Wimbledon business RE-RUNN upcycling its way to the top
Wimbledon business RE-RUNN upcycling its way to the top
By Ellie Holmes
After years of working as Head of Design, Sakina O’Neill felt disillusioned by the fashion industry and compelled to play a part in the solution to reducing excessive waste.
Last year she set up RE-RUNN London, an Upcycled, contemporary Leisurewear brand.
Sakina, what was your career in the fashion industry like before you started RE-RUNN?
“I studied fashion and textiles at Brighton, and then worked my way up in the fashion industry. I designed for various companies, working for major suppliers, and was privileged to see the whole picture of how the fashion world works.
I designed for many brands, from middle of the road, mainstream to high end. The last supplier I worked for before I started RE-RUNN was a major supplier which I did for five years. They had three big factories in Delhi and I helped with the setting up of their London office in 2021.”
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It sounds like you had a great career, what changed?
“I was enjoying life and my job, but I didn’t feel challenged anymore.
Then lockdown came and I saw all the relationships that I had built up grind to a halt. When the UK went into lockdown then many companies didn’t want any of their stock coming in from India unless it was already shipped, and this left the factories in India with a surplus of clothing.
Then the double whammy was that when the UK opened up India went into lockdown, and so once again there was all this waste. Factories had to be closed and the fragility of the relationships I had been involved in for so long was exposed.
I had known many of the people working in India for years and I felt so disillusioned when some UK brands went to Bangladesh and other countries, leaving the businesses in India totally vulnerable, having to close down factories and put people out of work.
It’s very difficult to get the business back, once you have lost it.”
How was RE- RUNN started?
“I spoke to several charities to find out more about what happens to the clothing that hasn’t been bought.
Garments are only in a charity shop for a short period and if they don’t sell, an upcycling company takes the clothing away and the charity receives a sum for the clothing per kilo.
Things are then sorted through and shipped off to countries like Ghana, South America and Eastern Europe, there has been a lot in the press about clothing from the UK ending up being in landfill abroad.
So I made a proposal to Royal Trinity Hospice, where anything damaged or they don’t’ sell, I would pay £1 for, which is a lot more than they would get per kilo.
I proposed that I would upcycle the clothing, keeping it in the UK and give the charity 10 per cent of any profits I made. They liked the idea, as they are always looking for ways to further reduce waste, and things went from there.”
How have Sustainable Merton supported you?
“I spoke to Sustainable Merton about my idea, and they introduced me to the amazing people at Canons House in Mitcham. It is the most beautiful building which was funded by the lottery, and they have done an incredible job restoring it. They wanted to build some kind of community area and a place for people to work. Sustainable Merton happened to be opening a ‘pre-loved’ studio there and so it was a question of the right place at the right time.
Canons House was kind enough to support me by giving me the space rent-free. Sustainable Merton’s waste reduction project (The Wheel) bought the sewing machinery for studio residents to use. So it’s been a fantastic start. I launched the collection in November, focusing on leisurewear and the response has been fantastic.”
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Where can people find RE- RUNN clothes?
“I’ve had such a positive response and have mainly used Instagram to show how the upcycling happens. When people see the product, they love the designs and quality. I now need to get more customers coming to the website. But it’s early days and I am so proud of what we have achieved so far. I am just about to launch more stock and I hope the business continues to grow and grow.”
What are your hopes for RE-RUNN?
“I am loving running this business so much and one of the reasons is that it gives me a real chance to get involved in the community, offering employment and mentorship. I have done talks to women and refugees at sewing groups in Tooting, and I want to work more to help machinists who are trained find more work, as so many are doing cleaning jobs, rather than using their amazing machining skills at the moment.
If I can get RE-RUNN off the ground and make it into a viable business, I can donate more money to the charity, make a living and offer work to people in the community, it will be ideal and my dream.
Everything I have put into this business so far I have funded myself and I feel that I’ve proved the model works and people like the concept. I’m now looking for ways to expand, and I’m excited about what the future holds.”
@rerunn_london re-runn.com sells sustainable leisurewear with 10 % of profit donated to charity.
More about the Preloved Studio
The Preloved Studio is an initiative led by Sustainable Merton’s waste reduction project, The Wheel.
Their Preloved Studio, based at Canons House, Mitcham, is the home of community workshops and weekly drop-in sessions for Merton residents to learn skills to reduce textiles waste and avoid fast fashion.
The Studio also has residency places for local, circular, slow fashion and textiles reuse start-ups, like RE-RUNN, as part of its work to build capacity for a circular economy in Merton.
For more information about The Wheel, or if you are a circular textiles business looking to become a studio resident, please get in touch at thewheelmerton.org