Toronto entrepreneur Gagan Singh hopes his latest fashion venture, an app known as SIXR, will become the “Amazon of sustainability” by incentivizing sustainable clothing purchasing habits.
Over the course of 20 years in the fashion business, Singh says he became deeply dissatisfied with the industry’s unsustainable consumption habits, fuelled by fast fashion.
“I was not happy with the solutions out there. I thought the solutions were more like bandages. Nobody was addressing the root problem,” he told Sustainable Biz Canada.
Now as the CEO of SIXR, a firm he co-founded over a year ago, he has created a circular economy app to address the end-of-life issue for garments which are listed with the app.
SIXR's app provides users information on each article of clothing via QR codes. When scanned, the app reveals the garment's material composition, the company that made it, where it was made, how to care for it, and a way to return it for reuse or recycling.
George Brown College students and members of its Brookfield Sustainability Institute designed a hoodie under the ‘FOR TOMORROW’ label that is the first brand listed on the app.
Singh’s sustainability story
Singh, who holds a textile engineering degree from India, came to Canada to study the fashion business at Seneca College. After graduation, he worked for various fashion startups but realized “how broken the fashion industry is overall” on sustainability.
George Brown College brought him onboard to run Fashion Exchange Toronto, its hub for fashion innovators. He also taught sustainable fashion at the college, where he got a stronger grasp on the topic.
When the COVID pandemic hit Canada, he switched tracks to a Scarborough, Ont.-based company called Clean Planet that makes medical gowns.
Under his leadership, Singh said it grew from nothing to making two million gowns with 250 employees in eight months. The company exceeded expectations and manufactured an additional one million gowns because it outpaced other contractors, he said.
At Clean Planet, he identified the value of incentives in pushing production. That idea was linked back to his desire to solve “the sustainability crisis in fashion.”
He enlisted his team from Clean Planet, including an app developer and investor, for SIXR.
The startup’s co-founders raised $150,000 from friends and family and are set to raise an additional $1 million in pre-seed funding.
Singh studied incentive models from other industries, including the beer and metals sectors, as a foundation for SIXR.
“Now all of a sudden, the circular economy is happening. People are returning their bottles, people are returning their metal to gain some sort of incentive," he said. "I thought 'this actually works and it doesn’t happen in textiles,' so that’s why 85 per cent of our clothes end up in a landfill.”
His priority is to change consumer behaviour by tying financial incentives to the clothing.
SIXR takes the information about the clothing and embeds it onto the QR code, building a digital wardrobe of other SIXR-compatible clothing on the app.
Once the clothing reaches the end-of-life stage, users will have the option of returning it for reuse or recycling. Scan the QR code, and SIXR will provide a shipping label so the clothing can be returned for another life. There are plans for a second-hand marketplace as well for garments which are still in wearable condition.
SIXR will accept a variety of brands onto the platform and charge fees as a marketplace. Half of the profits from SIXR will go to the Planet Fund, a firm that invests in sustainable companies which provide services like removing plastic from the oceans, or in reforestation projects.
“I want our incentives to undo damage that we’ve already done,” Singh said.
SIXR will keep stock in the Planet Fund per user. Once the clothing is returned and if the investment makes a return, SIXR will sell the stocks and the value will be returned to customers as a credit for future purchases on the platform, Singh said.
The app has already received positive responses for collaboration, though Singh was not able to provide details at this juncture.
The For Tomorrow partnership
In addition to being the first items on the SIXR app, the FOR TOMORROW hoodies offer other sustainability features. They are made out of recycled material – 70 per cent recycled cotton and 30 per cent recycled polyester, according to Singh – and specifically designed to be part of the circular economy.
To promote SIXR and FOR TOMORROW, a Kickstarter was started to raise awareness and get collaborations, he said. It quickly exceeded its $5,000 starting goal (a target Singh said was kept deliberately low), and Singh is aiming to reach $25,000 to announce the next milestone.