Sarah Garner started Retykle in 2016 to make it easier for busy parents to recycle their gently worn children’s clothes, earn money and make a positive environmental impact by keeping clothes in circulation for longer. Sarah lives in Hong Kong with her husband Luke, and their two children Henry and Olympia. She shares with us about her motherhood journey and how she made the big leap from being a limelight in the luxury fashion industry to being business owner with a passion for sustainability and environmental protection.
Tell us a little about yourself and your childhood.
I grew up in Toronto, Canada, and was the only child of parents who worked together as architects. It was an urban upbringing with lots of exposure to city life culture. We also travelled often as a family sometimes for extended periods which fuelled my sense of curiosity and excitement about the world beyond Canada. This travel bug led me to finish my schooling in Switzerland, pursue a career in fashion that revolved around travel and later move to Hong Kong!
Who or what shaped your character, attitude and approach to life?
My parents and extended family along with my Canadian culture have been the most formative influence. The longer I am outside of my native country, the more I recognise my cultural connectivity.
Do you think your outlook in life has changed the minute you became a mum?
Absolutely. The most immediate change was to go from looking at the world through the lens of my lifetime and then broadening my view to encapsulate the lifespan of my first born and how that change framed everything I would do from that day forward including a new perspective of my career and the environment.
Was your motherhood journey different with your two kids? How so?
Very much so! With Henry, I wasn’t working when I was pregnant after a decade long high-charged corporate career so I poured all of my focus into becoming a mum and ‘training up’ in all realms of that journey. I studied for his arrival as though it was the biggest exam of my life. When Henry was born, I was doing things like charting every feed and sleep cycle and trying to apply data analytics to his sleep patterns to crack the code. Despite my hyper “crazy” focus, he was a chilled out and easy baby. With Olympia, I had just started Retykle (launched two months before her birth) so I worked from the hospital bed, charted none of her feeds or sleep cycles and the time zipped by as I was more occupied with a busy toddler and a new business. She rolled into the family fold without nearly as much attention and I was much more relaxed about everything with her.
One thing you love about being a mum?
So many things but one that just jumped to mind is witnessing experiences (particularly firsts) through their eyes. There is so much innocence, wonder and curiosity in childhood and it’s magical to be able to experience the world again through their eyes.
What advice would you give a mum-to-be?
Everyone’s journey is different but I think it’s important to try to tap into who you are at the core and try to be authentic to yourself as you evolve to embrace this new role of motherhood while not losing sight of who you were and how that will shape who you become in this new chapter. In other words, I don’t think you have to shed your former self, to wear the new self as a mother or to try to adopt a persona of a prescribed mother figure – everyone and how they mother is beautifully unique and there is no one or best way.
I am very passionate about Dads or parenting partners leaning in and believe very strongly in the other half getting as involved as possible within the first few months in order to set the stage for a more equitable parenting journey together. The motherload is heavy and needs to be shared!
And finally, take green actions and steps which feel right for you and your family and which will be easy to maintain without too much stress and then build up from there as you have capacity to take on more.
Share with us the activities that you enjoy doing most with your family.
We love everything about the outdoors – camping, hiking, boating. If it involves nature, that’s where we are happiest.
You’ve worked in the luxury fashion industry for a long time. What inspired you to start your own business and why Retykle?
I had worked in corporate luxury fashion for over ten years and was witness to the unsustainable pace and insatiable appetite across the industry. As a result, I began to feel that my career choice was not fulfilling my sense of purpose. After having my first child, I saw first-hand how quickly kids grow out of their clothes leaving behind closets bursting with smaller sizes, most of the items barely worn.
The seeds for Retykle were sown as I saw a perpetual problem of how to cycle through the piles and piles of outgrown high-quality clothes and keep those items in circulation so other families could put them to use. I wanted to create a resale process that minimized time and effort for busy parents but maximised positive impact on the environment and our surrounding community.
It has taken a lot of teamwork to realise this vision but now, a few years on, we have grown from strength to strength and built an incredible community of Retyklers along the way, so now we are ready to expand across Singapore and beyond.
There are many other platforms to sell or donate second hand kids’ clothes. How does Retykle stand out from the rest?
Prior to Retykle, there were no formal channels in the region for parents to buy or sell preloved children’s clothing. Many parents turned to social media and classified groups to do so. On those channels, parents had to go through the hassle of negotiating prices, risking whether the items of interest were true to the listing (condition/authenticity), and arranging for time consuming meet ups for collection. Retykle was built to eliminate all of the hassle associated with resale to make it easy and rewarding – making life better for both parents and the environment!
We are an online consignment platform meaning that we collect items from your home for free, we quality control, photograph, price, list and find the customer for you and all you do is sit back, relax and earn cash each time one of your items sells. All of this is built through custom technology which provides a seamless and automated experience for sellers and buyers alike. We create a ‘good as new’ experience from start to finish and have spent several years perfecting this experience and have done it over 250,000 times (number of items that have been recirculated with us).
Retykle promotes the idea of buying quality over quantity. Can you share how this belief impacts how you shop for yourself and your kids?
Prior to Retykle, I attended runway shows for a living for many years and spent countless hours in showrooms evaluating trends and curating edits. When you are as immersed as I was in the cycle of fashion, prediction of trends, and planned obsolescence of each season, you can become, as I was, ever more wedded to the mantra of buy less, buy better; and I would add to that, buy classic.
I focus on building a wardrobe of timeless classics which are built to last with the highest quality. I avoid actions that lead to impulsive shopping – to focus on shopping with intent and purpose in my wardrobe.
My kids are clothed only in items found at Retykle and hand-me-downs. There is more than enough in the world to clothe every child many times over. I endeavour to teach them about passing on what they no longer need to new families and for them in return to be welcome recipients of other outgrown items that are still in great condition. Consumerism starts at a young age and I think these lessons will serve them well in the long run.
Were you always passionate about protecting the environment? Or were you just inspired to change for the better?
Growing up in Canada, we were always taught to respect the environment and basic principles of environmental consciousness were a way of life. However, when I moved to Hong Kong in 2007, I was struck with the lack of options to tread lightly and shocked that recycling was absent. I was in a career which perpetuated consumption and flew all over the world doing it so irrespective of my values or the habits I was taught. I was not living them out in my Hong Kong life. In my early adulthood, I also lacked a heightened awareness for the demise of the environment and what was causing it in terms of my or others behaviours.
It wasn’t until I became a mum and was throwing away heaps of baby related waste and cycling through mountains of clothes that I started to become alarmed and very worried about the planet that we were damaging and leaving behind for the next generation. That awakening jolted my shift and journey to be a part of creating my own personal lifestyle changes and to try to help others on that journey started then. I am very much a student of environmental consciousness and hope to make a dent in the problem we have created and influence parents and kids to be conscious consumers.
You’ve conquered Hong Kong and now Singapore with your business. What does the future look like for Retykle?
We began our market scale-up plans with Singapore as our first overseas market launch in October last year. We wanted to demonstrate that our technology, processes and team were built to support replication and scalability. Our Singapore launch could not have gone more smoothly and we are now looking at further international roll outs. Our goal is to create self-sustaining local circular markets across Asia and beyond, maximizing our positive environmental impact and making the Retykle cycle available to all.
What are the challenges of running your own business?
I am extremely passionate about what we are building and the mission I have set out to accomplish. As a result, it’s hard to find the off switch. I enjoy the challenges of wearing many hats but as we grow I love building a team of incredible people who fill in my skill gaps and have deep domain expertise. When setting up, I found the initial challenges of finding the right tech talent to bring the vision to life the biggest hurdle but tackled it by educating myself and just plain perseverance.
How do you find the inspiration and energy to keep going?
I am motivated by big challenges and we have no shortage of those to tackle in the current and future plans of Retykle! My engine is always fuelled by the complexity and opportunity of what we are trying to accomplish.
Most rewarding thing about starting Retykle?
I started with wanting to be on the side of change and solutions to the mounting environmental crisis caused by the fashion industry and to do something that would create a better tomorrow for my kids. They are now old enough to understand what Retykle is about and it fills me to the brim that they are environmentally conscious. They understand the importance of having their wardrobes on rotation; being open to having clothes passed down to them and are more than happy to pass their clothes down to another little tyke. Seeing them grow into individuals who are conscious about how their small acts can affect the environment fills me with hope and pride.
Any tips and advice for mums who are thinking of starting their own business?
I think the first place to start for all entrepreneurs is with passion. Are you driven to start this business from a deep-seated passion ideally rooted in purpose and backed by experience and are you willing to make sacrifices and compromises well beyond the scope of a typical job? If the answer is yes and you believe in yourself wholeheartedly, then start learning and never stop.
I would recommend skilling up in as many areas as possible that are required to start and run a business which will serve you well to ‘do the doing’ in the short term. Then that knowledge base will serve you to hire well over time as you will know the skills required for the roles first hand. There is so much access to information now you can learn virtually anything online. I do this myself by constantly seeking opportunities to upskill by regularly taking courses, participating in accelerators and communities, joining mentorship opportunities to mentor and be mentored, reading and listening to podcasts to skill up.
I also think that knowing your blind spots and areas for development coming into a business is crucial. I am a big believer in finding others who can complement my shortcomings. Moreover, for a successful business, it is imperative to elevate and empower team members to have the opportunity to shine and own their domain expertise to round out the team.
I’m a firm believer that women become much better at managing time and priorities after kids because it’s essential to hone that skill to create the balancing act. This is a strength not a hindrance so use your super power as a mum to build your dream business.