“Sustainability should not be an afterthought”: The Next Closet’s Lieke Pijpers wants the fashion industry to be circular

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“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land,” the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report published early this month carries this key excerpt. António Guterres, the Secretary General of United Nations called the findings a “code red for humanity”. This was followed by an ABC News report that highlighted how the environmental disaster is fuelled by fast fashion.

While the findings are grim as the planet keeps warming faster, there are startups like The Next Closet bringing about a profound change in how we go about business. At the helm of The Next Closet, co-founder Lieke Pijpers calls the startup a green tech company that puts sustainability at the centre of everything it does. She says the textile industry is the second most polluting in the world. With co-founder Thalita van Ogtrop, Lieke and The Next Closet want to turn the fashion industry into a sustainable business.

Today, the company announced that it has raised €3M in growth capital from 4impact, the Borski Fund and existing investors, including PDENH.

Read also: Amsterdam-based The Next Closet raises €3M to transform the linear nature of fashion industry into circular

Partners

Some of the greatest success stories in business have started with partners. Whether you look at Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak at Apple or Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger at Instagram, the partnership is at the root of The Next Closet as well. Even before starting The Next Closet, Lieke and Thalita started two different companies and have been partners for 15 years. Right now, they are building their most impactful startup yet.

This partnership is really the one for the books. Lieke tells the story like she met Thalita just yesterday. In the beginning, they had this sustainable campaign and event agency that had the primary goal of moving companies to more sustainable business practices. This start drove Lieke and Thalita towards circularity. The circular economy (or circularity) is an economic system that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution.

While startup founders and tech leaders like Softbank’s Masayoshi Son are chasing singularity, the state where machines will surpass human intelligence, Lieke seems to be chasing a higher purpose. She explains that their work creating awareness about the necessary shift from a linear economy to circular economy made them realise that there were not many examples. Instead of looking for an example to create awareness, they built one from the ground up, and they called it “The Next Closet”.

Lieke says The Next Closet was created to lead by example. She says they heard about the fashion industry and how it contributes at least 10 per cent of the emissions leading to the climate crisis. Today we are consuming 60 per cent more fashion items compared to 15 years ago, but we are also using them half as long. This linear nature of the fashion industry propelled by fast fashion made Lieke and Thalita decide that they need to disrupt this industry first.

Start with your own closet

Lieke makes it really important when she says most people should start by looking at their own closet. Your closet might have a lot of nice items that you may have worn once or twice but continue to keep it in your closet. This realisation can be described as the lynchpin for The Next Closet, which “combines a commercial business solution with a really purpose and sustainable-driven company.”

A circular move

It is rather rare to find a startup that is making the world a better place and also leading by example. It is possible because of the belief of The Next Closet founders in a circular economy. She says the whole [fashion] industry should move to circular. When I ask the current state of this industry, she is quick to point out that it is in a phase of transition. With a circular economy, the major change will come in the form of thinking to “not continue any new production”.

Lieke Pijpers says that The Next Closet thinks of a system where the clothing items are kept in constant circulation. She adds that there are so many clothing items already in circulation that if we share them then that alone would be enough for all of us. The disruption actually starts when you look at how The Next Closet works. It focuses “explicitly on the high end, qualitative and sustainable segments.” Neither does it believe in reselling fast fashion nor does it subscribe to the idea of continuing to buy more but use less.

The reason, Lieke says, the Next Closet focuses on qualitative items or sustainable brands because they remain valuable. They can also have a second life or third life. During our conversation, Lieke makes one really important point. She argues that reselling on average extends the active lifetime of a clothing piece by 2.2 years. It also reduces the carbon footprint caused by clothing items by a whopping 73 per cent.

RISE and SHINE

The overall mission of The Next Closet is to end the overproduction and continued push to buy more and more from the industry. She says the startup wants to help people make “more sustainable choices, and choose items that are unique, of higher quality and of course, sustainable”. This practice will result in second-hand design or fashion becoming the first choice for a lot of consumers.

To realise that goal, Lieke and Thalita found another partner in the form of Techleap’s Rise program. The Next Closet was founded in 2013 and as part of batch #4 of Rise, Lieke says they found a partner who can help them leapfrog the next phase. By next phase, she is referring to growth and internationalisation. With a keen focus on Benelux, The Next Closet wants to be your primary choice for sustainable fashion.

Apart from fundraising and learning, she says Rise connected her and Thalita to a community of founders who have struggled with similar problems. With a business model that does on stop with borders, The Next Closet wants to be a local hero for adopting sustainable fashion and it is the one that forms the basis of all major business decisions.

Sustainability in purpose

It is not easy to go out there and disrupt an industry. It is even more difficult when you want to do so in a sustainable fashion. Lieke says the purpose is for the company to reach sustainability on an ecological and economic level. While it is difficult, she says “everything you do or decisions you make, you should think about sustainability or keep that in mind making the right decision.”