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Here's how to get movie and food delivery credits for sending in your old clothes: 'Useful product for the problem'

Take-back programs are quickly becoming a must-have for any major brand.

Take-back programs are quickly becoming a must-have for any major brand.

Photo Credit: Trashie

What if your garbage person gave you a $30 gift card every time they picked up trash from your house? 

That's the premise behind fast-growing startup Trashie — buy its $20 Take Back Bag, fill it with old stuff, and send it back to be rewarded with $30 of things, such as discounted movie theater tickets or food delivery credits, plus other cool deals — all with the goal of eliminating landfill waste from the fashion industry. 

If that sounds ambitious, it is. But Trashie's recent partnership to sell its bag at Walmart — the biggest retailer in America — shows that the team means business.

Thirty-one billion garments end up in landfills every year, and Trashie CEO Kristy Caylor believes we can tackle that problem "in a positive, uplifting … way where it doesn't feel hard or difficult or depressing."

In an exclusive interview with The Cool Down, Caylor takes us behind the scenes of one of the hottest startups right now and inside Trashie's strategy to make us more mindful about our clothes. 

🛍️ How it works 

Trashie is a recycling and rewards platform that "helps people recycle textiles in an easy, convenient way and rewards them for doing so." 

Trashie's Take Back Bag is brightly colored and about the size of a large pillowcase; customers can fill it up with "any unwanted clothing, accessories, sheets, towels, whatever really fits in the bag," Caylor explains. "We'll take it as long as it doesn't have extreme biohazard or soil or anything extreme that we can't recycle."

Once your bag has been shipped back to Trashie's recycling facility, the team "touch[es] every item," inspecting each piece and sorting it into one of 253 (!!) grades to keep over 90% out of landfills. "That can be anything from kids clothing or winter jackets or cashmere sweaters or hole-y denim, and each of those buckets has an end use," Caylor explained. 

Data is collected by the weight of each item, and each piece is tracked so the team knows "exactly where it goes." 

Caylor explained: "Some things can be reused, some things are downcycled … chopped up and turned into rags. Or it goes through a fiber-to-fiber recycling process where it comes out as a new yarn." Some textiles can even be used for carpet padding and car insulation.

🤑 Rewards for recycling 

The Take Back Bag costs $20, and customers are rewarded with $30 in TrashieCash upon sending it in with used clothes; the credit can be used on sustainable apparel through Trashie's sister site, For Days, or on Trashie's rewards site. What does that look like? How about …

• Discounted movie tickets at AMC and Regal theaters
• Food delivery from DoorDash and Uber Eats
• Clothing and accessories from Allbirds, Pela, and more

Take-back programs are quickly becoming a must-have for any major brand.
Photo Credit: Trashie

Sample rewards from Trashie's website

"The idea is that you can … divert your clothing waste from landfill and get rewarded for it, but [you can] spend it at various merchants, so it's not just [buying] more clothing all the time," Caylor said. Having the choice of where to spend that TrashieCash "is a nice added benefit to doing the right thing."

♻️How it started … how it's going

Caylor says her experience at Gap and Banana Republic gave her a front-row seat to the supply chain issues behind the folded T-shirts you see in stores. "[Around] 120 billion garments are made every single year," she said. "There's so much energy that's put into all of the activities that go into getting a T-shirt to somebody — and we're throwing 85% of that in the trash after one or two uses."

"I was just like, What are we doing?" she added. "It feels crazy to me." 

Caylor knew there had to be an innovative solution: "There must be a way to get these precious materials back into circulation, to find value from them, to preserve that for as long as possible, and then meaningfully mitigate what we need to make new." 

So, she co-founded the For Days sustainable shopping platform in 2018, offering a take-back program specifically for items customers had bought through the marketplace. But she quickly realized that the problem was much bigger than just the For Days store.

"While it's nice to recycle the one T-shirt you purchased from us or the one pair of jeans you purchased from us, most of the time we found that customers just have a pile," Caylor said. "And that's where the Take Back Bag actually emerged — as this very useful product for the problem of stuff."

Caylor wanted to figure out, "how do we really build a marketplace for these rewards that can touch everybody's daily lives and bring that to a larger mass consumer?" From there, the Trashie platform took off.

Caylor calls Trashie "an everybody product. It's very accessible. It's very easy. People can relate to it."

♻️But can clothes really get recycled? 

"When we say recycled, we're focused through the lens of circular economy principles — on making sure it has a next life and how we retain maximum value," Caylor explained. "So, if a garment is a whole garment and it can be worn by somebody, we want it to get to that person. If it's truly reached its end of life, we want to break it down and turn it into something else. 

"The idea that we could take every item of clothing in your closet and put it into some big vat and it just gets magically recycled, that's not exactly how it works."

😬 Is there a downside to 'take back' programs? 

Take-back programs are quickly becoming a must-have for any major brand — from The North Face to Madewell. But could these "recommerce" programs be giving shoppers a license to buy more clothes? 

Consumption has already gone up over the past 20 years, but not as a result of take back programs, Caylor said. In fact, with more fast-fashion outlets producing shorter-lasting garments, these take-back programs "are really essential."

Caylor's strategy is to "make people conscious that they have this stuff," which can be as simple as having people notice what they're putting in a bag. "Consumers become more aware of what they have. It's not really a license to overconsume as much as it is a conversation around sustainability that we can start to have in an easy, non-confronting, meaningful … way," she said. "Hopefully that gets people mindful."

The concept of circularity can "feel quite difficult to understand or not relevant to my life," she said. "If we can bring that closer, and be like, 'No, you can do it,' at least it's starting that dialogue with a consumer [who] often has never really thought about sustainability as something that they relate to or participate in all the time."

"If the consumer's dollar is there, the industry will show up there too," Caylor told us. 

🤝 Partnerships: Mainstream and local 

Trashie's mission is to bring its products to market in an appealing and accessible way, and Caylor said the team's partnership to sell the Trashie bag at Walmart was "an amazing moment" for them. Even better, "the consumer's response to it was overwhelmingly fast and positive." 

Between the Walmart collaboration and a feature on Good Morning America, Caylor told us Trashie's facility is inundated with Take Back Bags. 

"It's a big focus for us to continue those mass-market, large-scale partnerships … really making sure we can continue to reach new consumers and bring people into this kind of behavior," she said.

Trashie is also going local, partnering with community organizations and sports teams to supply Trashie Bags. A recent partnership with Kingston Stockade FC, a semipro soccer club playing at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, encouraged fans to bring items to a game and fill up a bag on the spot. 

"It's this incredible moment where people connect over it," she said. "It's not just something you buy online. You can do this as a community together."

Caylor believes changing "the systems" will change our future — and it involves taking risks, focusing on progress not perfection, and innovating. "The fashion industry has the opportunity to present innovation to the world," she told us.

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