Updated: Sep 3
Rendered Inc. is a sustainable fashion brand founded by Saba Tshibaka in 2018 when she was a sophomore in college. She never planned on turning her love for thrifting into a sustainable business, but that's what happened. She thrifted so well that she started to thrift for friends by finding unique, comfortable, and affordable clothing while also reselling items, often making 300% profit in the process. Saba is also an environmental activist who educates her community on the long-term benefits of sustainability. She teaches her community how to use their buying power to make a positive impact on the world.
Saba said, "I decided that I wanted to focus on sustainability and sustainability awareness because getting clothes from the thrift store is inherently sustainable because you're recycling, but at the same time there's a lot that you're doing with your dollars, and you're really making them stretch in the right way because we believe that the less that you buy from the people manufacturing the clothes the less that they'll make and the world will become cleaner because they're not using as many of the resources up."
The Impact of The Black Lives Matter Movement
Saba said at the time of the civil unrest, she noticed that people were tagging Black-owned businesses, so she tagged her own business, and within a day or two, she landed on many lists, which led to other people doing the tagging. Not only did her social media grow tremendously, through securing more followers, but people started to support her.
"I wish it could always be like this, and it will be, but I've never seen anything like that before. And I've never been supported like that before because the people that I have in my immediate like connection group don't understand my business. And that's a struggle that I think a lot of Black women have. Sometimes like I know, my Black friends are so intelligent. They have like, just they have so many businesses that help, but because they are not necessarily surrounded with the same people that would buy their products, they fall into this place that they feel like they're not being supported."
It's harder for Black women founders to connect with spaces as Saba mentioned, which means they have to dig deep for it or hear about it through word of mouth. Because of her specific niche, it's hard for her to find Black customers interested in sustainability, but the BLM Movement helped her get right in front of them. Saba believes social justice is environmental justice as well because this directly impacts the community's well-being.
What would you like corporations to know about Black businesses and Black women entrepreneurs?
"I would like corporations to know that we all have different positions in this fight for equity. We, as Black women, fight every day of our lives because that's what we have to do. And that's what we have the opportunity to do because I feel like we're so blessed to be Black, but it also comes with its hardships. Corporations, on the other hand, they have corporate compassion that they should be adopting at an all-time high because we are in a recession. We're in a pandemic, and we're amiss a civil unrest, so if we all genuinely take a look at the positions and the power that we have, we'd see that corporations have a lot of power to make changes on a systemic level and deal with institutionalized racism."
Saba believes what has to happen is corporations banning together to help change policies that make Black people's lives 30 years plus into the future better. Infuse the system with equity, and that's where lasting change will have the most powerful impact.
In which ways have you pivoted your business so you can continue to operate and serve?
With the impact of COVID-19 and several shutdowns, this negatively impacted Saba's ability to enter stores to thrift physically, thus her supply chain evaporated. And as a financially struggling college student, her funds were dwindling. After spending a month unemployed, she began to think creatively. But she also had to act fast if she was going to finish out her last semester of college.
Pre-COVID, Saba had a huge clothing swap event scheduled. She had been partnering with local businesses, doing pop-up events; however, every event canceled because of COVID. With 32 pieces of unsold clothing, she decided to create masks out of the materials. Pivoting this way allowed her to continue her mission of sustainability through recycling the clothing. Without knowing how to sew or owning a sewing machine, she borrowed a sewing machine from her aunt, watched an ungodly amount of YouTube videos, and taught herself how to sew the masks.
What happened next was what also propelled Saba forward. Her original target audience was college students who didn't have large budgets, so thrifting was appealing. However, none of her college customers were leaving their homes to purchase masks. She had to ask herself how she could market this new business venture in a way that continues to carry out her mission and pay off her remaining college tuition.
So she donated the masks to local restaurants, which were still operating amid COVID. Then she pushed her business on the Nextdoor app by marketing every three days, and that's how she received her first 100 orders. Then she pushed her business on Facebook. From there, she began to think outside of her target audience, such as servicing children or customizing face masks for people who needed masks that comfortably fit. Again, most of her customers were not in her network, so she had to think outside of the box further.
Since Saba's network limited her, she decided to create Facemasksdc.com. This website is a geolocator focused on connecting face mask makers to their communities. She used the DC Mutual Aid Facebook group and continued to invite as many people as possible from as many platforms as possible. She now has 62 face mask makers signed up on the site. This benefited her because those creators brought their customers to the platform, which allowed collaborations to occur. This platform is a win-win for both her and the entrepreneurs because now she provided visibility. After all, they, too, had a hard time (like Saba) connecting to her customer base. This pivot turned her business into a micro-social enterprise.
How has your mindset helped you to pivot?
"So, I think the term is struggle breeds innovation," Saba said. This was the worst-case scenario for her. She had no choice but to get creative and pivot because there were too many financial obligations looming over her head. Saba reached out to her roommates to help her. One roommate helped her with the sewing, another roommate helped her write handwritten notes to the customers, and they helped her follow up with the customers to check-in. This brilliant teamwork led Saba to make 10,000 sales in one month.
"The thought came up for me; maybe this semester is just not it for me. But I was like I have to try at least, and if I try and if I can't do it, then I tried, but I tried, and it worked out for me very well," Saba said.
Because of her determination and flexibility, she could now pay her tuition and move into a better apartment. She's thankful that she's in a program that teaches her about entrepreneurship, her access to business accelerators helped sharpen her entrepreneurial skills. Between that and having a robust network of mentors, this combination enabled her to sustain her business.
What advice would you give to business owners who are experiencing a crisis in their businesses?
Saba received some timely advice that helped her during this crisis. "When we look around us and truly see everything that we do have, with a brand new set of eyes, which is necessary because the pandemic is just making things brand new, we see opportunities that we've never seen before. And that seems like something so simple, but it's not something that would come naturally to us. So, my advice is kind of echoing that, and I would like to challenge everyone to look at everything with a brand new set of eyes. Because if I didn't I would have never realized that even though I'm not crafty really and I don't sew usually, I could learn how to sew because that's what I can do with the resources that I have. Just that one little barrier, we can't let that stop us, especially not now and going forward."
What's next for your Rendered Inc.?
Rendered Inc. continues to provide customers with quality affordable clothes to the people who need it. With essential workers who don't have the time or people who need access to these items because they're unable to leave their homes, Saba created the Rendered Box. A customized sustainably sourced subscription box that personalizes the customer's closet persona.
Customers answer a set of questions. Then they are paired up with a certified personal stylist who shops for them at consignment shops. Once she receives the box, she sustainably sanitizes them without toxic cleaning supplies and then ships them to the customers.
Saba's story is about true entrepreneurship, but it's also a survival story. With limited resources, how do you get creative so you can pivot your business? She could've gone on a downward spiral, which happens in moments like this, but the goal is not to remain in that downward spiral. It's all about recovery and learning how to bounce back. Often, it's hard to see the resources around you when you're experiencing a crisis, but once you give yourself time to think clearly, you can move the needle forward.