Solicitor Anna Cargan wasn’t expecting to swap legal briefs for secondhand clothes permanently when she launched Buildabundle from her living room in 2018. The Cumbrian mum of three had started selling her children’s outgrown clothes on eBay to make some extra money, and friends and family members started giving her their children’s old clothes to sell too. “I could see there was a market of people who wanted to sell things but didn’t have time to do it,” she says. “And I thought there could be a business in there somewhere.”
Children can outgrow seven clothing sizes in their first two years and there are an estimated 183m items of outgrown baby clothes in British homes, according to research by Mothercare and the environmental charity Hubbub. While a lot is handed down, a third of parents say they’ve thrown clothes in the bin because they didn’t know what to do with them. But with rising awareness of the environmental impact of the fashion industry, the popularity of secondhand shopping is booming. The apparel resale market is expected to grow 16 times faster than the traditional clothing sector by 2026.
When Buildabundle first launched, Cargan was blown away by the demand, often staying up until 1am to fulfil orders. She and her business partner, Nathalie Redfern, who quit being a project engineer to come on board, have recently expanded to a much larger premises and opened a physical swap shop for womenswear in their hometown of Barrow-in-Furness.
“We wanted to make it as easy to buy secondhand as it is new,” says Redfern, who also has three children. She used to spend hours trawling through Facebook Marketplace or eBay, ordering secondhand children’s clothes that often turned out to be in poor condition. In contrast, Buildabundle buys bundles of clothes from parents, quality checks everything, and lists them separately on its website. Parents can build their own collection, pay one postage charge, and send back any items that don’t fit, for a full refund.
Initially, building their audience happened primarily via social media and word of mouth. But after a year or two, it became harder to acquire new customers. “We couldn’t rely on what used to work. The algorithms are constantly changing,” Cargan says, adding that the emergence of popular new platforms such as TikTok were spreading their resources thin. “Keeping up with it is almost a full-time job in itself.”
The Covid-19 pandemic and the mass shift to e-commerce has also caused competition for advertising space to rise across platforms such as Facebook, Google and YouTube. Cost per thousand (CPM) impressions increased substantially in 2021, leading many brands to rethink their marketing strategies. “It’s been getting really expensive. As a small company with a small advertising budget, it’s very difficult to compete with the big companies,” Redfern adds. “And we don’t want followers for the sake of followers. We want people who are passionate about our brand and feel part of our Buildabundle community. Social media was taking that out of our hands a little bit. We felt unable to connect with the people who wanted to connect with us.”
When Cargan stumbled across an article in 2020 promoting the benefits of newsletters, it seemed like the perfect solution. “You’ve got your own database. You’re not having to rely on algorithms and whether social media feels like showing your posts to people,” she says. They added a pop up to the Buildabundle website and started to collect email addresses via Mailchimp. But they waited a while before launching their first email campaign in early 2021, giving Cargan time to take a couple of online courses in email marketing. “We didn’t really know where to start or what to say in our first email. But actually when I started playing around with Mailchimp, I realised it was really user friendly and quite easy to put things together.”
Buildabundle now sends newsletters fortnightly. Cargan and Redfern are also making use of Mailchimp’s automated email functionality, sending out abandoned cart and welcome emails to relevant shoppers. “I really like those,” Cargan says. “There are so many jobs to do [running a small business]but the automated emails are just ticking away in the background.” They also send out an email at the start of the month to let the community know what size clothes they’re interested in buying. People can then book in a slot to drop off stock. That’s something they used to manage via Facebook but have found it works much better by email.
In the future, they’re planning to do more work around segmenting their audience and sending out emails based on the ages of subscribers’ children. “We’ve just sent out generic newsletters to appeal to all customers so far,” Cargan says. “But going forward, we’re definitely going to learn more about how to target exactly what our customers want.” They’re still on social media, and have a couple of twentysomethings on their team who are teaching them about TikTok.
Given her time again, Cargan says she would have launched the newsletter much earlier than she did. “I wish we’d done it right from the start. We could have built up even more customers. I would recommend [other founders] just play around with it. See what works and what doesn’t. Don’t sit around like we did, worrying that we didn’t really know what to do. Just go for it. Because once you start, you’re building that connection with your audience.”
Mailchimp is the number one email marketing and automations brand*. With plans suitable for every size of business and database, marketers are able to send the right message at the right time to convert more customers, get AI-assisted suggestions to make content more engaging, and set up automated workflows to cross-sell products, recover abandoned carts and to help drive more loyalty and sales.
*Based on competitor brands’ publicly available data on worldwide numbers of customers in 2021/2022.
The views, information and opinions expressed in this article are those of the people interviewed and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Intuit, Mailchimp or any of its cornerstone brands or employees. The primary purpose of this article is to educate and inform.