[Startup Interview] Penny Whitelaw, CEO, Scircula, The Netherlands
Penny Whitelaw tells all about her startup Scircula.
Please explain, what is Scircula?
Scirula is a purpose-led technology and big data startup that exists to make fashion circular. Through a data-driven approach, we help fashion brands eliminate fit-related returns to build the most profitable, sustainable business.
Who are the founders of Scircula?
Penny Whitelaw, CEO, Antoine Andrieu, CTO and Nicola Byrne, Director.
Why did you start Scircula?
Scircula, like many start-ups, was born out of a need to solve a personal problem. I was working in the Performance Improvement Industry, where my job was to design and sell behavioural change solutions that increase profits. I travelled extensively so needed convenient ways to get things done efficiently and began to buy my clothes online.
Despite reading all the information the ecommerce stores provided, my clothes would arrive either too large or too small and I’d have to spend time I didn’t have and more money to return them to get the right size. This was an ongoing problem which I experienced on every site I bought from, forcing me to order multiple sizes for one item, returning those that did not fit.
Given the line of work I was in, I put myself in the ecommerce stores shoes and thought about how my behaviour was impacting their business. I was curious to know if other online shoppers were doing the same and what that meant when aggregated across millions of users.
I started by interviewing friends who regularly shop online and validated that they too shared the same problem. A quick online search confirmed that 40 percent of apparel sold online is returned, the number one reason being incorrect fit, translating to a 144 billion dollar problem.
This just blew my mind. It made no commercial sense to me at all. What really got to me was the impact this problem was having on the environment. You see the fashion industry produces around 150 billion garments a year, 30 percent are never sold, while 84 percent ends up in landfill. With the global population forecast to reach 8.5 billion by 2030 and consumption set to increase 65 percent the current system is simply not sustainable.
As a natural problem solver I wanted to really understand why this was happening and importantly, why someone had not yet found a solution. I met with fashion brands, designers, product and merchandise teams, garment technicians, pattern makers, garment manufacturers, returns management teams, financial controllers at brands and of course, the people responsible for ecommerce within the brands business.
The purpose of this exercise was to get deep insights into the entire process of how a garment is made and how it is distributed, the focus being on where things were going wrong with fit. Understanding this process helped me identify the gaps within the value chain, from eCommerce through to Design, Product Development, Demand Forecasting and Production. It also highlighted the opportunities to develop a solution that would solve the fit problem in a more holistic way, enabling fashion brands to build the most profitable, sustainable business.
How and where is Scircula located?
Scircula is incorporated as a B.V in the Netherlands. We’re located in Amsterdam.
How is Scircula financed?
I have invested over 70,000 dollar of my own money to build and test our MVP to get Proof of Concept. In 2019 we won a place in Collider Accelerator here in Amsterdam part of which included 50,000 euros in smart money. We currently generate 1,000 euros MRR.
What makes Scircula unique in the industry?
Everything about Scircula and the way we solve the fit problem is unique, which stems from our vision and purpose: to make fashion circular. Unlike other fit solutions in market who focus on reducing garment returns at eCommerce, our solution is intentionally designed and engineered to eliminate fit-related issues across the entire value chain. By collecting consumer size, fit and buying behaviour data at SKU level as well as deep insights on every single garment, we’re able to optimise fit, radically reducing waste; time, money, natural resources and CO2. These deep insights give brands the intelligence they need to solve fit-related issues in eCommerce, Design, Product Development, Demand Forecast and Production to build the most profitable and sustainable business. We are all about SDG12 (sustainable development goal): responsible production and consumption.
What do customers expect from Scircula?
End-users expect accurate size and fit recommendations which are both trustworthy and relatable. Brands expect data-driven insights that solve their fit problems which enable them to increase profits but also future-proof their business in the most sustainable way.
What does Scircula need to grow?
Right now we need 200k to invest in our people and technology so that we can get the credibility we need in the local market which will enable us to scale quickly. We also need collaboration both from fashion brands and fashion industry bodies/associations that are looking to support innovation in circularity/sustainability and of course the media to help get our story out there to attract people who can help us make fashion circular.
What are the (international) ambitions of Scircula?
Our immediate focus is on growing our client base in the Netherlands, UK and Germany. From there we will expand into France, Italy and Spain. This will give us the credibility we need to tackle new markets, specifically the USA. We believe that by 2025 we will be well established in all these leading markets and founders of a billion dollar data intelligence business.
What are the plans for 2020?
Our plans for 2020 are to further develop our technology and data solutions launching the best in market fit-solution within the next few months, onboard 5 paying customers in our beachhead market here in the Netherlands to get from 1k MRR to 15k MRR, forge strategic partnerships with fashion industry heavyweights like Fashion for Good, C+A Foundation and Circle Economy and establish ourselves here in Amsterdam as the leaders in sustainable fashion technology that is solving fit in a way that positively impacts people, profit and the planet!
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