Down to business: Lost Stock

Jenessa Williams 24 August 2020

We spoke to Cally Russell, founder and CEO of eco and socially aware fashion company, Lost Stock

How did Lost Stock get started? 

It was reading this quote from a Bangladeshi factory owner “If Coronavirus doesn’t kill my workers then starvation will” that spurred us to set up Lost Stock.

As a team we had a number of discussions around what we could do to help and came up with Lost Stock as a way to connect cancelled clothing stock and consumers. At the same time, we wanted to deliver much-needed support to Bangladeshi garment workers and their families by paying factories for already manufactured stock and preventing these goods ending up in a landfill. 

Utilising our previous experience from building Mallzee and our industry contacts we built the Lost Stock initiative within a month and launched on May 18. At first we hoped to sell 50,000 boxes of clothing by the end of 2020 to help 50,000 Bangladeshi families but we’ve been blown away by the support and actually sold almost double this number in the first month!

Nurani, a factory worker, aged 35

Lost Stock has really caught the public imagination and has benefited from extensive press  coverage including The Guardian, BBC, and The Times—we have already sold enough boxes to provide food and hygiene aid for over 100,000 families and prevented almost 500,000 new clothes going to landfill. This is just the start of the Lost Stock journey and we are now looking at building a long term DTC sustainable retail business. 


What career trajectory led you to Lost Stock?  

I studied Politics with International relations at Dundee University and moved into Public Affairs and PR when I graduated. I realised very quickly that I wanted to run my own thing and I’ve now been running various businesses for the last ten years. I’m very much someone that learns from doing rather than sitting in a classroom, but two years ago I did a week-long intensive course at MIT called the Entrepreneur Development Program, which was fantastic.  


How does your work compliment your personality?

A lot of the work that I do involves working closely with people and coming up with strategies to get our business in front of consumers. I’m quite an outgoing and energetic person so this means I’m often in my element. Some would say that I’m happiest when talking…  


So, the ethos behind LostStock is all about supporting workers who will bear the brunt of coronavirus-related cancellations.

Ordering a box is a good start, but how else can western retailers support these communities? Retailers and brands are now full of inefficiencies which often means they are continually pushing factories to reduce prices. This is driven by the fact that 50 per cent of products in the UK end up being sold at discount—if companies focus on improving their product offering, understanding their customers wants and aligning product to these, they’ll be able to reduce this rate and pay suppliers more.  


Do you think there is a truly sustainable future for high-street fashion?

We keep asking brands to behave in a better manner but maybe it’s time to just build better brands? We will be announcing more around our own plans in this area in the coming weeks alongside a range of charitable partners to donate unwanted clothes too, a series of upcycling activities and also access to a range of swap platforms to help Lost Stock products do even more good in the world.  


What does a typical workday look like for you? 

Before Covid I would spend a lot of time travelling—normally being on the road three days a week and in the office only on a Monday and a Friday. Things are obviously very different now.  

I start most days with a run at around 7am and then aim to start working at 8.30. I’ll then end up on Zoom calls for a chunk of the morning, before trying to have a couple of focused hours to work through a range of tasks before doing further calls for the afternoon.  

Ideally I’ll finish up for dinner around 6.30 and then check back in on emails around ten. Just now we’re working across multiple time zones so the days are pretty long as we make sure we respond quickly to partners in Bangladesh and also media in the US, Australia and New Zealand.  


What are your favourite and least favourite parts of the job?  

My favourite part currently is seeing the impact Lost Stock is having on workers who need support, that our little idea is able to help so many is really mind-blowing. On the other side its very hard to see that this support is needed—it can bring a tear to the eye.  


What do you like to do to switch off? 

I used to run a lot when I was younger and then neglected it for the last couple of years—I’m now back into it and finding it to be a great way to clear my head with everything we’re doing.  


What has been the most valuable business lesson you’ve learnt so far? And what has been your most tangible achievement?  

Just do it! It might be an old Nike slogan but it’s also the best advice I think there is. You don’t know what will happen till you actually try... so just get out there and give it a go. When we started Lost Stock two months ago we had no idea how consumers would respond—we’ve now sold 110,000 boxes and supported 110,000 families for at least a week!  


If you weren’t involved in fashion, what career do you think you’d be in?  

I often don’t think I’m involved in fashion and when working from home I certainly don’t look like I am either. With my background in politics and my love of football I think I would have ended up in one of these sectors.  


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