Clotho: the success of 2015's Low Carbon Entrepreneur winners

11 September 2015

Friday, 11 September 2015

Vivien Tang is the Co-Founder of Clotho, a sustainable fashion business that won last year's Low Carbon Entrepreneur competition. We caught up with her to find out how she and Co-Founder Caroline came up with the idea and what they've been up to since the competition ended.

This story begins six months ago, when we founded our sustainable fashion business – Clotho London. On our graduation day we twitched with excitement in our seats as our phones buzzed. Each buzz an alert about another customer, another sign that we were on the right track, not as crazy as my mum said we were, and that we couldn’t turn back now.

Or perhaps this story actually begins five years ago when I met my Co-Founder Caroline during our first week at Imperial College. We studied chemistry together, becoming lab partners and best friends. We’re both very different, but we share a tendency to daydream with lots of enthusiasm. After our finals, we caught up one afternoon in the late summer sunshine and plotted ways to save the world, reject perfectly sensible jobs and keep spending all our time together – all at once.

I was wearing one of Caroline’s old dresses that afternoon – she’d given it to me during a holiday when I dramatically refused to go out as I had ‘nothing to wear’. This dress was the seed from which our business grew: we thought that there must be lots of people like Caroline who had clothes they no longer wanted, and many people like me who were just dying to get their hands on these items.

Our solution? A clothing exchange. We collect unwanted clothing from our customers, and give them discounts on prices in our online shop where we sell vintage and second hand clothing. By joining the Clotho exchange, customers can shop in a way that’s sustainable and affordable.

We set ourselves a one month deadline to launch Clotho. Armed with iPads, we hit the streets of London talking to stylish girls and signing them up for the Clotho pilot. It was harder than we imagined, but we stuck at it and managed to get a list of just over 500 people by the end of the week. After calling everyone, we picked a group of 50 who were available in the next few days to take part in our pilot and began collecting their unwanted items.

My bedroom became a photography studio by taping white paper to the floor, and we took it in turns to model the clothes and take photos. As we uploaded all our products to the shop, we held our breath - it was our big moment to see if customers would actually spend money for our service. To our delight, within seconds girls started to buy items. And so we carried on.

We’ve since moved Clotho from my bedroom to a converted railway arch in London Bridge (at Sustainable Bridges, a hub for fellow green entrepreneurs). Our team has multiplied to include several wonderful fashion interns who help us run our growing business. A big highlight for us was winning start up funding from the Mayor of London’s Low Carbon Entrepreneur Award, and meeting Boris Johnson of course! He’s promised to give us some of his old suits - watch this space as we brainstorm creative ways of upcycling them into couture gowns.

One of the best things about running your own business is that if you want to do something, then it’s completely in your power to make it happen. Caroline and I recently saw another idea of ours come to life - we organised a ‘Clothes Hackathon’ for Fashion Revolution Day. Hackathons are usually events where software developers take apart computers, lines of code or data sets, and rebuild them into something better. We changed it a bit and threw some designers and sewing machines into a room with all the broken items donated to Clotho to see if we could create beautiful new pieces. Et voila:

So that’s our story so far. We want to change the way everyone shops forever. Our dream is to save the planet one dress at a time, and we intend to continue having a great time doing it.

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