globe for brands that begin with natural fibers, use zero toxic chemicals, and pay people a living wage to spin them into breathable, durable fabrics.
Style is important too — we look for cutting edge design, and today that's a lot less about frills and fuss, and a lot more about wearability, versatility, and softness. Particularly when it comes to children's designs! We look for timeless pieces that can be dressed up or dressed down. They can be worn at the park or to a nice event on the weekends. Kids look good, and feel good, wearing them every day.
Are there plans to expand to rent clothes for older children?
Right now, our focus is ages 0-6 because these are the years our children grow the fastest, and they get the least amount of wears. In Fall 2021, we will introduce the first fully circular American maternity line. Made in the US start to finish – so that will expand our market.
Will we carry older children's clothes? We'd love to – as the business grows – we aim for people to catch on, and the rental market to grow along with us.
Can you explain how parents can rent baby and children’s clothes with Borobabi?
Joining Borobabi is simple. This is how it works:
- Pay per month for the clothes you select and pay only while you use them.
- Our reusable Borobabi bag shows up at your doorstep, with the shipping label for the return already right inside. Zero packaging, zero waste.
- When your pre-loved items come back to us, Borobabi scans them back into our system, your charge is discontinued, and your newly selected items are shipped back out! No gimmicks, no minimum spends, no limit on number of items.
We're also working on an upcoming additional offering, a monthly subscription of curated items, built to fit your taste!
Borobabi is a great example of a circular economy company. Wondering how you feel about the future of the circular economy?
At Borobabi, we're all big supporters of the circular economy. We believe fully circular models are better for people, the planet, and for businesses too! The more transparent companies can be about what they produce, the faster it will catch on. Large established companies have a lot more work to do to retool, but innovative startups are uniquely positioned to bake the details into their plans from the launch. We do see this growing in the USA, and we want to drive it with good business sense.
Start renting baby clothes today
I wish this service had been available when my kids were little. I absolutely wanted to rent baby clothes. If you're ready to start renting children's clothes, use the code below and let me know how it goes.