Function over fashion… a winning tale of sustainable clothing


Having children is likely to be one of the biggest decisions any young couple makes. Will the flat be big or safe enough? Do we need a (bigger) car? What about prams, cots, crèches, clothing, nappies and, increasingly, the environmental costs. The list is endless. But thanks to new ‘product-as-service’ business models boosted by Europe’s focus on circular economy principles, the environment can at least be struck off the list of concerns. EcoAP News takes a look at Tale Me, a Brussels-based baby clothing rental service which proves that sustainable businesses models are on the rise.      

The service offered by Tale Me is ideal for pregnant mothers and infants who quickly outgrow clothing. It saves on purchase costs and reduces the likelihood of garments ending up in landfill. High-quality clothing items – by French, Belgian, German, Swiss and English designers – can be exchanged each month via the online shop or its atelier.

Set up in 2014, Tale Me’s business model and credo thus focuses on usage rather than ownership, or what the team describes as “function over object”. The clothes are rented out, up-cycled and, when that is no longer possible, recycled in a true virtuous circle. The creations are all made from sustainable textiles in European workshops.

“We have been committed to a European-made, sustainable, zero-waste approach as well as to eco-responsible manufacturing methods,” says Anna Balez, Tale Me’s founder.

The business is actually one of a growing list of Belgian start-ups making a name for themselves in the burgeoning sharing economy, which is changing the way society views products, services and the whole idea of consumption and resource use. The sharing economy, when the right conditions are met, have a large potential to facilitate the take-up of circular products, services and consumption methods.

Regional initiatives such as greenbiz.brussels and the platform circular.be have been helping to kick start and promote sustainable start-ups like Tale Me whose raison d’etre is to be profitable but not at the expense of the environment or scarce resources. And one of the keys to achieve this is green innovation.


Woven into a bigger picture

Textiles and clothing is huge business. According to the European Commission, the sector plays an important role in overall European manufacturing, employing some 1.7 million people and generating a turnover of €166 billion. The sustainable side of this business makes up a relatively small proportion, but it is growing and companies such as Tale Me are showing that it can be attractive and profitable as well.

Until recently, it was producers and retailers mostly driving efforts to raise the textile industry’s sustainable credentials, while at the same time raising consumer awareness, reported the Retail Forum for Sustainability back in 2013. “There is growing attention towards not only social, but also environmental impacts of textiles; especially for specific kinds of products such as childrenswear, demand for more environmentally friendly textiles is continuously increasing.”

Six years on and with the growing success of the sharing economy, it seems awareness has reached critical momentum. According to the Dutch government’s Centre for the Promotion of Imports (CBI), consumer demand for sustainably produced apparel is definitely growing in Europe. The centre offers advice to would-be entrants: “Focus on quality over price and promote the economic advantage of sustainable apparel over the moral advantage.” And this is what Tale Me and its ilk in Brussels have been doing.

To maintain competitiveness and address environmental concerns attached to fast fashion cycles, the textile and clothing sector has moved towards products with higher value added and/or demonstrated innovative cradle-to-cradle solutions to boost re-use, recycling and up-cycling. Clothing rental is just one branch of this wider trend, growing on the back of better consumer awareness but also state/EU initiatives to promote resource efficiency.

And as an early entrant in this market, Tale Me has positioned itself well in Belgium. It expanded its brand and opened a new atelier in Paris, as well as adding new lines.

“The writing was on the wall,” says Balez. “We noticed quite early that consumers today are not only cost and quality conscious; they also want to feel they are doing their part for the environment. We were fortunate to find the right balance at the right time.”

The business model has now proven to be robust. Consumers are clearly on-board. And some smart investors and young entrepreneurs are scenting opportunities. “Actually, the latest news is that Tale Me has attracted several offers and, without saying too much at this stage, we are in negotiations with one,” reveals Balez.

For the founder, this is vindication of her ‘function-first’ vision and a testament to hard work and innovative approaches to solve the problems facing outmoded ‘cradle-to-grave’ business ideas.   


More info

2018 Circular Economy Package

Brussels tests the economy of tomorrow (Brussels Times)