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This Falls Church startup wants to rethink online returns

Greenlist, based in Falls Church, has a new method for consumers to nab items directly from shoppers looking to return them. The retail startup, launching in May, was just accepted into the Fashion Tech Lab in NYC.

Jess Owens, founder and CEO of Greenlist. (Courtesy image)
For local founder Jess Owens, the story of her startup began like so many do: She wanted to solve her own problem. In her case, it all started with a jacket that was sold out before she was able to purchase it.

With anywhere from 15 to 40% of items purchased online getting returned, Owens wondered, shouldn’t she be able to nab one of the jackets instead of waiting for a restock?

“I thought: The most sustainable approach to a return is to send that jacket directly from my house to your house, because you want it,” Owens, creator and CEO of Greenlist, told Technical.ly.

As it turns out, none of the stores could facilitate her request. On top of being shipped back and forth across the country, returned items are also shipped around the world, thrown away or burned instead of being resold, she said. So, in late 2019, she set out to solve her problem and develop this service.

Greenlist, based in Falls Church, Virginia, is a peer-to-peer platform for retail returns that was just accepted into the New York City-based Fashion Tech Lab program. The startup, which officially launches in May, partners with retail brands to install a Shopify-based plugin on the retailers’ websites. If a shopper wants an out-of-stock item, they can fill out a form with the size they’re looking for and other relevant information. Buyers who want to return an item can log into the retailer’s site; if they can match with someone who wants their returned item, Greenlist will create a label for the returner to mail the item directly to the interested party within three days. In exchange, the returner will get 10% off their next purchase. Owens noted that Greenlist cuts emissions and packaging waste throughout this process.

Unlike resale platforms like Depop and Poshmark, Owens said, Greenlist is a direct return platform. That means items are in-season and have only been worn once. The process, for many, is more or less the same as the return they would be completing anyway.

“You’re returning that jacket either way, we’re just hijacking the process,” Owens said.

This week, the startup was accepted into the New York Fashion Tech Lab, a 12-week program for fashion and retail companies (Greenlist also participated in the Bethesda Green program in Maryland). Through the program, which ends in a demo day in New York City, Owens hopes to learn more on the product and logistics sides, as well as solicit feedback and possible funding before the platform launches.

After that launch in May, she hopes to grow as quickly as possible. Owens is currently raising a $1 million seed round (she’s about halfway there so far) and hopes to hire three to five more people in the next half-year. She also has a goal of adding 1,000 signups to the site.

Within the interest Owens said she’s seen from several shoppers is a particular enthusiasm from young women, a group that seeks to consume more consciously. As Greenlist adds more signups and plans to launch, she hopes to continue growing in this group and beyond.

“We’re not just for sold-out items, we’re for all returns,” Owens said. “A lot of shoppers want to be more sustainable in how they shop, and this allows you to be more sustainable.”

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