Why a fashion rental company is genius:
When I first started working from home, I had this assumption that I could wear hoodies, sweat, yoga pants all the time. I wouldn’t have to spend money on clothes or figure out what I would have to wear and life would be good.
I still do dress quite comfy when I work from home and do video calls. I was never really comfortable wearing makeup/fixing my hair/putting jewelry so it’s nice to not have to do it on a regular basis.
However, when the time came for me to dress up because I had to teach a workshop, speak at an event or go to a networking event, I felt I didn’t have anything nice to wear. If there was an event where athletic wear was involved, I could bring a small tote of clothing. No problem.
Business casual events? Not so much.
It felt like I was wearing what little clothing I had over and over again. In addition to not wanting to spend the money/go through the hassle of trying to figure out to wear, it seemed as I had even less patience these days to go a store and try on things that may look good on me.
Enter Megan Ramwa. The CEO and founder of Sonder Toronto a peer to peer fashion rental company whose mission is to help reduce the impact of textile waste. We first connected on Instagram and she was originally featured on the blog here. She posted a photo of herself wearing a gorgeous jumpsuit and said it was available for rent.
I can’t tell you how awesome it was to get an idea of how the outfit would look on someone who had a similar body type as me and then also have outfit suggestions based on answering a simple questionnaire.
In this podcast episode, we chat about how Sonder is evolving to eventually include menswear options and how they’ve partnered with other Toronto local businesses such as a courier service and dry cleaning service to help streamline the process.
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Read the transcript of the podcast episode:
Karen Swyszcz 0:25
Hello and welcome to another episode of The Bacon Bits n Bytes Podcast and today with me I have Megan Ramwa.
Megan Rama is a creative and results-oriented person. Her passion for storytelling and creating something bigger than herself has always been at the forefront of her career. She is currently building Sonder, Toronto, a fashion tech company that encompasses a sustainable solution to the growing amount of textile waste affecting Canadian landfills. Welcome to the show Megan.
Megan Ramwa 0:55
Hey, Karen. Thanks for having me.
Karen Swyszcz 0:57
No problem. How are you doing today?
Megan Ramwa 0:59
I’m doing well, it’s been like a really gorgeous day outside. Finally, we’re getting some sunshine in Toronto.
Karen Swyszcz 1:04
Yes, too bad, we can’t, you know. It would be nice to like to go if we do an in-person recording on like a patio.
Megan Ramwa 1:10
I know. That’s like super ideal.
Karen Swyszcz 1:12
Alright, so let’s get into the story because I always love hearing about the stories of how people started their business. So if you could share with us Sonder’s origin story.
Megan Ramwa 1:22
Yes, so Sonders origin story. Um, so it has definitely evolved over time. But where it actually started from was from my personal experience as a student in school. So while I was completing my last year of my undergrad, I was studying business. And just as a regular student, you’re going to so many networking events, conferences, you’re trying to, like meet the right people, and networking constantly. And I was going to a case competition. And the last day of the competition, there was an award ceremony and for that, you actually needed a more dressier attire. So I said, Okay, where can I get an outfit for this three-hour event that’s higher than my normal budget.
And with that idea, I started looking at rental companies within Toronto, and I couldn’t find anything that was actually at an affordable price for young students and young professionals. And most of the dresses and outfits I found online, we’re more catered toward weddings, or people who have a much higher budget. So I said, this is a little silly, you would think something like this existed. And that’s where the actual like the original idea was born.
Karen Swyszcz 2:33
Yeah. And that’s how I find that usually business gets started is really basically you, you want to create a business because you’re looking to solve a problem and your business ends up being that solution.
Megan Ramwa 2:43
Yeah, exactly. And then it just kind of like grew organically, because I found when I started doing research into this business, and looking at different business models, I found that there was actually a huge sustainability issue where people who weren’t reusing and recycling their clothing properly, were ending up in landfills every year. And in Ontario alone, it’s about like 500,000 tons of textile waste is going into these landfills, it’s kind of like pretty cool to like, try to solve a problem for yourself and others who might be facing this, but also tackling environmental issues at the same time. So that’s where it’s like currently grown and become, and I’m pretty happy with that.
Karen Swyszcz 3:21
Have you found that you’ve changed your business over time to meet the needs of your consumers or other interested parties?
Megan Ramwa 3:27
Yeah, definitely. I think, when I first started, you know, whenever you try to solve a problem born from your own personal experience or problem, you’re solving for yourself, and you’re solving for your friends around you, but that’s not really a sustainable business long term. Because of that, we found, my team, and I found that it first kind of grew from this idea of creating this like women empowerment group connecting the inspirational, the aspirational and looking at that segment of the market.
But now, currently, what we’re hoping to launch this year is including men as a part of our business model. And we found that a lot of businesses who are doing rental outfits are not targeting that market. And we want to talk about diversity, we want to talk about inclusivity. And that’s a huge range. And we should be including men into this market. So we’ve definitely pivoted on to that side. And we’re going to be introducing that hopefully very soon.
Karen Swyszcz 4:20
Oh, that’s really interesting. Yeah. And I’m sure, you know, a lot of guys, obviously, they end up going to networking events and have a lot of business meetings, and I’m sure you know, it would be great. If it was one less thing for them to worry about. Right? They had like easy access to a wide variety of clothing.
Megan Ramwa 4:37
Karen Swyszcz 4:38
Awesome. So I know when we first met, and for those of you don’t know, we actually met on Instagram. And I swear, if you’re not on Instagram, or if you’re not being active on Instagram, you really need to get on it because you meet so many amazing people. So when Megan and I had first connected, she was doing this on the side. And I know recently this year, you had taken that gigantic leap to pursue Sonder full time. So yeah, just curious to know what that experience has been like? And what advice would you give to people who are still kind of hesitant to take that leap?
Megan Ramwa 5:10
Yeah for sure. So it definitely was a scary experience. Not the experience itself was scary. It was a scary thought to actually jump, jump into entrepreneurship full time. And I know, from my experience, prior to this decision, I used to hear a lot of people who quit their jobs. And so they’re doing their business full time, even when their business wasn’t fully functioning as yet. And I thought that was just a super scary thing to do. And I question you know, how are people sustaining themselves? How do they really find that passion and purpose to do this, and I had that thought for a very long time. And I think it becomes a certain point where you know, it’s the right time. And for me, I knew it was the right time when all I could do was think about my business full time, I knew that you know, if I took it by the full reigns, I’d actually like be able to accomplish a lot more than trying to do it at eight, nine o’clock at night when I’m super tired. It’s not like an easy thing to do, either. Because I know a lot of people have very different priorities.
So for me in that sense, like, while I was leading up to this decision, I obviously looked at my finances first. And I said, you know, yeah, is this something that I can do full time and not pay myself that salary that I would expect every two weeks? And would I be able to still live in downtown Toronto? How would I upkeep my life? So that was a scary decision. Because you don’t know when you’ll be able to pay yourself. How will you sustain that lifestyle? And so leading up to the decision, I had to really take a hard look at my financial situation and say, Okay, if I do this full time, I need to save at least six months, two years worth of my salary, so that I could pursue this and still have enough money in the bank to, to not go broke.
And as a young person and not having anybody else to take care of this moment in my life, I knew that now was a time to do that. Because it will be different if I had a family or, you know, I was, you know, living far away, or I had a job that was paying me less money, it would have been very different at that with those situations and those variables. So I definitely had to take a long time to strategically plan it out and say, okay, now’s the right time. And when I did leave, I said, at least now I’m taking this risk. And it’s a story to tell whether it works out or not. It’s a great story that hopefully has a positive impact in the end, whether it’s for me or for somebody else, we can share this experience.
Karen Swyszcz 7:51
So would you say that I’m taking a good hard look at your finances if you’re starting to have those thoughts of taking the leap would be a priority?
Megan Ramwa 8:00
Yes, definitely. It would be 100% the first priority, I suggest looking at because now that so I’m in my second month of doing my business full time. And nobody really talks about you know, that other side of entrepreneurship where it’s it can get lonely, you’re at home, you’re working remotely, there’s no one else around you like an everyday office or working environment. And then for me, I know that I can sustain myself financially for six months to a year. But once you see your financial resources depleting every month, there’s this like small anxiety. And I was starting to have that because I said oh my goodness like I’ve worked so hard, I’ve built up this income and there goes like $800, and there goes another $800. And it’s a little scary.
So definitely like take your finances into consideration as your first priority, I’d say that’s what I would suggest because if you start getting anxious about how you’re going to sustain your everyday life, then that’s going to take away from the energy you put into your business.
Karen Swyszcz 9:06
I think it’s also important to, but maybe some people might not realize when you do make that leap is that again, depending on your finances, you may have to do some drastic lifestyle changes. And I think people may not necessarily be ready for that. But again, you know, like that’s the trade-off, like what are you willing to sacrifice in order to move your business forward?
Megan Ramwa 9:28
Yeah, no, I agree. 100%. Like, I know, not just myself. But a lot of people who do this full time they say they can no longer go out to fancy dinners with their friends, they can’t go to cottage trips. Like for me, even myself, I’m lucky that my parents live close by so I go home on the weekend. I save money on groceries, you know. So my mom asked me last week, like when was the last time you cooked? And I said, like, five weeks ago, I don’t know. I just buy the bare essentials like bread and cereal and milk, right?
Karen Swyszcz 10:01
Yeah, it’s so true.
It’s so funny. Sometimes I feel like I’m living like a student. And yeah, just kind of touching base on the cooking part I To be honest, like, for me, personally, I have never liked cooking. And now that I find, you know, like running my own business and you know, having some other side projects, it actually really gets pushed to the bottom of my to-do list and don’t get me wrong, like I end up actually spending some money on takeout and then like healthy takeout or ready to-go food at the grocery store.
And I do know that it can be a little bit more pricier than cooking your own meal and doing meal prep. But then I also kind of tied into like, what is your time worth to you? Like, do I want to spend a few hours on a Sunday, you know, preparing my meal, when in fact, maybe I can use that Sunday to catch up on work or maybe just take that Sunday to do some downtime?
Megan Ramwa 10:50
Exactly. I had this conversation with someone else too and they said you know, what is the time sucker in your life and I said, cooking. Because when I cook it takes like three to four hours if you’re doing a full meal prep, you know, it takes so much time and then going out buying the groceries coming back. And I mean, I do enjoy it. It’s fun. But I had that thought process too. I said, you know, if I’m spending three to four hours cooking, I could also spend maybe two hours do my business and maybe two hours cooking less food, you know?
Karen Swyszcz 11:17
Yeah, exactly. That’s so funny, I love how we both find cooking to be such a huge time suck.
Megan Ramwa 11:23
It is. Yeah, definitely.
Karen Swyszcz 11:25
So I just want to kind of go, touch base a little bit more on the finances, but more so on the investing side. So I know also, recently you joined an incubator, and I just wanted to know if you could like share your experience with the listeners as to what the process was like, you know, pitching to them. And then also, I guess, you know, being part of that environment.
Megan Ramwa 11:47
Yeah, so we’re not fully in the incubator right now. What we did back in January was that they some of the incubators, at Ryerson specifically, they have an open call to action entrepreneurs every four to six months, depending on their cycle, we had applied to the social ventures on the reason why we decided to go with the social ventures, is because our business has that social impact, where we’re looking at how we can actually reduce and reuse the items in our closet on everyday basis and remove all that extra textile waste that’s going and contributing to the environment in a negative manner. That’s the way we looked at our business when pitching to the social venture zone.
So our experience with that actually how it works is that they asked you to fill out an application online, talking about your business, what’s the social impact? How is it going to be sustainable? And if you’re part of this zone how will you get back to the community? And what do you need, because it is a two-way relationship at the end of the day. And yeah, and so based on that, they kind of discuss it with their committee. And if they think this is a viable business, they will invite you to pitch. And that’s where our team had our first experience pitching to an actual panel to get into an incubator. And it was all really exciting. Because you have to come up with a 10 slide deck, talking about you know, your business model, what’s the social impact how you’re trying to solve it? What’s your product, or service, and what makes you different from any of any other competitors?
And the pitching experience was like pretty good. My business partner and I, we spent an entire Sunday actually just like rehearsing the pitch and like practicing in front of my parents. So like a pretty fun experience. Because like, you know, when you actually try to explain this to your family now they’re like, Oh, so this is what you been like talking about the whole time, you know? Yeah, it’s like a new experience for them. So that was really cool. And so based on that experience, in January, when we pitched we were invited to join their ideation cohort.
So the ideation is actually when they say, Okay, this is a viable business, they haven’t fully launched as yet, but we’re going to help them to do further research into the social impact they’re trying to make. And so that’s where we were in for the last three months. And so that was really, really helpful and vital to the growth of our business and how we market our business.
Now, because we did a lot of research with the social venture zone on know what is actually going on in the environment, how much waste is accumulating in Ontario’s landfills? How much is it accumulating in Canada retirement? I mean, Canada alone, it’s about 12 million tons of textile waste. Yeah, is going into these landfills every single year. And that number is expected to rise in the next couple of years. So we’re looking at, you know, through the social venture zone, what can we do with our idea to actually reduce that number of textile waste every year. So we found that if people are actually reducing, and reusing the amount of clothes in their closet, they can actually reduce their environmental footprint by 44%. And this is research we found through BDC with other companies who are doing something similar to us, internationally, in England and Australia.
So we said, okay, like, let’s definitely like focus our, our business on that, like, what can we do to show people, there are better ways to manage your closet and to put more life back into it, and to share it with people in your community and to like help people who don’t have access to an abundance of clothing, you know, so if we can exchange and facilitate this recycling and reusing model, then we’re doing something good for our community, we’re doing something good for ourselves, and we’re helping the environment overall.
So the social venture zone really helped us to understand that through their workshops, and we were, at the end of the program, we had to do another pitch in front of their coaches and advisors. And this was just a practice pitch. So based on all the information we’ve gathered, how has our business changed, and that was really good, because all the different coaches and advisors comes from various backgrounds of social ventures, and they were able to, you know, give that insight and say, okay, like, you said, this, this way, you can do better. And you’ve also said this, while someone is currently doing this, and how you can incorporate into your businesses that that’s like super great feedback. And I really like that the zones give that sense of community to everyone, because, you know, you can only think in one certain way, but there’s so many people with different ideas, and that diversity of thought is so helpful to improving your business over time.
Karen Swyszcz 16:32
So I just want to touch base a little bit about the sheer amount of textile waste that’s generated in Canada, and you had mentioned that it’s only expected to increase even more over the years, like, do you think like the idea of or the concept of, you know, like, fast fashion has something to do with it, or, or even fashion trends themselves, as you know, they say it comes in cycles or fashion will dictate, oh, this is in season, but now, you know, like this will be in season, so then people end up, you know, accumulating a lot more clothes in their closet than perhaps they really need.
Megan Ramwa 17:07
Yeah, no, definitely the fast-fashion industry is, is the huge contributor to this whole textile waste problem, because people are consuming more and because the way that clothing is made, it’s not sustainable over time. So for example, if you think of a fast-fashion retailer, you can purchase a dress, for instance, for maybe like $14. And you wonder now how can this retailer actually reduce ship, advertise, and all these different things, and then still sell the outfit for $14. And the truth is, they can’t do that. And in reality, like the costs of that outfit is not reflected in the price tag. But it’s reflected in the overall impact we’re making on the world.
So whether it’s a humanitarian issue or an environmental issue, that’s where fast fashion impact really lies. And people like, it’s so easy to be part of these trends and to want to, like, look the best and to be a part of whatever trend is going on that season. But we’re kind of like showing people like fast fashion will not stop, it will still continue because they are multimillion-dollar businesses. They will still produce all these clothing. And they’re very smart, too, because they know what’s happening in the world. So they start to talk about how can we be more conscious in our clothing? And they talk about more sustainability campaigns. And yes, like, to a certain extent, they’re trying to market themselves better. But I know some stores who actually have those recycling boxes for used textiles only, like less than 1%. I think it’s like 0.1% of those items that you think are being recycled is actually being recycled. It’s not. Yeah.
Karen Swyszcz 18:53
That’s interesting. Do you think that maybe people don’t maybe take care of their clothes as well as they should? And they think, Oh, well, I can just get again, like another dress for $14?
Megan Ramwa 19:04
I think so that’s part of the problem. I mean, obviously can’t speak for everyone and how they maintain their clothing. Yeah. But I think that that could be part of the mentality, right? Well, I know if I bought something for $10, I’m not going to give the same level of care to it, as opposed to something I spent $100 on.
Karen Swyszcz 19:23
Mm-hmm. Yeah, for sure. So we know that starting a business is very difficult, and it can be very isolating, and that nobody ever is able to experience success on their own, you obviously need people to help you along the way. So who are some key people who have helped you along your journey so far, and how?
Megan Ramwa 19:42
So definitely, to my surprise, actually, my parents have been a big help and supporter. And it was a surprise, because I know, traditionally, parents of ethnic backgrounds, they, they want you to follow the traditional path where you go to school, you get a really good job, you fall in love, get married, you buy a house, okay, that’s the traditional path for most parents.
And when I was talking about my business, I think, I think, honestly, social media had a big part in this. Because my dad, he joined Facebook, and he started seeing all these videos about entrepreneurs and the story of Amazon. And he realized that if you want success, and you have an idea, you have to at least try it. So me moving downtown was part of that growth for me, because I knew that if I wanted to be a part of this movement, and part of the city’s atmosphere of these entrepreneurs, I had to put myself in that environment. And my parents like at first they were hesitant, but they were super supportive of me trying something of me going forth with an idea and going in, and they always say you know, if you need to borrow the car, if you need to meet somebody, if you need to go somewhere, if you need help, like we were here to support you, and so that I’ve always been really grateful for that. And then it just like in other terms, when I was working full-time. There are a lot of people who I didn’t expect to be supporters, but they came out and willingly offered help. And that’s just been like a game-changer in different areas of our business.
Karen Swyszcz 21:12
Yeah, it’s amazing. Like how helpful people are when you just tell them like I’m doing this and like how involved they want to be right? I never would have guessed. But then yeah, like you said, You’re really grateful. And I think that’s amazing that you know, your parents are very supportive, but it’s definitely important to have support or from the people who are closest to you.
Megan Ramwa 21:31
Karen Swyszcz 21:31
So I know that you have launched an early adopters program, which I actually was part of and really loved. By the way, if you’re looking for a beautiful jumpsuit, check out Sonder’s website, so if you could just go into more detail about the program. And, you know, what’s, what’s it about? That’d be great.
Megan Ramwa 21:52
Yes. So the first, so the early adopters, the one that you were a part of was just kind of like all testing social media testing. So I’m grateful you had been a part of that, because it helped me realize that, you know, just putting these ideas out there, people will see it and will want to be a part of it. So what Karen is referring to, I actually had put out a post of myself in a jumpsuit.
And the theory was that, you know, if I, if somebody post photos of themselves in their outfit, you can get an idea of Okay, this is their body type, this is the outfit, if it looks good on them, and I have the same body type, then maybe it’ll look like that on me. So we’re trying to empower people to say, you don’t need to shop based on one model size that you see on most websites right now. You’re shopping for your body type, you’re shopping for what works for you. And I put this test out, I said, Okay, like I’m renting out this jumpsuit for you know, however many days and then Karen reached out and said, Hey, I want to like rent this. And I was like, Okay.
Yes, so that was part of the early adopters to see if people would want to do this if they would join and rent what’s the data we’re collecting from there? You know, do they like it? Is it something they will use again? And then we had other women who had also enlisted their outfits? I know, Karen rented a few outfits, aside from the jumpsuit, and I think they all like looked amazing on you.
Karen Swyszcz 23:15
Oh, thank you. Yeah, I’m receiving a lot of great comments from the from that jumpsuit. Like it also makes me want to like buy more jumpsuits and it’s funny because like for me if for those of you who don’t know or maybe you do know I’m so in addition to like, you know, not being very good at cooking or hating cooking. I actually feel like I’m not very good with fashion, which is why I commend you know, the social media influencers and fashion and the fashion blogs, like I’m that person who goes so seeing Megan’s photo on like wearing the jumpsuit, I thought like, Oh, yeah, I may look good in that. And it’s funny because I had thought originally like, Oh, I can’t, you know, rock a jumpsuit. I’m not I like I had these strange ideas. Like I’m not stylish enough. Like, I can’t do this. And lo and behold, like I tried it on. It fit really well. And yeah, it ended up looking really good on me.
So I’m very grateful for that experience because it’s actually opened my mind to being like more open to different types of clothing. And then also thinking to Oh, maybe I can also rock the and forgive me again, because like, my fashion IQ is very low rocking the romper? Is that what it’s called? With the shorts?
Megan Ramwa 24:18
Karen Swyszcz 24:19
So yeah, it’s really great. Yeah, and you’re saying that applications or sorry, you mentioned in the form that applications are going to be going out this summer?
Megan Ramwa 24:30
Yes. So we’re starting a more formal early adopters program this summer, and how that’s going to work, we’re going to just do a call out for women who are living in downtown Toronto, because we want to be able to gather data quickly and efficiently.
And we also have partnered with a bike courier company and a dry cleaning service based in the city. Yeah, so it’ll be easier for the delivery, the pickup and the dry cleaner. So we found that you know, obviously getting the outfit dry cleaned on your own is an extra step, and we want to make the process more seamless for the end-user. So Dry Cleaners Toronto who we partnered with would actually pick up and drop off your clothing item along with the bike courier, so they would pick up and drop off really, you just need to be at your location at a specific time.
So that’s why we need to like test it to ensure like this infrastructure is going to work. And we’ve actually just brought on a tech lead for our team. And he’s going to be building out the website and the service behind how this is going to function. So throughout the next three to five months, if you join the early adopter’s program, you’ll be a part of this small exclusive group where you get access to the first set of clothing that’s going to be available on the site.
We also will give you membership perks where you know, you’re not going to be paying for your first rentals, you’re just slowly trying this out. And you’ll be like just kind of like these, these honorable people who are part of Sonder for the first launch, which is going to take place at the end of 2019, hopefully. And we also would hope that those who are part of this program, you’ll be giving us feedback. So while we’re testing out the service, we want your feedback because your feedback, if without you guys as users, we have no business. So we’re making it for you like you guys are the boss, right? So that’s what we are doing for the summer months.
Karen Swyszcz 26:20
Awesome. So then they can fill out the form on your website. So speaking of websites, what is your website URL?
Megan Ramwa 26:26
Karen Swyszcz 26:27
Okay, and if on if they wanted to check you out on social media, where could they find you?
Megan Ramwa 26:32
At Sonder.Toronto on Instagram.
Karen Swyszcz 26:35
Awesome. So this is really great talking about fashion and the technology behind it.
Megan Ramwa 26:39
Yeah, no, definitely the tech part of it is has been really interesting because at first, it was just myself trying to build it out. And I have no technology background, I was looking at creating a booking system where you kind of just like go and pick your outfit, and you book it for a certain amount of days. And but now like the technology part is so integral to how our business is going to work because although it is at the core of rental, a peer to peer rental company, we’re also looking to create a social media platform where everyone who is a part of this company, this business, you can share your stories online, you read about different people you connect with that you talk about your experience the outfit, because we believe through renting every outfit is developing a new life of its own.
It’s telling a story. So if I rented you know, for example, the jumpsuit I wore to a networking event, Karen used it for a promo video. It’s like telling a story through every person and we’re hoping to create that community aspect on the site. So definitely like creating your profiles is a big component.
Karen Swyszcz 27:44
Yeah, that sounds so amazing. It reminds me I’ve never seen the movie but I think the concept is similar. You know that movie The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants?
Megan Ramwa 27:53
Yeah, exactly. Exactly how I think of it too.
Karen Swyszcz 27:57
The Sisterhood of the Traveling jumpsuit so who knows how far that jumpsuit will go and what kind of additional unique experiences it will have.
Megan Ramwa 28:06
Exactly that’s like the goal, the hope, the whole story we tell.
Karen Swyszcz 28:09
Please get in touch with Megan and sonder.toronto to learn more about this amazing business.
Megan Ramwa 28:16
And thanks so much, Karen for having me. I had a really fun time. I really appreciate all of this.
Karen Swyszcz 28:20
Oh, no problem. Me too. So thanks again for being on the show. And thank you so much to everyone for listening. Have a good one.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai