Overstocking remains a persistent problem in the fashion industry, but what happens to those piles of end-of-season clothing? Previously, the answer has often been landfill or even incineration. But Otrium founders Milan Daniels and Max Klijnstra came up with a better solution: a high-end online fashion outlet store that puts the customer experience first.

Their concept has proven to be a huge success. Launched in 2017, Otrium now has more than five million members, over 300 brand partners, and operations across Europe and the US. But throughout its rapid expansion, the Amsterdam-based company has never lost sight of its commitment to reduce fashion waste.

Read on to discover how Bleckmann’s Renewal Workshop is helping Otrium ensure that more clothing gets worn with the launch of an innovative repair pilot for damaged returns.

Who is Otrium?
Named one of Fast Company magazine’s Most Innovative Companies of 2023, Otrium designed its membership-based platform to deliver exceptional value to both brands and consumers: fashion lovers get access to their favourite labels at an attractive discount, while brands gain a valuable new revenue stream. The key to making this approach work is brand experience. “Otrium’s model is based on the belief that selling at a discount shouldn’t dilute the value of your brand in the consumers’ eyes,” explains Marlot Kiveron, the company’s Head of Sustainability. “That’s why we focus so much on building a well-curated shopping experience – turning unsold stock from a major inconvenience into a valuable consumer touchpoint.” There are also significant sustainability benefits. “In 2022, Otrium prevented 6,496 tonnes of carbon emissions (CO₂e) and 104 tonnes of waste by providing fashion brands with a profitable solution to clear unsold inventory, compared to an alternative scenario in which off-price businesses like Otrium do not exist.,” Marlot continues. “But we’re always looking for more ways to help reduce our ecological footprint. So, when we saw The Renewal Workshop solution for repairing damaged returns, we knew it was the ideal next step on our sustainability journey.” For more information on Otrium’s sustainability strategy, experience the Otrium Impact Report 2022.
A trusted partner for circular solutions

Bleckmann’s Renewal Workshop is a team of circular fashion experts, dedicated to helping clients integrate more sustainable practices into their operations. “Otrium wanted to run a three-month pilot to establish the business case for repairing damaged returns,” explains Tamara Zwart, Head of Renewal at Bleckmann. “So far, the results have been very promising.”

Every brand that works with Bleckmann may benefit from in-depth one-to-one consultations with Bleckmann‘s renewal experts. “The Renewal Workshop is well known in the industry for its work with several major brands, including New Balance and The North Face,” explains Marlot. “Having their dedicated support in developing a compelling business case for repairing damaged returns was a huge help in getting this exciting project over the finish line!”

Tamara and her team worked closely with Otrium to design and implement a uniquely tailored repair programme. “With hundreds of high-end labels on the platform, we needed an efficient solution that could adapt to a wide range of products and brands,” continues Marlot. “It also needed to be streamlined and scalable, so that it could grow in line with our ambitions.”

Designing the ideal renewal solution

At Bleckmann‘s facility in Almelo, the Netherlands, a combination of low-impact cleaning processes, industrial sewing machines, and expert tailors restore damaged Otrium returns to Grade A quality. “We were all blown away by the incredibly high standard of the repairs,” says Marlot. “The renewed items were indistinguishable from brand-new garments.”

The Renewal Workshop team has years of experience turning brands’ circular ambitions into reality. But as Tamara explains, each project is still a learning experience. “Throughout the planning and go-live phases, we held twice-weekly check-ins to ensure the project was fully aligned with Otrium’s goals,” she explains. “This close collaboration is key to our process.”

During the pilot phase, the team repaired more than 1,000 garments per month. “The Renewal Workshop solution offers the ideal combination of purpose, professionalism, expertise, and agility,” Marlot continues. “They have no problem adapting to the various repair requirements of our hundreds of brand partners, while always operating at the speed of e-commerce.”

Data: A key catalyst for circularity

To demonstrate the commercial viability of the project, getting the right data was essential. “Data is a cornerstone of Otrium’s strategy to add value to unsold inventory,” says Marlot. “The impressive granularity of The Renewal Workshop’s data and product tracking capabilities was therefore essential to ensure that the process was aligned with our business objectives.”

For example, sell-through is a key metric. “To accurately measure the sell-through of the repaired returns, we separated them from the main stock,” explains Tamara. “Then, whenever a particular SKU was ordered, we would prioritise the repaired stock for picking. That way, we could see exactly how well it was selling. Within seven weeks, 70% had been sold.”

Read more about the importance of data in fashion circularity.

The data also benefits Otrium’s brand partners. “Another advantage of this data-rich approach was that we could report repair data directly back to the brands,” explains Marlot. “For example, if a zipper on a particular SKU kept breaking, we could tell the designers – in the long run, this can lead to improvements in durability, so that even less clothing ends up in landfill.”

A scalable circular solution for more sustainable growth

Having established the business case, Otrium decided to expand the initiative beyond the pilot phase. The aim is to repair 25,000 damaged items by the end of 2023, a target that’s well within reach based on the results of the pilot.

But there’s still much more to be done. “Thanks to Bleckmann and their renewal experts, we’re well on our way to proving that this circular business model can be a valuable part of our future growth. This can be an inspiration for other players to follow to implement more sustainable solutions, so that circularity continues to drive fashion’s long-term strategy,” concludes Marlot.”

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