Fashionista and Environmentally Conscious, meet our next That Mama, Sarah Garner of RETYKLE
All of us mamas know just how fast our kids grow up. One minute they’re teeny tiny, and the next they’re running around and growing out of their clothing. Their wardrobes are becoming a revolving door of items that no longer fit… Children outgrow an average of seven clothing sizes in the first two years of their lives which is both expensive and terrible for the environment.
Canadian native and Hong Kong transplant, Sarah Garner, came up with a solution for families who want to purchase high quality luxury baby and kids’ clothing but didn’t want to pay the premium prices as children grow so quickly. Coming from the fashion industry and mama of two, Sarah created RETYKLE which is an innovative luxury resale e-commerce platform that helps parents buy designer clothing for their kiddos at a fraction of the cost. And for parents who are looking to purge a bit, they can also sell their children’s gently worn items on the site making the resale as easy as a few clicks.
Sarah shares more about RETYKLE, being a mama to Henry and Olympia and how she balances it all whilst keeping up with date nights with her hubby in this edition of That Mama.
Tell us a little bit about yourself! How did you end up in Hong Kong?
I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. Though I lived in the same house and city until finishing high school in Switzerland, we explored different parts of the world as a family whenever possible. My parents probably thought a love of travel was a great thing to instil in me until I pronounced that I wanted to move half way across the world!
After going to university, I moved back to Toronto to work at Holt Renfrew (Canada’s equivalent to Lane Crawford). While sitting in my cubicle in the city I grew up in, I would receive emails from friends who had decided to live abroad or travel after school and it would send pangs of envy every time I saw their photos or read about their adventures. I was in my mid twenties without anything tying me down so I decided to start drafting my own adventure.
My cousin gave me a book called ‘Mr China’, a memoir about an American man’s time navigating business in China and after reading it, I became intrigued by the idea of working in a location with a culture vastly different from my own in which I would need to learn to assimilate both personally and professionally. I wanted to be out of my comfort zone and going to another fashion hub like New York, London or Paris felt too safe and familiar. I moved here on a bit of a whim with a couple of suitcases and without a job. I interviewed with target employers in the first few weeks and landed a position as the Womenswear Buyer for Lane Crawford.
As the expat narrative tends to go, I intended to stay for one or two years and here I am after three corporate jobs, five apartment moves, my first company, meeting my husband, two kids and almost ten years later!
How did you get into the world of fashion?
I entered university without knowing what I wanted to ‘be’ but during my second year, I had a conversation with a family friend who was an executive in American retail which helped me decide. He suggested that I look into an NYC buying internship program based on my interests. It was a prerequisite for the internship to have a business degree, so I choose my major to match the requirement. After my third year as an Economics/Management student at McGill, I landed one of the coveted summer spots at Bloomingdale’s buying office in NYC. I never looked back after that placement and it set the course for the next decade working in luxury fashion.
What inspired you to create Retykle?
I was inspired by my own experience as a new mum. A friend gave me a generous amount of outgrown high end boys clothes shortly after my son was born and I was so grateful but also felt indebted to her because I felt that the clothes given to us, although secondhand, held significant value and saved me thousands of dollars. I estimated a resale value for each item and then gave her a gift certificate for one of her favourite kids stores as a thank you. The seeds for Retykle (mash up of Recycle and Tyke which means child) were born.
As a first time parent, you quickly realise that the speed at which kids outgrow sizes is rather alarming! The amount of clothing required to keep up with each stage of growth is both expensive and hard on the environment. I wanted to find a way to make the purchase and sale of quality items easier and more desirable than ever before while reducing environmental impact, passing on savings and improving sustainability through the shared economy. I saw an opportunity to create something completely new which was both exciting and challenging. My goal was to create an online platform that was as good, if not better, than buying new.
In Hong Kong, like other major cities, most of us are space constrained. Having closets full of outgrown clothing is a waste of valuable space. I believe that unless there is a completely hassle free way to resell, the ‘kids closet clean out’ will remain on the to-do list (it would have remained on mine!). With Retykle, there’s no work involved. We just pick it up for free and do the rest for you.
We have also partnered with HandsOn Hong Kong to ensure that nothing goes to waste. Unless sellers want their items returned, unaccepted or unsold items are sent to HandsOn Hong Kong who find the most suitable recipients. We are creating a new retail sector and experience which is helping parents, the community and the environment. Retykle provides me with a sense of purpose that I was missing up until this point in my career.
In your opinion, why do you think Retykle’s philosophy is important?
The fashion industry lives to procreate. We have more than enough to go around and with the constant churn of newness, there is an issue with oversupply, overconsumption and our means of redistribution. It’s inevitable that parents are going to accumulate masses of kids clothing and it’s inevitable that they will outgrow all of it! We are rewarding parents for purchasing better made high end brands which are built to last, with an after market. By taking the hassle out of resale for sellers, we’re aiming to take all of the barriers away so that you don’t give it a second thought to get involved in redistribution. Given the temporary nature of kids wardrobes, we want to help create responsible fashion choices that do not involve any compromise, only benefits for parents, the community and the environment.
How does Retykle work and how can mamas in Hong Kong get involved?
For shoppers, it’s the same interface as shopping new online but better because the prices are up to 90% off hundreds of high-end brands, many of which are otherwise not available in Hong Kong. We also offer free shipping and returns. Each product listed is either in ‘new with tags’ condition (gifts, items that were the wrong season for the age etc), ‘good as new’ condition which means there are no visible signs of wear or ‘gently used’ which means that there is a slight flaw or sign of use which is detailed in the description and can be viewed in the photos.
For sellers, they just review the acceptance criteria, put their items for sale in a bag and book a free pick up. We do everything else and send 50% of the selling price to their PayPal account when an item sells. It’s that easy.
Three favourite children’s brands and why?
I honestly don’t have favourite brands but prefer to cherry pick favourite pieces which is why I like having so many brands under the same roof at Retykle! If I HAD to choose: for girls, my vote would be Jacadi, for boys, my favourite would be Bonpoint and for sporting clothes, Patagonia, which is a brand I admire for their business practices. Also for rainy days, I’m loving Native shoes.
Where is your favourite shop/brand when you’re looking for new duds for yourself?
Ever since I started working in fashion and witnessed the churn of trends, I’ve aimed to steer clear of the traps and build a classic timeless wardrobe of good quality items that I can return to year after year. I can always find basic staples at Club Monaco (which is where I held my first job in high school!), but otherwise, I’m keen on buying luxury pieces I adore and then reducing my cost per wear with lots of use! I shop far less than I used to since getting pregnant the first time. Between the growing and shrinking and changing body and the lack of time, shopping for myself has been on the back burner these days.
Do you shop at any consignment shops in HK and where are they? Any consignment shop tips? Etiquette/unspoken rules?
I recently bought a Louis Vuitton weekend travel bag at Brand Off. I think the key is to shop somewhere reputable with guarantees on the authenticity especially when considering high end purchases. There is an emerging resale culture here but it is still very new outside of watches and handbags in comparison to the more established recommence industry in Europe and North America. At Retykle, we guarantee authenticity and take the process of authentication very seriously.
How do you balance work and mama life?
The current balance (or should I be honest and call it a juggle!) is still a work in progress as our second is not even three months old yet. I think the key for me is to have goals and let those goals frame my output with both family and business. My goal is to be fully present when I’m with my kids and not distracted by work. Having an office and not working from home allows me to define that time much more than when I work from home.
My goal for work is to be as efficient as possible and get through the tasks each day which will have the biggest impact on my business rather than tackling every last to-do. As a management style I am also very keen on delegating as much of what I’m not integral to as possible. I’m always searching for creative solutions to work with freelancers and I’ve had a small but invaluable team helping me since day one (which was two months before I had my baby girl, Olympia). I try not to fall into the trap of doing it all – at home or at the office. In order to ‘lean in’ I ‘lean on’ others!
How do you save time? Can you share any organisational tips and tricks?
I think letting go of the notion that everything has to be perfect is a great place to start! I have also learned not to overcommit. I make a habit of declining when I know it will tip the scales to create unnecessary stress. I always have lists on the go for life and work and I take the time to rank items in order of priority daily and sometimes more than once a day. At work, I’m trying to eliminate time sucking email as much as possible by using the phone more and using the email alternative Slack. At home, I try to plan the details of the week on Sunday evenings down to what meals we will have each night so that once Monday hits, there are fewer decisions to tackle on a daily basis.
What do you do to get in that “me” time?
For now, me time is mostly mixed with we time as is quite normal at this stage with a baby. If I want to exercise, I strap on Olympia and we go for a hike. If I want a mani pedi or massage, I get someone to come to our apartment so that I can eliminate travel time and be at the ready for Olympia if she needs me. I sneak in a few things here and there but real me time will return once she’s a bit older.
What do you find to be the most challenging part of parenting?
At the moment, we’re still figuring out our new routines with two. There are lots of firsts all over again. One challenge that I grapple with is staying truly present. I can get easily distracted and have to remind myself to stay in the moment with my kids. Also, I find the relationship with technology tricky as it has become pervasive in our every day lives. It’s up to us to set our own borders and model a healthy relationship with technology and we’re starting to define what that looks like in our household. I would like to prioritise experiencing moments vs capturing them as much as possible!
Favourite family holiday spot?
One of the ways in which we live by ‘start as you mean to carry on’ is that we never stopped traveling the way we used to because it was a priority for us and so we started soon after Henry (& Olympia) were born and we carry on. We try to explore somewhere new every vacation but we’ve returned to Palawan, Philippines several times because it’s really hard to beat for a close beach vacation!
What are your favourite spots to eat at with your family in Hong Kong?
We don’t make a regular habit of eating out with the kids because it’s far more enjoyable at their ages to go out on our own after they’re in bed rather than a 5pm meal where we hardly exchange a word to each other. However, when we do, we look for kid friendly places which don’t require sacrifices on food or setting. We particularly enjoy Amalfitano with the kids in tow.
Read more: Kids Eat Free: Family Friendly Dining
Can you tell us about how your career was pre-baby as compared to post-baby?
I think like all aspects of life pre baby, there was a sense of self indulgence in my career. I chose my career path in large part because I love to travel and for the better part of my corporate career, I was regularly on a plane to Paris, Milan or New York. I had financial freedom, was unburdened by responsibility and made career moves primarily based on advancing up the ladder.
From the moment I left my last corporate job and started planning for a family, my orientation changed. When I was pregnant with my son, I turned down a couple of big opportunities because the direction I was heading in no longer felt like a fit. I wanted to find a role which gave me a sense of purpose and balance otherwise it didn’t seem worth the trade offs. There is a massive demand for the elusive ‘balance’ amongst women I know who are highly qualified at their discipline but also want to be more present in their family lives.
There is clearly a new focus on this challenge with businesses like FlexiMums emerging to bridge this gap and a whole wave of corporate initiatives to help keep women in the workforce. I faced the decision to go full tilt or stop and decided to focus on my transition into motherhood (a decision I never look back on). I started incubating Retykle when my son was about six months old and launched it almost a year later. My aim is to build a company and a culture which embraces flexibility and provides a sense of purpose.
What’s the best advice you’ve received as a parent?
I received lots of valuable advice from friends, family and books.
“Start as you mean to carry on.” It can really be applied to all areas and works as a guiding principle for how we approach parenting. It’s a reminder to develop habits for ourselves and our kids which we can and want to maintain.
On the same topic of adopting good habits – ‘get dad involved from day one’. Luke had one big solo role from the beginning – morning duty. From the time Henry wakes up to when Luke needs to get ready for work, he’s in charge, and has been every day since he was born. That has always been ‘me’ time (that is, until Olympia was born!). It has been incredible for their bond and keeps any resentment over the imbalance of parental duties in check.
“Surround yourself with mum’s with babies the same age” to offer support, advice, commiserate and get together. My mum’s group was invaluable in the first few months of Henry’s life. I had been told that friends with kids even six months older won’t remember the phase you’re in with clarity – true!
I don’t think we received any bad advice. Just some advice that didn’t suit us. There are so many choices to make as a parent and hearing other people’s perspectives helps to inform your own.
Something that you wish someone had told you about motherhood?
I wish I had spoken to more women about their careers post kids as I had never considered the impact on my career until it was on my doorstep and I didn’t feel I had adequately prepared my trajectory to make room for a family. My mum left the corporate world around the same time in her life as I did and started her own successful architectural practice shortly after I was born. She was my biggest role model so I’m falling into what I know from my own upbringing, entrepreneurship.
How do you keep the romance between you and your husband alive with such a busy work and family life?
We tuck the kids in around 7pm and then it’s us time every night. We try to celebrate things that have gone well that day and occasionally sneak out for an evening walk, foot massage or dinner. What I generally think of as romantic is creating new stories and memories together many of which are formed when we travel.
Favorite date spot in Hong Kong?
Our go to date restaurant is 121BC. We also love going to Caprice wine bar and just indulging in wonderful cheese, bread and wine (and that view) for dinner!
As a mama, I wish I were better at…
Singing and dancing. I’m hopeless at both. The kids will figure it out soon enough.
I wake up in the middle of night thinking about…
When I’m going to stop getting woken up in the middle of the night and get back to having a full night sleep!
Bedtime is always smoother when…
For the kids, it’s smooth when we are in our time zone and stick to our schedule. For me, if I have a busy head, listening to the mediation app headspace will put me into a deep sleep within ten minutes rather than letting my thoughts run wild and losing precious sleep time.
My favourite moment of the day is…
My current favourite is first thing in the morning when my son comes running into our bedroom with fresh excitement as though he’s never seen her before and says ‘hi baby!’