Mikaela Larsell Ayesa is the 26-year-old who, thanks to a holiday romance, became hooked on circular economy. Today she is one of the co-founders of successful “Hack your closet” – a second-hand-clothes subscription service that aims to challenge the entire clothing industry.
Things are already in full swing when we step into the company's premises at coworking space Volt Kista on a Tuesday morning in June. Mikaela and her 45 employees moved here in 2020 after a search for larger premises. Sewing machines are humming, customer service staff are on call and stylists are walking around with iPads in one hand and garments from the many clothes racks in the other.
“The move to Kista was no coincidence, we were actively looking here. Partly because the area is hot and the climate just right for a start-up, and partly because of the transport-friendly location along the E4. My dad has also had an office here for many years and has always talked positively about the neighborhood. And the room near the loading dock for deliveries and that there is plenty of light is really perfect, says Mikaela and continues to tell how it all started.
Hack your closet was launched in the summer of 2019 with the aim of counteracting two major problems in the clothing industry: the growing number of unsold clothes and the growing number of unused clothes.
“Clothing production accounts for about one tenth of global greenhouse gas emissions. The fastest way to reduce emissions is to use the same garment more times, instead of buying new. Our subscription clothing service means that customers receive a box of clothes, selected by our stylists, every month, which they can borrow for four weeks. The box is sent back with the same delivery driver that brings a new box. In the past 12 months we have sent out 20,000 boxes with 100,000 garments. A circular, shared wardrobe,” says Mikaela, the civil engineer who, together with super entrepreneur Lisa Gautier, hatched the clever idea.
When you listen to Mikaela, it sounds as if she has had circular dreams since childhood but like so many life moments, it happened completely by coincidence.
“It was during a semester as an exchange student in Spain that I met a guy who was totally engrossed in circular economy. I started reading about climate change and how circular thinking could help and became completely hooked. The interest later led to a Master's degree in innovation management and circular economy at KTH.”
170 garments instead of three – with the same emissions
Mikaela and Lisa recently discovered in more detail how emissions change when a customer switches to a subscription.
“A woman in Sweden buys an average of three new garments per month. The three garments cause an average emission of 27 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents. An average Hack your closet user causes emissions of 0.8 kilograms – for corresponding use. In practice, this means that 170 garments that you get sent home from us is equivalent to the emissions from three new garments you buy yourself. The figures come from our own research, but we have had consulting company Miljögiraff review and verify them.”
Several dark closets in Europe
Hack your closet operates in the form of two so-called "dark closets" – one in Kista outside Stockholm and one in French Strasbourg. In practice, these are large warehouses where the clothes are stored, in some cases sewn or repaired, washed, and packed. For climate reasons, the company wants to open several warehouses in strategically selected areas to reach as many customers as possible with smaller transport distances.
“We want to open one new dark closet per year in Europe, with the goal of becoming Europe's largest shared wardrobe. At the moment we are looking at six new markets: England, Denmark, the Netherlands, the Benelux region, Germany and Spain.
Hack your closet currently has 3,000 paying customers and about SEK 10 million in revenue. It has previously raised approximately SEK 25 million in venture capital from, among others, Pale Blue Dot, J12 Ventures and Luminar Ventures. The goal is to have 5,000 customers by the end of 2023.
“I imagine a clothing library in every city, where you can easily step in and rent your clothes on library cards.”
When asked what Mikaela thinks the clothing industry will look like in 10 years, she answers that she hopes for laws that mean companies must produce clothes that can be completely recycled.
“I also hope that consumers have changed their minds and no longer primarily buy new clothes. I imagine a clothing library in every city, where you can easily step in and rent your clothes on library cards. And in hotels, clothes – used of course – are already hanging in the closet that you may have tried in a smart VR service before you arrive. I am convinced that together we can challenge and change the clothing industry.”
How Hack your closet works
The clothing industry is the second most polluting industry in the world. Through a smart subscription business – which rents out used clothes and surplus stock from stores – the startup Hack your closet wants to curb waste. And it's easy to join. Create your profile and get, delivered to your home, a box every month that contains 4–5 garments personally chosen just for you based on your style profile. Then, return the garments and repeat. No fixed contract period.