Posted: Wed 23rd Nov 2022
At Enterprise Nation, we love to recognise small businesses across the UK that are making a conscious effort to be sustainable. We launched this year's Sustainable Small Business Awards to champion the achievements of our nation's small businesses.
The awards form part of our Plan it with Purpose initiative. This aims to shine a spotlight on businesses that focus on sustainability, and indeed the five winners have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to sustainability and making a meaningful contribution to communities and social change.
The Sustainable Next Generation Business award recognises young entrepreneurs, aged 18 to 24, who have shown progress in delivering on a commitment to net zero and helping other people do so too. The winner for 2022 is Roxanne Travers, founder of Fashion for Future (FFF).
How the idea formed
Roxanne Travers never planned to launch a clothing business. It all began in 2019, when she climbed into an industrial bin to try and retrieve a plant that someone on her university campus had disposed of.
She soon discovered that students were throwing clothes in the bin because nearby donation points were always full. As a result, she decided to start rescuing the loot.
Those coincidental discoveries were the first steps that led Roxanne to launch Fashion for Future (FFF), a clothing exchange hub based in Dalston, London. FFF takes in unwanted clothes and gives the people donating tokens to shop for new items.
FFF also hosts affordable workshops that educate participants on how to mend and rework clothes. It gives local designers a platform to help grow their business, and partners with charities to provide tokens to people who really need them, allowing them the benefit of choice and anonymity.
"Charity shops aren't always an option and many people can't afford expensive, eco-friendly alternatives, so I knew something had to change.
"Imagine, when you finish wearing a garment, that you could enter a shop and swap it with another one for free. This is what we do."
The path to launch
When Roxanne realised she had a viable business model that helped people shop sustainably, she spent hundreds of hours making FFF a reality.
She hosted clothing exchange events and even partnered with a charity to provide tokens that homeless people could use to exchange for clothes. By January 2022, she had so many donated clothing items that she could no longer store them all at home.
Roxanne found an affordable rental unit where she and the initial 10 committed members could set up shop and open for business. Two-thirds of customers opt to swap clothes, while the remaining third pay for the second-hand goods. Within three months of operation, Roxanne had made enough money to pay for a year's business rent.
"Since we opened our concept store in April 2022, trading proved to exceed our wildest expectations. We've not only covered rent but, through grants, have generated enough interest to open 10 more shops.
"We've been able to offer three part-time positions, and have even more meaningful work opportunities in the next year and a half."
A shift in shopping habits
The public mindset towards fast fashion, sustainability and consumerism as a whole has caused a shift in customer shopping habits. An IBM Institute for Business Value survey of 16,000 global consumers found that more than half (51%) believed environmental sustainability was more important to them than it was in the previous 12 months.
FFF aims to serve that broad demographic of customers, from the eco-conscious to people in need. There's a clear appetite for it too: the hub sold, swapped or gave away over 1,700 items in its first month of operation. It exceeded targets and achieved a customer conversion rate 25% higher than the industry standard.
This positive public reaction hasn't gone unnoticed. Indeed, many local authorities are reaching out to support the initiative. Roxanne explains:
"Councils are offering us long-term low-rent spaces. We've made a fully-costed growth plan and are rapidly scaling to meet their interest, and are working on building a team of experts to help advise our expansion. Soon, community-led swap shops will be opening across the UK."
As a charitable community benefit society (CCBS), FFF must reinvest all of the money it into the benefit of the wider community. Roxanne says:
"We mentor and connect small business owners with sustainable manufacturers and UK-based supply chains, in an effort to help future-proof their business by pivoting towards sustainability. We also aim to remove the barriers from marginalised groups' participation in the creative industries."
Roxanne's unique approach to sustainable shopping and community support led her to win the Sustainable Next Generation Business category at this year's Sustainable Small Business Awards.
The category recognises young entrepreneurs aged 18 to 24 who have shown progress in delivering on a commitment to net zero and helping other people do so too.
So what's Roxanne's advice for other people who want to follow in her footsteps?
"If you're just starting out, don't be discouraged if no-one knows what you're talking about. One day you'll figure out how to describe what's in your mind.
"My generation and the generations beneath me are factoring societal costs into their purchasing decisions. We're seeing business from a completely different perspective – if no-one knows what you're talking about, you're probably doing something right. We need that kind of thinking to reshape a broken industry."
Plan it with Purpose
A programme designed to help owners of small and medium-sized businesses develop a better understanding of environmental and social issues in the UK. Visit the Plan it with Purpose hub