SISTERS Renee and Emma Chin Lee have taken a leap towards changing the dynamic of women's fashion and shopping in TT, launching an online consignment marketplace centred on sustainability and affordability.
SwishTT.com, a user-friendly e-commerce website for buying and selling new or gently-used women's clothing and accessories, went live earlier this month. Founders Emma, 21, and Renee, 25, say the idea is to move away from "fast fashion" trends and extend the lifespan of clothing.
Shopping on SwishTT is like shopping on any other e-commerce website. The website offers filters according to category, size, colour, price and condition and accepts credit cards at checkout.
While they understand that some shoppers may feel hesitant to buy second-hand clothing, the Chin Lees emphasise that customers are safeguarded with a "Buyer Protection Guarantee'' under which SwishTT ensures a return and refund if the item was incorrectly advertised by the seller.
"There are a handful of awesome consignment boutiques in Trinidad already," Renee told Newsday. "However, we saw the opportunity to create a one-stop platform to make the consignment process as seamless as possible to attract even more buyers and sellers across the island. For example, we’ve had customers in Diego Martin purchase items from sellers in San Fernando, without the customer or seller having to leave their homes."
The business model makes it possible for the website to stock unlimited items, since the sellers keep their items until they are bought.
Selling on SwishTT requires sellers to upload photos of their items, along with descriptions and prices. When an order is placed, the seller is notified and SwishTT’s delivery team collects the item from the seller, packages it and delivers to the customer.
The earnings are credited to the seller's "Swish Wallet," which can be used to make purchases on the website or cashed out.
The environmental aspect of the business model was among the primary reasons for starting SwishTT. Renee referred to a study from Aalto University, which found that the fashion industry accounts for ten per cent of annual global carbon emissions. The same study, she pointed out, found the industry produces 92 million tonnes of waste and consumes 79 trillion litres of water per year.
"We are eager to play our part in slowing down the rate of fast fashion," she said. “SwishTT is convenient for both the buyer and seller and it provides an easy way to contribute towards reducing the (industry's) carbon footprint.”
The sisters came across the concept when they were both studying in the US.
"We used similar platforms to this, for buying and selling clothes, and saw a need for such a platform in Trinidad. People often purchase clothes, in stores and online, and they end up with a lot of stuff they don't use more than once or twice," said Emma.
The sisters find they work well together, complementing each other's strengths. Renee focuses on the logistics and planning, as well as the coding and customisation of the website, while Emma creates most of the content for its digital marketing and social media. They had a developer create the basic functionality of the website, but they now handle the edits and fixes, having full control of its back end.
"We've gotten really encouraging feedback from both sides (buyers and sellers)," Emma said. "We've been told that the selling process is very easy, straightforward and organised. In terms of the buyers, many welcomed the concept and expressed excitement to make more purchases on the website.”
In terms of SwishTT’s next steps, the founders hope to include categories for men, babies and children very soon.