Liz Funk has always had a passion for secondhand fashion. Ransacking racks of previously owned apparel and accessories has fed her soul and filled her wardrobe.
Exploring thrift and consignment stores, discovering fine fabrics and vintage digs at a fraction of their original cost was like a treasure quest for the clothes-minded Funk. But the Voorheesville native’s affinity for closet castoffs soon collided with her environmental consciousness and evolved into something loftier than a colorful commode.
In 2017, Funk launched And We Evolve (AndWeEvolve.com), a style club and subscription service for secondhand fashion.
“I’ve had a lifelong interest in fashion, but was never interested in fashion design: there are already so much clothes out there that are in beautiful condition and ready for their second act,” says Funk. “That’s what I wanted to build a business around.”
Secondhand fashion is sustainable fashion for eco-conscious nonmillionaires, claims Funk. According to a report by fashion resale destination thredUp, it’s estimated that 56 million women bought secondhand products in 2018, an increase of 12 million new secondhand shoppers from the year prior. The resale market meanwhile grew 21 times faster than apparel retail over the past three years.
On the flip side, “fast fashion,” the mass production of cheaply made garments continues to be a scourge on the environment. While a $4 T-shirt from Forever 21 is a steal for the frugal-minded fashionista, the average U.S. citizen throws away 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles annually, according to the Council for Textile Recycling.
And We Evolve forgoes this fast fashion trap and instead taps into eco-friendly alternatives that already exist. AWE, as it’s also called, is like Stitch Fix and Buffalo Exchange had a baby, says Funk.
“The challenge that I was most interested in is that women everywhere have closets full of clothes and virtually every woman wants to refresh her wardrobe with new clothes,” says Funk, who now lives and works out of Philadelphia.
“I wanted to figure out a way to move clothes from ‘Woman A’ to ‘Woman B,'” she says. “Today, we call this kind of thinking the circular economy. I’m so here for it.”
Originally, the concept started out as an online store for secondhand fashion, says Funk. That involved sourcing and cleaning clothing, taking great photographs and creating unique product listings for each item.
“This wasn’t sustainable; I’m not sure how thredup.com, the leading player in the non-luxury secondhand space, makes a profit,” says Funk who instead shifted to the subscription box service model, personally tailored packages that arrive monthly or seasonally to those who subscribe.
The And We Evolve subscription boxes are six items of clothes, priced at $99 per package, and picked specifically for each customer. Customers complete an in-depth style guide and create a Pinterest page with pins of the kinds of clothes they’d like to receive to serve as inspiration for Funk, who shops for and curates the items that will eventually be dropped on their doorstep.
Home base is a rehabilitated warehouse space in Philly. That’s where clothing is stored and photographed. On Saturdays, Funk and her small team pull selections, style, pack and mail out the boxes of the high-quality secondhand wear to members.
As We Evolve can outfit women of all ages, shapes and sizes, from extra small to plus size styles, with surprise designs from brands like J. Crew, Tory Burch, Anthropologie and others. Delivery can be once a month or quarterly. They do not accept returns. Instead, they ask customers to “share the spare” and regift to a friend any items that don’t work for them.
The startup process hasn’t been easy and the subscription box model has morphed along the way.
“It took a few pivots – a few ‘outfit changes,’ if you will – in the way the subscription box was structured and priced to make it work,” says Funk. “I realize our business model is really unusual, but it’s the best solution I’ve found so far.”
To date, Funk and her crew have shipped to customers in 40 U.S. states. The current subscriber base represents about 30 states and other locales.
“A large chunk of our subscribers are Canadian,” says Funk. “Canada is more ‘woke’ about sustainable fashion.”
Funk believes American consumers can catch up and hopes her company can be part of a cultural overhaul around how we look at clothes.
Earth Day freebies and deals
BurgerFi: The eatery is offering $5 VegeFi Burgers and $5 Beyond Burgers. Free Heinz Tomato seed packets will be given out with any purchase on this day. burgerfi.com.
Complexions Spa, Albany and Saratoga Springs: Take 15 percent off all April specials; in honor of Earth Day, they will be giving away tree saplings at both locations Monday through Friday. To date, Complexions has helped plant over 1,000 trees around the Capital Region. complexions.com.
Imperfect Produce: Get 40 percent off on your first box when you use discount code earthday2019. The code is valid Earth Day through May 5. imperfectproduce.com.
National Park Week: Throughout National Park Week (April 20-28), every national park will give you free admission. On Earth Day, if you want to roll up your sleeves and pitch in with a project, look for a park where you can help out. nps.gov.
Target: Drop off your old car seat for Target to recycle between Monday and May 4 and you’ll receive at 20 percent off coupon toward a new car seat, valid through May 11. target.com.
“I think secondhand clothing is going to be a bigger part of women’s wardrobes and a bigger part of ‘girl culture.'” says Funk. “I’m excited for how Gen Z might adopt secondhand clothes and make wearing really unique secondhand clothes part of the zeitgest.”