In May, in honor of Small Business Month, Klarna invited small businesses to apply to receive one free year of payment services and $40,000 worth of free media services. One hundred small businesses were selected from the applicant pool, focusing on those most impacted by the pandemic, including minority and female-led businesses. In mid-July, Klarna announced the first group of recipients and is excited to share a bit more about these entrepreneurs and their businesses.
Erin Houston, co-founder and CEO, and Emily Kenney, co-founder and COO, of Wearwell
What inspired you to start your business?
We started wearwell because of the personal experiences we had trying to build our own sustainable wardrobes, and the observations made in our professional lives of how much change was needed in the fashion industry. Several years ago, we had both decided to focus on generating more positive impact in various facets of our lives, from our careers to the ways that we were shopping locally and sustainably for our food. But when it came to our clothing purchases, it was simply too time consuming to do so. This wasn’t because the products that we wanted didn’t exist, but rather because of the endless searching and researching that was required to find something that fit both our style and the positive impact we wanted to make.
In our professional lives, we were taking note of larger trends in the fashion and apparel industry. Prior to wearwell, Erin was heading up the partnerships division of a media company focused on global impact, where she saw that, despite every other industry represented on her client list, fashion and apparel were missing from the discussion. Emily was running operations and impact measurement for NGOs in Cambodia and a number of other locations prior, and during her time in Phnom Penh, she built a network among the emerging sustainable and ethical fashion brands there, learning their unique challenges and barriers for growth.
We started wearwell because we saw an opportunity to make it easier for consumers to shop in ways that are aligned with their values and create a platform that is supportive to the growth of brands that walk the talk.
What are some challenges facing your business as a result of the pandemic?
The pandemic created economic uncertainty that hit small businesses and startups particularly hard. Consumer spending became volatile – high at times and low at others, often depending on the news cycle – and very difficult to predict. That uncertainty meant we needed, like most startups, to preserve resources that could normally go toward fueling growth. Ultimately, the pandemic forced our team to get more creative and do even more with fewer resources.
That pressure for more creativity has had some tremendous outcomes. It prompted us to build marketing partnerships with like-minded brands, reaching new audiences in ways more meaningful than advertising. It also prompted us to re-work some of our sourcing relationships with the 40+ brands that we work with, creating new arrangements that were beneficial for them and reduced our own risk.
Overall, the pandemic response and racial justice movement of the past year and a half have shifted the way that consumers think about their purchasing power. They are more engaged in social justice and their environmental impact than ever before. We were lucky to be poised to fill a need for those consumers and are looking forward to continuing to grow and help more people kick-start their sustainable wardrobes.
How might Klarna’s Small Business Impact Initiative grant help?
Klarna’s Small Business Impact Initiative addresses two critical facets of our growth: more visibility for wearwell through partnering with an ecommerce leader like Klarna and more flexibility for our customers to be able to invest in sustainably made clothing for their wardrobe.
Price accessibility is often a perceived barrier for consumers looking to purchase clothing that’s better for the planet and was made by a brand that pays garment workers a living wage. While wearwell offers clothing with price points that are right on par with the likes of J.Crew, Anthropologie, and Banana Republic, the person who wants to make a change and shop more impactfully is now able to split their purchases into more digestible amounts with wearwell, making it even more of a no-brainer.
How do you learn about who your customers are and what’s important to them? How does that impact how you run your business?
We are constantly learning about our customers through our stylists’ relationships with them, regular feedback surveys, and customer service conversations. At the end of the day, what matters to our customers is what dictates our business. We’ve always made sure to center the business around truly finding a solution to how difficult and time consuming it is to shop consciously for clothing. Running a successful business means always coming back to that core problem you’re seeking to solve, and we look to our customers to identify how we can continue to do this in a fun, engaging, and meaningful way!
What have you recently read or listened to that has been an inspiration for your work?
There are so many great reads on ethical and sustainable fashion. If you’re new to the concept, we recommend starting with The Conscious Closet and Wear No Evil. Both break down the issues, while offering solutions to how you can take easy steps to make a positive impact over time. If you want to go deeper, Wardrobe Crisis is an excellent podcast that dives into different facets, from garment worker safety to materials innovations and more.
What lesson would you go back and teach yourself before starting your business?
Starting a business means that you’ll learn something new every single day. If we had to choose one lesson that we’d go back and teach ourselves, it’d be perspective on how long building a business can take. We’ve had grit and perseverance from day one, but we underestimated the time it can truly take to build something from the ground up, so patience has been a big lesson we’ve had to learn!
To learn more about the Small Business Impact Initiative winners and their signature products, click here.