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Sustainability in a fast-fashion world

Alumni Stories.

Eshita (back right) with her team – two of whom studied Journalism at City – at the private launch of her new venture, By Rotation

After considering the importance of sustainable fashion and the increasing “throwaway culture of Instagram outfit photos”, Eshita Kabra (Management, 2014), soon realised that sharing economies were not as prevalent in the fashion industry as they should be. Noticing a gap in the market for an on-trend, ethical and fashion-conscious platform, Eshita launched By Rotation.

Here you can read about Eshita’s time at Cass Business School and how her new venture, By Rotation, promotes circular fashion.

Can you tell me about your time at Cass?

I enrolled onto the BSc (Hons) Management programme in 2010 and was very actively engaged with multiple student societies. I was offered a placement year in the asset management industry and graduated in 2014 – I would highly recommend this aspect of Cass as it sets you apart from most other graduates. I believe I was very plugged into student life; I lived in student halls for the first two years and made a point to speak to all my professors individually.

As an international student, I knew how challenging it would be for me to stay in the country post-graduation as I needed a visa sponsorship, so I spent a majority of final year applying for jobs and ensuring I was on track to graduate with a First.

What happened after you graduated?

After graduating, I was offered an incredible opportunity to become an investment analyst at one of the largest British asset management firms. My focus was on analysing and investing in corporate bonds of European banks and I was fortunate enough to be mentored by an excellent boss, who gave me unparalleled industry exposure. This was instrumental in building up my confidence.

I then spent a couple of years in this role and was offered a job in London on the trading floor, again analysing and making calls on corporate bonds. While the pace of the trading floor was exciting, it was evident that banks had in fact begun shrinking their balance sheet and regulations had curbed the exciting aspects of my job. I also began to feel a shift in my priorities and wanted to move into a role that allowed me to use my interpersonal skills more and build a network of investors. Most recently, I have found this in my role in Investor Relations at an opportunistic credit asset manager, where I am constantly in touch with clients and the investment product itself, along with a good work-life balance. This has enabled me to start my new venture, By Rotation, a digital peer-to-peer platform for mid to upmarket fashion rental in the United Kingdom.

How did By Rotation come about?

The idea came from a practical point of view and upon further digging, I opened my eyes up to much larger issues around waste within the fashion industry.

In late 2018, I was planning a spreadsheet for a special holiday and turned to social media for ideas on where to go, where to eat and also… what to wear! I always saw “influencers” on social media wearing beautiful clothing – often only once – in idyllic settings. Being the practical person that I am, I couldn’t help but wonder if these items were gifted from the brands themselves or bought just for the photo, and what would happen to them after.

I started thinking about my world view: I was born in India, where we celebrate colour, wear fairly elaborate clothing and love fashion. I grew up in Singapore, where our national hobby is shopping. In school, we were repeatedly taught the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) and was made to feel guilty about wasting water (until recently, Singapore bought most of its water). I now live in the United Kingdom, where people are fashion-conscious and increasingly turning up the volume on sustainable causes (note: the Extinction Rebellion). These people have also embraced sharing economies such as Airbnb, Uber and Fat Llama – so why not fashion?

According to the World Bank, 20% of water pollution globally is caused by the textile industry and the fashion industry is said to be the 5th largest contributor to carbon emissions. In this throwaway culture of Instagram “OOTD” (outfit of the day) photos where we feel pressurised to entertain our audience with something new, By Rotation aims to promote circular fashion and increase the usage of your mid to upmarket items. We want people to consider how big the difference between sharing and owning really is, and connect them together via our community.

Our offering is simple: look good (staying on top of fashion and trends), do good (for the planet, wardrobe and wallet) and feel good (share and connect with other fashion-conscious individuals).

What have been the biggest challenges?

We are early days and I am certain we will be met with many more obstacles along the way. However, a fundamental challenge we have and continue to face lies within the very essence of our service i.e. sharing items, especially with “strangers” and the concerns that lie with hygiene, forget damage/theft.

As a practical individual, I acknowledge that we will not be able to win everyone over. However, we have set ourselves on this quest to open up mindsets, and continue to educate our target audience. We also continue to ensure that our service is more convenient, accessible and provides peace of mind – thus making the switch to sharing rather than buying an easy choice.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

The passion I feel for what we do has been the most rewarding experience for me. I truly believe in our concept and I am incredibly thrilled to have created an idea that both my value system and interests 100% align with. The amount of traction we have received from people we do not have any direct link with, resonating our views, has made me feel we are not alone in our belief that fashion consumption must change.

One of the more tangible experiences I have felt pride in was when our first transaction occurred between two users of the platform who I was only slightly acquainted with – not anyone I knew personally! It was a real joy because it is essentially what the platform will evolve into – a community of diverse people interacting and rotating their wardrobes – without my push!

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?

Do not rush into setting up a new venture (i.e. often right out of university), and especially not for the wrong reasons (i.e. to label yourself an entrepreneur).

While I grew up in an entrepreneurial environment and always felt it was my calling, I chose to kick start my career at large multinational firms (and continue to work at one). Albeit a large part of it was to do with visa sponsorship at the time, upon reflection I am very certain it has provided me with the building blocks to running a well thought-out business.

Having the passion, drive and an effective idea are important ingredients to setting up a business, but I believe a strong work ethic, discipline and commercial view are even more important to running a successful business. I strongly believe that the latter comes from training and experience and for me a structured, challenging corporate environment was the answer. The cherry on top is the credibility you hold as a new entrepreneur (even if you might be older than some brilliant but also lucky people) and the network of corporate professionals you have built along the way.

Lastly, considering I am working full-time and have started my own new venture (familiar with the term ‘side hustle’?) – do not be afraid to test your idea out first before committing completely. If anyone judges you for that, remember that they might not have the same bandwidth or capacity to achieve as much as you do!

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