Quick quiz: is it better to recycle your cardboard boxes or use a stronger packing bag that can be used over and over again until it meets its maker again? Returnity’s bet is the latest, and the company just raised $3.1 million from Brand Foundry Ventures to continue the work the company has done with Estée Lauder, New Balance, Rent the Runway, Walmart and others. – and to further expand its operations.
“And it’s been quite a long journey. We originally started as a reusable shopping bag company that had James Reinhardt (the co-founder and CEO of ThredUp) as a client, buying reusable shopping bags. His challenge for us was whether we could make a reasonable expedition bag. That’s where it all started,” recalls Mike Newman, CEO of Returnity. “We have been on this trip ever since. We had this reusable shopping bag we dreamed up, and we thought it was really cool, but it didn’t quite pan out because we had to learn that the packaging is really about the systems – not the product. If you don’t have a system to support reusable packaging, they end up being press release programs. They don’t adapt; they do not support. A big part of our journey as a company – and I think for the concept of reusability in general – has been that if we don’t build scalable and sustainable options for reuse, we’re never really going to make a dent in the packaging. ”
The company faces a huge challenge – more than 20 billion packages are delivered each year in the United States (100 billion worldwide, a trend to double over the next five years), resulting in a huge amount of wasted materials . Reusable packaging makes sense, especially in industries where there is a natural send-and-return pattern; the fashion rental industry, regular grocery deliveries, and other businesses with regular delivery or pickup models, for example. Now, if you recall, there was a huge reduction in rental activity that happened for a while – people weren’t renting high-end fashion clothes to self-isolate in their living rooms , and Returnity had a rude awakening in 2020.
“We were on the verge of huge growth in 2020. And then 80% of our revenue disappeared overnight, due to the pandemic shutdown. We really had to figure out how to be relevant beyond inherently circular businesses. If we hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” says Newman. “It was a very painful part of our journey, but necessary because it forced us to confront some of these fundamental questions about how we work for brands.”
The company also has a sizable stack of pilot programs and case studies it celebrates, including some with very impactful customers. For Walmart, the company provides reusable bags optimized for home grocery delivery service and handles package cleaning and replenishment. For New Balance, he leads the rollout of reusable shipping packaging for the New Balance Team Sports initiative, creating an efficient and environmentally friendly system for shipping samples to and from partners. This reusable packaging replaces 10,000 shipments of single-use cardboard boxes, and the company claims it reduces emissions by up to 63%. He worked with Aveda to create their return shipper program specifically for Aveda’s one-liter bottles. For Happy Returns, the company is changing the way goods are moved between stores and warehouses with its “Return Bar” network. This means buyers can exchange and return e-commerce items without printing, packaging, or person-to-person contact.
The investment will help Returnity “double overnight”, adding account development bandwidth, improving the back-end, and improving product and marketing in ways the company hasn’t. couldn’t so far. Standardizing its onboarding process means the company is ready to start growing in earnest.
“We hwith three groups of customers. We have a set of customers who have been with us for years, like Happy Returns and Rent the Runway, who use it often and love it. We have a second group, like Walmart or Estée Lauder, where we’re only in pilot programs, and we’re ready for the next wave of growth. And finally, there’s a long list of early-stage brands that we can announce over the next few months that we’re just getting started,” says Newman. “This round will allow us to really grow that pipeline and accelerate the work we’re doing for companies that are looking to reuse as an important part of their future, but haven’t been able to get started yet.”