By Michael Hinkelman
Philadelphia Daily News
YI WANG, 22, of University City, is a new Penn grad and founder of ReBag, which repurposes old clothes into fashionable accessories.
Wang, a Chinese national who has been here on a student visa, launched the business in January. She’s relocating to Pittsburgh to work for H.J. Heinz Co., but plans to commute to Philly on weekends to keep ReBag’s operations going.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for ReBag?
A: The summer before I came to Penn, I was going through my wardrobe for clothes to pack when I found a blue baby jumper in the drawer. So the idea, refined after taking a social-entrepreneurship class, uses old clothes to function in a new form while reconnecting them to their past.
Q: What’s ReBag do?
A: We refashion your personal, memorable clothes into tote bags and laptop covers. You go to our website, choose a pattern and we send you a preprinted label with a plastic bag and you mail your old clothes back to us.
We have two stay-at-home moms here who sew the patterns. All the bag bases are cut by [physically] disabled women in Shanghai.
Q: The social mission?
A: By recycling old clothes, we help keep used textiles out of landfills and promote sustainability. I’m also providing work for [underprivileged] stay-at-home moms who are trying to raise families but have skills.
Q: Did you bootstrap it or did you put money into the biz?
A: I received a $1,000 grant from the Wharton Innovation Fund and also invested money from part-time jobs I had while I was attending Penn. I also had a lot of in-kind help from friends.
Q: What do goods cost?
A: Laptop covers are $35 to $45, and tote bags are $55 to $65. The products are all handmade. We’ve sold about 30 bags and covers since January.
Q: The biz model?
A: Our target market is college students who care about sustainability and like unique things. We also have older moms who want to refashion clothes for anniversaries.
We use social media to market our products. I also reach out to fashion bloggers and mommy bloggers. I’ve also gotten involved with Penn-based and other Ivy League-based fashion and eco-fashion clubs like Her Campus. I’m also consigning to sustainable secondhand boutiques in Philadelphia like Career Wardrobe and Greene Street.
Q: The name ReBag?
A: It reflects our main product, production methods and values. “Re” comes from refashioning, renovation and reflection.
Q: Biggest challenge?
A: Reaching customers. I pretty much work alone, even though I have help from friends. I design and do strategic planning, but I’m not a marketing person.