In a world where the degrowth of the fashion industry is vital, the longevity of your clothes, bags and shoes becomes increasingly important. Emily Rea along with her co-founders of The Restory, Vanessa Jacobs and Thaìs Cipolletta, have created a unique way of having all the repair needs of your most treasured items met under one roof. What’s more, they will pick everything up from your home and bring them back in pristine condition, ready for you to continue to love and enjoy. Here is Emilys story.
D: Where did you grow up Emily?
E: This sounds like the easiest question but is a hard one for me. Both of my parents are British but left the UK when mum was in her late teens and dad early 20s, all they wanted to do was travel. Because of that I grew up abroad and lived and went to school in a few different countries. When I was a teenager I came back to England for secondary school. All my childhood memories are of other cultures and languages, it was incredible. As we moved we learned to live and adapt to each culture, we lived in amazing countries.
My youngest memories are of Egypt and Cairo. After Egypt, we moved to Singapore which was a bit more Americanised. Then, the majority, for which I feel incredibly lucky, was for 9 years in Mauritius, it has the most amazing culture and people. It’s probably why I love to travel so much still.
D: I really love travel too, I believe it really changes your outlook, and think everybody should travel but it's not very good for the environment.
E: My husband and I were having this conversation, it is the one thing I find hard to reduce. Everything else I can look at different ways of reducing but travel, I feel I have gained so much from it and in so many different ways, I would find it hard to live without travel.
D: It looks as though all your early influences set you on the path you are on today.
E: It's made me very open, my parents taught us that if you want something, then you save for it. I’ve found it means you also recognise the value and are more conscious of what you're buying. My parents are very focused on how to care for things that I didn't notice when I was younger. Mum has so many talents, one is that she is amazing at sewing. She could make our clothes, our quilts, if something was damaged she would always repair it. Dad was the person who when anything stopped working such as a coffee machine, would take the whole thing apart, fix it and put it back together again. We kept things for a long time. When I look back on it now, particularly with what I'm doing, I realise the impact this has had on me. I buy for the long term, I've never been someone to buy to throw away, I make things last, which I don't think I was fully aware of until I started with The Restory and realised how much it aligns with my values.
D: You worked for an artist management company for a decade, how was that, do you think it helped with what you do now?
E: I never had a life plan and I decided not to go to university, I wanted to work to figure out what it was that I wanted to do. As fate would have it while waiting for an interview, I met someone who worked in artist management which intrigued me as I had never heard of this as a job. We had a nice chat, and he took a chance on me, gaving me his card saying “if you don't get this job why didn't give me a call” so I did, I was 19 at the time, had just come back from travelling and was ready to start something new. I worked at 19 Entertainment for four years and in the industry for 10.
In Artist management you touch absolutely everything, you are responsible for artists and are essentially working with them to build their brand and career. From what the creative is for the shoots, contract negotiations, commercial partnerships, touring, promotion, everything. It’s gruelling and you sacrifice a lot but it's the most diverse experience. Ten years was exhausting, and I felt ready to take that knowledge and apply it to something new. I wanted to work with a Start-Up with a purpose and was keen to build something in from the ground up.
D: You joined The Restory as a co-founder in 2017. Can you tell us a bit about The Restory and what your aims are?
E: When the opportunity arose to be a co-founder of The Restory it felt like the perfect fit for me. We are a 3 female co-founder team Vanessa Jacobs, Thaìs Cipolletta and myself.
Vanessa is a New Yorker, Thaìs is Brazilian and as you now know I have had a nomadic life so we have a whole world view and we all have our own particular strengths that we bring to the business.
Vanessa is the CEO and came from a management consulting, finance analyst background. She’s focused on the bigger picture, the next few years of growth, strategy, the investors and fundraising.
Thaìs heads up our atelier and is also a designer, for her, it is all about the innovation, the craft and finding new techniques you can work with. She is creative and inventive in her approach to aftercare.
My role is marketing and business development, how we tell our story, engage our clients and enable our partners to offer aftercare. It's been rewarding bringing to life our vision and creative direction. I am across all our growth and partnerships, marketing, creative direction, and content. Every time I walk downstairs into our atelier I see someone doing something amazing and am inspired to tell each part of the story unfolding in front of me. What’s important in sustainability is to inspire people to want to be part of the change. One of our favourites is when we show a video on our Instagram and the client message’s us excitedly saying that’s my piece. Then they share it and tell the story from their perspective what the item means to them and the history of it. It's been inspiring to see that excitement for repair, and that is something that's never happened before.
Historically repair in fashion has been hidden away and not reflective of high quality and we've proven that is no longer true. If you consider purchases like your car or your watch that require maintenance and servicing it is not because they are of poor quality. You are taught, that you maintain them to make them last. Our vision was to bring that, in an inspirational and luxurious way to fashion and that hadn't been done before.
D: Are your teams under one roof or in different locations?
E: The customer experience, quality and trust are crucial particularly in luxury so we manage the full end to end experience for the customer. We have vetted and managed external trade partners as well as an internal atelier. Our atelier provides cleaning and care, restoration, stitching and bespoke shoe repair - solutions that were not readily available in the market. We provide an easy to use service to our customers so they can access trusted aftercare all in one place whether for their shoes, clothes or bags.
D: You touched on the fact that you are restoring and renovating luxury items.
E: We started with shoes, then due to demand launched handbags quickly and this year again through demand we launched our clothing services. We can be limited by the material, for example, PVC leathers do not restore well. With natural products such as animal skins, or mushroom leather, we have solutions to repair, restore and increase longevity. We like to educate our clients on the services, and the process. Before I worked here I didn’t know how many parts to a shoe there were, or that the construction of a bag will impact a repair needed. There is a lot to learn if you're willing and it changes the way you look at aftercare. It's an incredible skill and craft, when I look at what our teams are doing, hand mixing and matching colour, or deconstructing the whole bag to restructure it, restitching through existing holes, cleaning techniques for each material and finish. When you recognise the skill and the craft it makes you value your investment more.
At The Restory we've removed all barriers to access aftercare, no need for a receipt, proof of purchase, warranty, which is all usually a requirement for any post-purchase services through brands and retailers. We've built operations and technology for brands to leverage and enable access to aftercare.
We have various ways we can partner depending on your needs, either licensing our technology to manage your own aftercare fulfilment, a white label solution or official partnerships like we have with Manolo Blahnik and Nicholas Kirkwood.
D: I guess you are enabling the owner to love their possessions and clothing as if new again.
E: Absolutely and alongside that is to shift the view and approach to consumption and the move away from being a throw-away society. As a brand agnostic business, we offer aftercare for any item and empower our customers to invest in the brands they love, knowing aftercare is available. Save up to buy the item you really want and then wear it, don't just save it for a special occasion! We try to educate our clients that little repairs done often are more affordable, quicker and it will make the original piece last longer.
D: It’s like the old saying, ‘a stitch in time saves nine.’ What you do really plays into circularity. From cradle to cradle, keeping things here, that so your loved items will last.
E: Totally, one of our favourite things to say is that ‘we want you to fall in love with your favourite all over again'. We're not offering a quick fix but returning it to you repaired, cleaned and desirable too. We package it beautifully in recycled paper and tie it with a ribbon so when you open it up you have that exciting new feeling again, it brings it all back. I believe repair hasn't had the spotlight it deserves yet. I think it's because it existed before in some form and is not seen as 'new' unlike resell and rental. People tend to underestimate how integral repair is, it underpins the circular economy and directly reduces waste. Rental items require aftercare whether cleaning or repair or they won't be desirable to rent, and you can't resell something without caring for it either or again, no one else will want to own it. So whether you consider ownership, rental or resell, repair underpins the whole opportunity to increase longevity.
D: Repair is a craft. Like your dad’s ability to take apart the coffee machine and fix it.
E: It is and every item is different! Initially, when I was talking to partners and brands there was a concern that repair could cannibalise sales, but that has changed and it is now recognised how crucial aftercare is for sustainability and an added opportunity to engage with clients. However, aftercare at scale is disruptive to production and a different process to creating and selling new products. The customer journey requires reverse logistics which means, collecting items from the customers home - the communication of services, risks and managing expectation. In-house - each order has multiple items and each item has multiple services all completed by different trade partners or departments. All of this has created barriers to scale and we've spent the last 4 years breaking those barriers down. As a team we have the solutions, this is our core business.
Our unique operating expertise and our proprietary technology means we deliver the service with e-commerce simplicity. Aftercare at scale creates the challenge of quality control and our experience has enabled us to build the technology needed for those requirements. Our solutions are available for brands and retailers to leverage for their own needs to power aftercare for the fashion industry for the first time. The service can be delivered through boutiques and retail stores or directly through their website. Brands and retailers can deepen those customer relationships, have that engagement, that touchpoint, we all know how it feels when you want to go back for help and someone provides outstanding customer service, and how frustrating it is when someone says ‘nothing I can do’.
D: Is it true that 80% of your investors started as clients?
E: In the beginning, many of our investors started as clients and since then many investors have become clients. It's all about experiencing it for yourself and receiving your favourite item back repaired and restored. We love the pride our clients have in showing off repairs. It has been a real shift for retailers, brands and businesses to think about outsourcing or partnering for their aftercare and to recognise the demand and engagement it drives. It is about understanding the huge opportunity it is and being able to do it at scale.
D: You have been in business for 4 years, but 2 years of that has been during a pandemic? Did that help you grow?
E: Growth has been strong. Awareness of sustainability means that brands appreciate that customers understand it, demand it and expect it. It puts the onus on the brands and the more it puts the onus on the brands the more the media cover it so that has helped us. I genuinely think that every single person has something in their wardrobe that they would want to fix, the demand is there.
Lockdown was awful especially when it first happened and before they announced furlough. As a start-up you're faced with some very difficult choices, you look at your company and think, ‘how are we going to survive this?’. It's a whole new layer of learning and late into the night, we would be figuring out what to do. In the UK we have been so fortunate with furlough, as a company it helped us, it meant we could furlough and ultimately keep the majority of our team. We spent that time working on operations and engaging our customers through marketing.
D: Of course, during lockdown people took the time to reassess their wardrobes.
E: They were and we've always been passionate about providing education features with tips and tricks which had high engagement in lockdown. How to do a wardrobe detox, how to care for suede, leather, pack, store, remove odour from trainers, there's a lot you can do at home! At the time Harpers featured our wardrobe detox and it was great to see everyone engaging with it. Our client services continued to work and the demand for collections was great even though we were unable to provide services until lockdown lifted.
D: Where can we find The Restory?
E: The business has been international since day one, so you can pretty much find us anywhere. Head to our website www.the-restory.com and book a collection direct from home. Alternatively, you can drop in-store with our retail partners; Harrods, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Manolo Blahnik. Or you can book online through Farfetch and Browns Fashion. Once booked we take care of the rest and following a physical assessment of your items we will provide you with a quote. The quote is broken down by item and services so you can select which services you want to go ahead with and then we get started with the repair.
D: What drives you as a company?
E: Increasing longevity of fashion products and keeping them desirable to ultimately power aftercare for the global fashion industry. When we started, as much as we are focused on repair and the knowledge we are reducing waste, the passion was always about making items last longer. Across the team when you look at who we employ and the conversations we have internally, there is an incredible understanding, passion and knowledge about it. At the same, time pretty much everyone in our atelier came from production companies where they were making products and made the decision that they didn't want to make anymore. They want to repair. The same for client services, they've come from retailers & etailers and they didn't want to do that anymore. We have a shared passion for aftercare whether it's around the craft, the service, being able to make that item last longer and have the customer fall in love with it all over again. Ultimately it's driving longevity.
D: What drives you personally?
E: Deep down my drive is to better myself and grow. I'm very curious and I will question myself, not only question other people. It could be for example, ‘why do we do use kitchen roll for everything, what can we do instead?’ So we found a bamboo alternative that is re-washable. I do this with everything big or small I think that's what drives me. I'm open to change. With sustainability, we are continuously learning and I love that and innovation sits in there, with reducing impact. Those two things, sustainability and innovation make me the most excited. Before The Restory I would not have been able to articulate that. Looking back I realise, yes that's how I ended up here.
D: What's next?
E: It's time for aftercare to be in the spotlight. That doesn't mean only us, it’s the recognition and the understanding of how integral aftercare is to everything we do. A couple of years ago a law in the EU stipulated that the suppliers of White Goods had to keep parts for the products for 10 years so they could repair them. Even though it is a different industry that was a huge celebration because it was a recognition of the importance of repair. We're after world domination! Our ambition is to power aftercare for the global fashion industry. Just a small plan (laughs).