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By Kim Gerlach: How 100 tonnes of clothes have been given a new life

Posted by Vino Kilo on

After more than a month celebrating our third anniversary and sustainable impacts, time has come to close this chapter and to write a new one in our Vintage Wonderland! And, who says special occasion, says also very special guest - our friend and avid supporter, Kim Gerlach, who is also entrepreneur, feminist, sustainability geek and eco-activist (more about Kim herecomes with her VinoKilo story!

VinoKilo does the impossible.

It’s been a hell of a journey for the VinoKilo family. It all started in a backyard building where we squatted the living room of friends and ended up filling the whole space with more than 200 people. That was the first time ever that we have organized a pop-up event, a Vintage Kilo Sale.
And now, years later after the first spark of vintage, VinoKilo has saved many beautiful garments from being burned in landfills. With 152,051 visitors and 100 tonnes of clothes sold, it is the perfect timing to celebrate VinoKilo’s third birthday.

©Kim Gerlach

The night before, the vibe was a mix between playing it cool and breathing in the tension and respect we had towards the vast amount of clothes that had just been delivered from the Netherlands. I clearly remember carrying heavy bags filled with vintage treasures up to the second floor. We were a bunch of active kids meaning to run a cool event in a not-so-cool city. And when we opened the doors the next morning, everyone enjoyed what we created. The team lived the experience, with more Vino than Kilo. With a casual and down to earth approach, DJs hit the right tunes and the waffles were served to perfection. Friends ended up sleeping in the mountains of clothes instead of finding their way into bed.

Not only has Mainz become a more sustainable city, but VinoKilo has further developed to be a gigantic saviour of the planet. A business with a positive impact.

Kim at VinoKilo

Credits: Isabel Hayn

©Isabel Hayn

I coincidentally joined this crazy team, after founder Robin Balser has stalked me on my blog. My interest in sustainable fashion suited this idea well. The first couple of months included him, Domi Breu and myself at the core, together with enthusiastic friends that jumped onto the crazy idea. We unpacked and hung every individual vintage garment ourselves. From Mainz to Hamburg, Hamburg to Berlin. The team and learnings grew slowly but steadily. My job titles depended much on what I felt like. One day my signature would say Hustling Ninja; another day I would turn in to Chief Marketing Officer. But it sure didn’t matter. We all did everything we can. Based on my LinkedIn Profile now, I’ve left this social enterprise as Chief Sustainability Officer.

With every event, I more and more understood how I needed more sustainability knowledge. Which brought me to Sweden, where I did a Master programme in Leadership for Sustainability. And it turns out, Sweden is a playground for activating sustainability in a city. I’ve never joined the active team again. But deep inside I know I am a welcomed member of this crazy tribe, the VinoKilo family. And I’m incredibly proud on what this family has achieved.

Incredible amounts of clothes.

Let’s crunch some numbers. From the first living room in Mainz, VinoKilo quickly went to Hamburg, Frankfurt and other German cities, to then tackle the Dutch market. Now, in 2019, VinoKilo has been to 8 countries to save 100 tonnes of clothes.

The most impressive visual representation to me was at Berlin Fashion Week in 2017. VinoKilo disrupted fashion week by curating vintage pieces on the live performance runway. Over the course of two days, we created an installation that should represent the vast amount of vintage items that could have been transported to Africa instead.

With enthusiasm, a young and rather inexperienced team deep-dived into the world of vintage and entrepreneurship. And by now, has saved 100 000 kg of clothes.

The most impressive visual representation to me was at Berlin Fashion Week in 2017. VinoKilo disrupted fashion week by curating vintage pieces on the live performance runway. Over the course of two days, we created an installation that should represent the vast amount of vintage items that could have been transported to Africa instead.

But these hundreds of pieces that served as artistic installation are just a fraction of what VinoKilo is working with.

Thankfully, Robin translated the impact of saved vintage clothes into numbers. 100 tonnes of clothes equal to many individual items (41600 to be precise). That can be jeans jackets, cotton sweaters or a leather purses. And each item sold, saves 6.2 bathtubs of water, that would otherwise be used in producing clothing newly. And these bathtubs equal 76.000 vino bottles and 300.000 glasses of wine. Skål; the Swedish word for cheers.

©Isabel Hayn

So with every single clothing item you buy at a VinoKilo vintage sale, you save 76.000 bottles of water from being used in new production processes within the fast fashion industry*. That’s 18.36 billion (= 18.360.000.000) wine bottles filled with water for all items VinoKilo has sold in total. Clearly much more than what we’ve been able to consume in actual vino. And the water that is saved through buying the clothes is only one factor. How about the 3.6 million kg of greenhouse gas emissions that are being saved?

Second hand at scale.

* Note that these calculations use quite some assumptions. One of them states that when you buy a certain item at VinoKilo, you will not shop a similar item from a fast fashion company. For more information, please contact Robin Balser.

Happy birthday VinoKilo family!

With this scale in impact, the family grew too. Instead of three young kids, today CEO and founder Robin Balser counts 23 individuals and two office dogs as close VinoKilo family. And an even bigger gang of supporters like me. Half of the employed individuals are females, having a great gender balance and opportunity to quickly climb up the rather short hierarchy.

Robin just does.

Credits: Isabel Hayn

©Isabel Hayn

When working with Robin Balser, you can’t avoid working in an entrepreneurial way. Lean, under a certain time pressure to stay agile and without limits. Inefficient collaborations hold him back, which is the root cause of this incredible impact. Act, don’t talk.  

And if there’s anything VinoKilo can teach others, then it’s the following:

Lifestyle startups can scale. When thinking of startups, most of us think of digital innovation, transforming an industry through scary artificial intelligence and independent machines that will soon rule the world. That’s wrong in many ways. Lifestyle startups can truly show success at scale. Eight market entries in three years.

Social entrepreneurs can scale. The vision of making second hand the first choice for anyone helps to understand their sustainability motive. Landfills of clothes are being burned each year and the current fast fashion industry is a giant polluter. Social enterprises are being motivated by societal problems. VinoKilo primarily supports the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of responsible production and consumption.

Remote teams can scale. While sitting in Sweden, some other team members back in the days would dial in from Hamburg, Amsterdam, Mainz and Sofia. Robin would occasionally travel to London or Africa. Being a remote team can become a great advantage. Trusting your tribe can lead to a more fruitful team culture.

Dare to disrupt. There was no market nor competition for Vintage Kilo Sales in Germany when it all started. Many locations and event managers didn’t believe in the fusion of Vino and Kilo. It was too complicated for them. But dare to believe in your idea and make your own market.


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