For this month’s newsletter, we sat down with Annika Schewitz, Founder and CEO of ReStyle. Instead of continuously refreshing your wardrobe by buying new clothes, ReStyle introduces a whole new alternative: renting your new look. You can choose between a one-time rent and a monthly membership. ReStyle offers a wide collection of unique, sustainable brands for you to choose from.
Q: Could you introduce yourself?
A: Sure. Well, I’m Annika and I am from Germany originally, but I came to Groningen one and a half years ago for my Erasmus. I did a minor at Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Brand Design and Psychology. We had an assignment to do where we would build a personal brand product, and that’s how I started thinking about own ideas of mine. When that assignment ended, I found out about VentureLab more or less at the same time through a friend. That’s how I decided to join the program. And now I’m studying for my master’s degree in Sustainable Entrepreneurship!
Q: What motivated you into starting your own startup?
A: Well, basically, it was a mix of a few things. On the one hand, I was done with my bachelor’s and was not really looking forward to starting a master’s right away, and also, I didn’t know really what master to do or anything. So, I wanted to have a gap year which I decided then, just before deciding to start my own business. However, at the same time, because I knew also that I would be free after the bachelors for a bit at least, I was kind of exploring the idea of continuing the personal brand product assignment from Hanze a little more. What came up was an idea that was like a style swap between friends. And that was something I was really, like personally interested in. I started a bit of research and found out that the fashion industry, how it is at the moment, is really one of the most polluting ones in the world. I found out about all its downsides. So, I was motivated to find an alternative and asked myself a bit about how I was consuming fashion. And that’s when all pieces of the puzzle came together: Okay, I have time, I have an idea already about fashion, and I want to make it a sustainable thing that I can use for myself. That’s when I started to think of just trying out how it could work.
Q: Can you share some of your successes and failures? What are your main learning points from those moments?
A: Well, I learned a lot in the last year at VentureLab. The most important thing I would say for myself is networking. I think this is important, especially if you want to build a social enterprise; Looking out for people, planet and profits. I think it’s the most important thing, because it is a bit harder to just ‘build’ something like this. If you want a cheap, sustainable solution, you need those network-people to help you out in several cases or give you advice. And I picked up really quickly in the beginning to always have my LinkedIn ready whenever I was talking to people to connect with them instantly. It also helped me out, because I learned to just reach out to them. Knowledge is important to me in that situation. I had so many good experiences and everyone was really open to help me out. So networking is key. I guess it was one of the biggest success factors for me!
Looking at failures, I think focusing is one of the things that I had to learn in the past year. I struggled a bit with focusing on just one thing at a moment instead of multiple things. For instance, a lot of people were giving me advice, and I personally always like to hear advice. I’m quickly drawn to the direction of the advice, just because it sounds so nice when talking to those people. The problem was that I would lose focus on what I was actually working on beforehand. So, I think, what helped me then was to focus. What really helped was making three-year planning, and then going back to say: ‘Okay, if I want to be at a certain place in three years, where do I have to be next year?’ I think that helps. And then maybe keeping a side note of just general inspiration or potential improvements for the future, which you can come back to whenever you’re in a dead end. This really helps me, because otherwise I found myself working on things and then working on the contrary a second later. I got a bit lost. One of the coaches told me to kind of let loose; to set a goal, and to not get distracted all the time.
Q: What was the role of VentureLab North in your business model development?
A: VentureLab North had a huge role for me, because I’m a person that would easily hold back on starting something just because of the risk, and I would just go to the secure side of things; in my bubble. Not in a way that I’m not interested in other things, but I would just not really say, ‘Okay, I’m just going to build this business now’. VentureLab for me was like a secure nest to try out how it could go. It was good, having another person every week that gave a new training or like a coach that would be able to give me advice. I also got introduced to a whole new network, opening a lot of doors for me. If you give it time and if you are motivated, you learn a lot of new things during the training sessions. VentureLab was a great opportunity for me to kickstart my business.
Q: How did you raise capital for your company? What did you learn from it?
A: Actually, I started very low key, following a very lean startup pattern. So, I started with donations for my business that I got from clothing that I would rent out. That was a very low risk-low cost strategy, which just helped me to first check how many people were even interested in the whole topic. I didn’t have a problem to raise capital there. Now, I’m collaborating with partners on a commission basis as well. I try to find strategies where I just go in with low cost, even though maybe it means I’m also not getting the 100% revenue out of it because I share with them again, but I think that’s a very fair and good way to start. It’s like starting things without owning too much, but also without spending too much. Later, I applied for the MIT subsidy after I got introduced by VentureLab. That’s how I raised my capital.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A: I just did the strategy for three years, so I can imagine that it must be two to three times more than I planned out for. I would love to have a sustainable business that would grow not exponentially, but in a sustainable way, and developed slowly but surely in different cities. My main idea is to normalize the idea of renting clothes for example, or another circular way of using fashion. So people would rather be choosing between: ‘Oh, can I rent this? Or can I buy this?’ I would love it if people would think like this. And my big, big goal is obviously to really reduce the whole fast fashion, textile waste. I would love to have a complete shift in the paradigm and in the way people think about fashion. I personally see myself focusing on this topic. I’m not 100% sure yet if this will be with ReStyle, or maybe with ReStyle completely changed, or maybe with a different company, but one way or another: I would definitely want to be part of such social and sustainable change.
Q: Could you say you are mostly motivated by the societal impact your startup might have?
A: At the moment, yes. I’m not doing it because of money/profit reasons, but I want to be doing it for that post-growth reason. It obviously is necessary to have some profit to enable you to spread the message. But for me, personally, it’s very important that you don’t do business just to gain profit from it, but that your goal also has different layers.
Q: Do you have any advice for people who might think about starting their own business?
A: Um, well, I think I would advise to really look out for that Lean Startup way; to really start with the easiest way of doing things. You can imagine what your goal is or what your business should look like, and then go through every single piece of it and reduce it to the easiest, leanest way of doing things. I started with a Google Photos link with pictures of my own clothes, taken with the phone in my room. That was basically the easy way of shooting content for the website. I started looking into a program like VentureLab to really help me to kickstart. You should be aware that some accelerator programs are not linked to the university, and are, for example, focusing a lot on ‘Venture Capitalist’ exponential growth. There’s a lot more to business, and you can also go for post-growth or social enterprises, not only for the classical way. So, this is where I would say, at least be aware of it. Educate yourself in all directions! And think what you want to do as a business!
Find out more about ReStyle here!
Find out more about VentureLab here!
Interview with VentureLab North (22.10.2022):