Sustainability Series: Bianca Rangecroft

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Sustainability Series

Bianca Rangecroft

 



This week, I was lucky enough to secure half an hour to chat with Bianca Rangecroft. Within her busy schedule that revolves around being both an activist for sustainable change, as well as the founder and CEO of the digitised wardrobe application, Whering, Bianca was able to carve out time to help with this project that she deemed both important and insightful.  We wanted to understand her journey as a female entrepreneur, and how her experiences had led to the innovation of her newest venture into technology driven solutions. We began our conversation at the very beginning, and looked back at Bianca’s previous jobs in order to understand how and why she realised there was something she could do to help cure the frankly ‘sad’  fashion landscape we see today.





HS:

Hi Bianca. Lovely to have you with us today to chat all things sustainability. So, I wanted to kick things off by asking about when you first started becoming passionate about sustainable fashion. I wonder whether maybe there is a specific turning point you can remember? Or, whether there were certain influencing factors? Can you explain a little bit about this initial drive to make a change.

 

 

BR:

Yes, definitely. I think my journey to where I am now has been very organic, and came from just an innate desire to learn and do more, that was inspired by the experiences I had in my early jobs. I would say it was first in 2015, when I was working for Barclays, that I was properly kind of ‘awakened’ to the severity of the environmental issues we faced. I was appointed as their first analyst to create a sustainability committee, and we essentially were tasked with weaving ESG measures into the already existent policies and procedures of the bank. In particular, a large focus of this role was on food waste and our methods of disposal, and it quickly became very apparent to me that lots of these people who held high level positions within Barclays, had notreal interest or knowledge around circular practices, and I think this was a real wake up call. So, I then began to start a series of educational campaigns within the bank, organise clothes donation projects, and waste collection and recycling initiatives, and truly started to try getpeople understanding the notion that we HAD TO make a change in the way we were functioning. Off the back of this I then got involved in other exciting sustainability led organizations, and in 2019 became the London President of Unite 2030, a youth-led organization that really works for sustainability at a grass-roots level. Also in 2019, I was selected as a finalist for UNLEASH’s Most Disruptive Technology Award, and ended up winning with my project that aimed to hack the underutilization of clothes in consumers’ wardrobes. And I suppose this is kind of how the whole business idea got started and began to be feel more real.

 



HS:



Wow, I mean as you say, your journey does seem truly ‘organic’. I mean looking at how your progression into different roles just introduced you to new opportunities, and how you were able to kind of excel in these environmental roles within huge co-operations I think is really impressive, and probably testament as to why you are so successful as a CEO and entrepreneur today. But, I suppose not everyone gets these opportunities where they are in a position of power to make change. So, for people who you know don’t interact with these environmental fields and circles in their working life, what would your advice be to the general public as to how they can get involved in this modern fight for sustainable living? For your average consumer who is sitting at home right now reading this article, what are the first steps they can take to become more sustainable, and do you have any advice about real, impactful change they can make here and now?

 

   

B:

I think for starters, when talking about this fight for sustainable change, we have to be really conscious of the financial drawbacks of lots of these ‘sustainable options’ we are offered in life. We have to really understand that there is an immense privilege in being able to make a sustainable choice, because financially, lots of people can’t. Many of the environmentally friendly products we see today, cost 5x the price of the general unbranded alternatives, and so making these sustainable choices really does become an expense. But, I think it is still important that there are lots of other ways to drive change. For example, I think people should really start writing to companies or their MPs, and expressing their concerns about their environmental practices or policies, because this is so easy to do and really pressures these large bodies to start thinking more seriously about how they function. I think most importantly you have to start somewhere where you already have an interest or passion, because activism can evolve from this. For example, unlike me, my partner has no interest in fashion and so in the early days if I were to get him to come to a clothes donation event with me, he wouldn’t be bothered or engaged enough in it to really become inspired. So, I think it is different for everyone, and you have to find your own personal drive to live more sustainably.





HS:



And, what about education? Do you think education serves an important role in this fight? Or are we overestimating it, do we need more real active change?



 

B:



I think to some extent, yes, education will always be vital. But, as I say we can educate people loads about how harmful the products they are buying and using are, but if the sustainable alternative costs 5x the price, you average Joe still isn’t going to buy it. And so I think we need to be innovative in the way we educate, it can’t always be about product swaps, and if it is, people need a real catalyst before they take this seriously. I think often this inspiration can come from local sustainable communities and attending events where you may have really motivational speakers etc., and this is a free thing anybody can do, just dedicating their time to becoming involved in these spaces. Equally, I think we should never doubt the importance of traditional ways of helping with environmental movements. We become so wrapped up in the kind of online platforms and social media involved in encouraging people to live sustainably, but at grassroots level things like volunteering, utilising vegetable patches, and cleaning up our public spaces are really important things also.





HS:

Yes definitely, I think you’ve given some great advice here to people who want to just start living more sustainably, but perhaps haven’t known where to start, or have become slightly intimidated by the prospect of starting their lives completely anew. I mean it’s definitely really important for people to understand that it is a journey and a process, and that small steps is the way to do these things, and you’ve kind of summed that up there with your advice.  And, you touched on kind of how social media has become so closely entwined with lots of these sustainability movements, which is a great thing, but also creates some complications. And I think something that is really interesting that Samata Pattinson, CEO of Red Carpet Green Dress, touched on when she was doing an Instagram Live with Fashion Revolution, is that it is really hard to influence sustainably. And that there is a really contradiction here, because the nature of influencing is encouraging people to consume, and we are trying to stop overconsumption. I mean, what are your thoughts on this as a Young person who, you know, uses social media a lot?



 

B:

I think this is a really interesting point and a really interesting train of discussion. I do completely agree there is a contradiction there, but I think there is also the ability to influence in a different sort of way. I think using social media platforms to promote smaller businesses with smaller product ranges, has a very different effect from say, promoting your Zara haul. Because I think this kind of product promotion encourages people not only to shop from that specific small business, but to actually go out and spend the time looking for, and finding other small and niche shops. However, I also think there is a real need for people to be more authentic and truthful about how difficult it actually is to shop sustainably. I think too often we are inundate with images of perfectionism and this almost glorification of activism, but instead there is a real need for people to be more vulnerable and explain when they slip up, and make mistakes, and perhaps buy from H&M because they couldn’t find an affordable basic anywhere else. At the minute, I think sustainable influencers aren’t really showing this side of the process, and that’s where this community falls short.



HS:



Yes, I think you are really right here and as a young consumer myself I think sometimes social media perpetuates the idea that it can only really be all or nothing, and therefore people are almost intimidated by this idea of shopping sustainably. Whereas I think realistically we need to normalise the idea that you can be sustainable in many ways, but still occasionally shop from these big companies when, you know, there is no viable alternative.  Because, at the moment the corporations are here to stay. And with regards to the H&Ms and Zaras of the world, do you see a future free from fast fashion giants, and if so what do you think is the key to achieve this?

 

B:

I think we are definitely drifting away from fast fashion business models, simply because there is an overwhelming sense of pressure on companies to do so. But I think we need to tackle this question two-fold. For starters, if we look at consumers and people, I think there is definitely more public consciousness in our modern society, and people are closer to their values and want to align the way they live with these values. The problem is there is then this gap between the way we think and the way we act, and lots of people act in tokenism. And so, I think in order to initiate this real change, we need to inspire a real embracement of sustainable values, and to do this we need real people talking about these issues on a real level, and promoting innovative and new ideas for change that are consumer friendly, and somewhat easy and attractive. With regards to the big businesses, I think change for them needs to come from shareholder activism. People need to buy shares not just for financial gain, but to be able to have a real say in the way they are run. I think businesses are starting to adapt due to consumer pressure, but unless they have shareholders to whom they are liable these shifts will be very minor, and not as real and impactful as perhaps their marketing and slogans make out. I think in general we are definitely faced with this gap between people understanding their values but then not actually acting on them, and this is the chasm we need to bridge.





HS:

And with your app, Whering, how are you trying to bridge this gap? You app is targeted at consumers and the public, and how does it try to fill this space you are talking about?

 

B:

Whering is a digitised wardrobe platform, and basically encourages people to realize the full potential of the wardrobe they already have. It is all about using styling and trends to encourage people to reimagine their wardrobe, and make sure people don’t forget about the pieces they already own. At base level, it is essentially a tool that aims to help people with their dressing and knowing what to wear in the mornings, whilst also tackling the issues of overconsumption by encouraging users to make the most out of what they already have. And so, it really acts as an aide and a companion for consumers who understand they need to limit their consumption, they have this innate value, but don’t know how to do so, it helps them with the action.





HS:

And how do you see the app developing and growing? You have already partnered with other brands lik the Sojo app (a clothing repairs service application) and Oxwash (a sustainable shopping service)? Do you think collaboration and creating this multifaceted space is key to the fight against fast fashion? You are almost creating a one-stop shop for all your slow fashion needs, and do you think this is important, this focus almost on how you can make sustainable solutions easy and simple for the consumer?



 

B:



I mean definitely, I think we are trying to develop Whering into an app where everything is at your fingertips, but you are still shopping and styling sustainably. Because, ultimately this is what we are fighting against, these huge fast fashion e-tailers where you can get everything you need from one website. So, the app is no longer just a digitised wardrobe, but you also get a curated selection of second-hand and rental sourced pieces, and we are hoping that consumers come to trust the brand name and believe in the due diligence process we have carried out to curate these recommended products and pieces. We want Whering to almost become a handy friend for all things sustainable fashion. And yes, by collaborating with alterations and fabric care companies we are making the app more user friendly, so that they can access everything they might need on our platform. I think another key aspect of the app, and how I hope it can develop into becoming more and more useful in the fight against fast fashion, is the fact that we are collecting an amazing amount of data into what people wear and what they don’t wear. There has never been proper investigation into wardrobe composition, or what type of products people wear again and again, as opposed to those that are scarcely worn, and on the B2B side this can give amazing insight into how we fight overproduction. Companies will be able to use our data to produce more of the pieces that people are actually wearing, and stop overproducing pieces that rarely make it out from the back of the drawers.



 





HS:



Yes, I think the concept of your app simply as a consumer tool is incredibly innovative and definitely fills this need for people to be almost hand-held as they start their journey towards a more sustainable way of shopping, but I had never quite thought about the importance of data. I presume the problem is companies have the big picture of what sells, but no information about what is worn or how long something is kept. It gets me thinking about all the sparkly and glitzy Christmas and New Year’s Eve attire we see on the shelves in the high-street shops around this time of year. I am sure lots of these products sell, they are often bold and embellished and eye catching, but I wonder how much they are ever actually worn.

 

Well, thank you so much for sharing all your wisdom on this subject and explaining your visions for the future and how we can all adapt. I think it is really valuable to speak to somebody who is kind of looking at all this from a technology and innovation side, and seeing how we can actually create products and tools to solve these problems. Just to finish up, I would love to ask you a bit about our brand. I know you are keen to get our products on-boarded onto the Whering app, and we have just started the conversations to get this underway, as we would love to be part of this community and really do see the potential in the service you have created. So, we wanted to ask the sustainable wardrobe connoisseur herself, what is your favourite Gina Cusachs piece and why?



 

B:

My top pick would have to be the Dune dress! I love the combination of the bright greens and purples printed on linen, and the fit with the draped neck is so elegant and classy. In terms of accessories, I also really like the Caraline linen bucket hat. This is a great piece that can be styled again and again, and the fact that it is reversible is really in keeping with what we have been talking about in terms of utilizing clothing pieces to their full potential.



 

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