Stephanie Benedetto will feel she’s achieved her ultimate goal when the company she founded is no longer needed.
In 2014 Benedetto and partner Phil Derasmo created Queen of Raw, a website that employs blockchain technology, the system of digital ledgers to allow inventory and transactions to be tracked in real time, to connect buyers with sellers seeking a market for their deadstock fabrics and other raw materials. Not so long ago, discarded textiles would have been burned or consigned to landfills, but greater awareness among the industry and consumers alike caused an increasing need for solutions. From the start, Benedetto also envisioned the system as a democratized opportunity, available equally to fashion students and home sewers seeking three yards of fabric for a personal project as it would be to retailers and design houses requiring up to one million yards for a private-label product. Six years later, Queen of Raw boasts more than 235,000 buyers who visit the site to purchase any of more than 100,000 fabric SKUs from resources around the globe.
“When I started this business, we assumed it would be the larger brands that would be most interested,” Benedetto says. “What we quickly realized as we’ve gone global and built this software, is that the volume is there for anyone who’s interested.”
As conversations about sustainability have become integral to every fashion brand, priorities in the design process have shifted. The heady days of designing custom fabrics at pricey European mills have been replaced with thoughts of how to smartly make use of long-discarded bolts of silks, tweeds, and jacquards sitting in warehouses. “Recycling” and “upcycling,” meanwhile, have become the go-to buzzwords on and off runways. Gucci, Prada, and Burberry are just a few of the global labels that have put sustainability practices into place, though Benedetto points out that economy likewise is playing a role. “Brands are realizing that deadstock and waste are gold mines they’ve been sitting on for far too long,” she says.
Due to once-reliable supply chains that have been interrupted by lockdown orders, the global pandemic has created opportunities for what Benedetto estimates is $120 billion in unused textiles annually. “COVID has forced the hand in some cases, no question,” she says. “Some of the biggest brands and retailers in the world have been dealing with the challenges of disrupted transport, and what we’re doing presents an opportunity to supply them with what they need, when they need it, at a discount. Deadstock takes care of the problem while also giving a brand a sustainable story to tell. How do you say no to that?”
The site also has received significant industry recognition, from the LVMH Innovation Award to the grand prize of the WeWork Creator Awards. As a women-focused business, Queen of Raw has also been recognized as a Cartier Women’s Initiative Laureate, while Benedetto was named among Inc. magazine’s Female Founders 100 in 2020. In addition to building the platform via strategic partnerships and social media, Benedetto says these competitions also became integral to growing her audience. “These awards give you a stage to speak on, practice with your pitch, valuable press, and a global network of mentors, customers, and investors,” she notes.
A former corporate attorney whose clients ranked among the who’s who of global fashion brands, Benedetto created Queen of Raw largely because she witnessed the waste that accompanies textile and garment production, starting with the 700 gallons of water typically required to produce one T-shirt. “This is a solution that saves water, toxins, energy, and dollars,” she says. “But among the challenges of this industry is how people talk about it. Many times they lead with people and the planet, and they forget about the profit. That’s changing:
Brands are seeing the value in telling the deadstock story and connecting both the story and the journey with their end consumer, who’s increasingly interested in this information. In one of our case studies, one enterprise saw three times the conversion in their online sales by telling that story.”
Today Queen of Raw counts designers like Mara Hoffman among its customers. Many companies remain hesitant, however, about highlighting exactly where they’re obtaining deadstock materials, and Benedetto isn’t surprised by that attitude. “I sign plenty of [non-disclosure agreements], but I tell all these brands and retailers that at the end of the day, we all know they’re buying from the same people,” she says. “By not talking about it, I believe they’re doing a massive disservice to themselves and to the industry at large. With technology like blockchain in our future, every step will become transparent in its tracking and tracing. It’s just a matter of how long it’s going to take us to get there.”
What’s next for Queen of Raw? Benedetto hopes to evolve the concept to also include discarded finished goods. “We initially focused on the raw materials side because no one was paying attention to it,” she explains. “I believed that if we could get to the systemic issue and intelligently minimize it moving forward, that would have an impact on waste. Raw materials versus finished goods is a more in-depth conversation, but it’s one we’re definitely exploring. Textiles and raw materials are such a massive opportunity, but given the impact of the pandemic, it’s easy to see that many brands are also going to be sitting on a lot of unused inventory within the next 24 months.”
While that expectation translates to long-term growth for Queen of Raw, Benedetto does foresee a day when the site just might become obsolete. “Because everyone will be in our software, at a certain point—though it will be a while yet—we will write ourselves out of the marketplace,” she says. “But that’s okay—when it comes to opportunities, I’m not going anywhere.”