Episode 6: Creating a Sustainable Fashion Business With a Diverse Team Right From the Start

Hello listeners, and welcome back to Tech Forward! This week, I spoke with Janet Wu, co-founder and CEO of SilkRoll, about sustainability in the fashion industry as well as the importance of building diverse teams from day one. An avid traveler, Janet was born in China, grew up in the UK, and currently lives in the Bay Area. During her 10 years as an investment banker, she helped over 50 publicly listed companies raise over $30B in financing. She then went on to serve as the CFO of clean tech startup One Earth Designs before founding SilkRoll.

During a 2011 sabbatical, Janet connected with an issue that had long been important to her: sustainability. In traveling through South and Central America, she directly witnessed the environmental impact of modern industry on ecology, biodiversity, and indigenous culture of these regions. She found herself wondering, “How can I contribute my skills in business and finance to this area?”

The answer came to her as she confronted the cost of moving from Hong Kong to San Francisco to work with One Earth Designs, and wondered “What am I going to do with all of my clothes?” There existed no good way to purge valuable items, much less to get them into the hands of someone who would appreciate their style and value. “How can I leverage technology and the quick uptick in the sharing economy to [...] create a sustainable way for women to exchange and trade fashion that they no longer need, and refresh their closets at fair value, and with minimal waste?”

And so SilkRoll was born. At SilkRoll, women can exchange high quality pieces — either unworn, or lightly worn — among a growing base of users, and keep their wardrobes fresh and fashionable without contributing to landfills. With such designers as Coach, Free People, and Prada on offer, the pieces on SilkRoll will ideally be traded as many as five times.

Comprised equally of men and women, the SilkRoll team are globally diverse. This was no accident! Though her team is presently still small, Janet made a point to hire people with different employment backgrounds and perspectives.

“Innovation is a product of differences in perspectives. There’s no one way to see the world, there’s no one way to solve a problem. Bringing diversity into the conversation allows us to solve problems creatively, and innovate our product faster, too.”

Janet, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast this week. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for SilkRoll.