My name is Naomi and I worked with SINGLA as a research analyst - and recently sat down with our founder to learn more about the history and future of the brand.
The Basics of a Small Business
What sparked the idea to begin a small business focused on sustainable intimates?
Like many of us at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rubaina noticed herself online more - exploring new forms of entertainment, shopping, and social media. Having transitioned from previously working in brick and mortar for 4+ years, she took note of the fashion industry innovating during this pivotal time. She noticed a huge boom in e-commerce, but more importantly, a rise in social and environmental impact driven products.
She wanted to shop more sustainably after researching the gruelling industry facts: the fashion industry contributes to 10% of global carbon emissions and over 110 million tons of waste where only <1% is actually recycled or reused. However, she saw a disparity between the sustainable fashion industry and the fashion industry, recognizing that most consumers held a relatively conservative outlook on what "sustainability" actually means; something that require fit, feel, and style to be sacrificed.
Rubaina also noticed that female consumers including herself were growing tired of the over-sexualized and tacky qualities on the market for intimates- the lingerie industry hadn't changed in a long time. Wanting to find an intersection between sustainability and fashion, while making lingerie garments she would want to wear herself, the idea of SINGLA Intimates was born.
Where did you start?
Despite being immensely interested in sustainability and creating a solution, she had no idea how. Having no background in fashion or training in design, a massive learning curve presented itself. She launched herself into learning the ins and outs of lingerie, sustainability and most notably, the e-commerce industry. She interviewed fashion designers, called business owners, and started brainstorming names and themes for the business. She went on to sample fabrics and learn about supply chain from the fibre production, all the way to garment construction.
Some of Rubaina's initial sketches in June, 2020
What were your goals and expectations when starting SINGLA?
Rubaina had no idea if people would be interested in the product or the idea. The onset of the idea came at a time when TikTok was becoming increasingly popular, and many small businesses were capitalizing off of the platform’s algorithm that put random users in the spotlight, helping them gain traction. Quickly, a new trend of “being your own boss” and “watch me start my own business” emerged, and Rubaina was enticed by how fun the community seemed. These trends, combined with the macro-industry outlook being positive for social enterprises and environmentally driven businesses, provided hope to Rubaina that she could get her message out there and help more people see the value in conscious shopping.
Two years and a lot of progress later, Rubaina has experienced all the ups and and downs of this hope. The fun photoshoots, female communities of entrepreneurs in Canada, conversations about sustainability, and growth make the process excited. On the other hand, there are also a lot of operations and logistics that often require tedious solutions. The complex logistics and greenwashing in the industry are often glorified or hidden, says Rubaina.
Discovering and Overcoming the Complexities of the Fashion Industry
What have been some of the biggest issues you’ve faced?
"The more business people I networked with in North America (generalizing here), the less knowledgable I became about what goes on 'behind the scenes' in terms of fibre and fabric production, materials, manufacturing processes, and true sustainability. Not many people had answers for me - not even business owners and designers. This points to the industry's historical habit of trying to conceal 'ugly' or complex aspect of things we buy. The truth is, all of our stuff comes from somewhere, usually a long line of 'somewheres,' where real people and natural resources are affected. Information about supply chain is limited to industry insiders, which makes absolutely no sense, because as largest consumers of clothing, it is our collective responsibility to aim to do more good than harm." ~ Rubaina Singla, Founder of SINGLA
With the "what" and the "why" part of SINGLA established, Rubaina was faced with the how. This began a deep dive into the manufacturing and supply chain industry which she quickly noticed was decentralized and ambiguous. It became obvious that extensive connections in the top-down industry would be needed. Her solution was like many other entrepreneurs; cold calling anyone whose contact she could get her hands on. She also connected with various members of her startup's accelerator, Morrissette Entrepreneurship, by Ivey Business School in London, Ontario. Through 8+ months of this process, she found the right materials and manufacturers.
A lack of transparency and greenwashing is prevalent through out the supply chain. While there is an extensive amount of raw materials and manufacturing available to business owners, another element to the “starting your own business” trend is that suppliers often try to take advantage of business owners who don’t have extensive knowledge of what certifications mean and are primarily focused on the eCommerce side of their brand rather than where their fabric is coming from. This presents an opportunity for manufacturers to upcharge business leaders by using words like “eco-friendly”, or “environmentally-conscious” (see Greenwashing blog). This is creating a large, industry-wide problem where business owners, designers, and marketers do not understand how a garment goes from raw material, to fibre, to fabric, to garment, to landfill waste.
"It's highly problematic when the co-creators of garments (and ultimately textile waste) do not understand their own supply chain and how garments are made. Not how they are constructed - but how they are REALLY made, starting with raw inputs like oil, plants, trees, and cotton" - Rubaina
Once Rubaina had figured out the designs, fabrics, qualities, and more, shipping was another major aspect. The fashion industry as a whole was feeling an immense impact from the COV19-19 pandemic, and bottlenecks produced from shipping delays in the supply chain were detrimental to many small businesses. To add to this, it became noticeable that "sustainability" was not considered equally around the world, so dealing with international shipping, shipping costs and manufacturing forms became prevalent when Rubaina shipped her fabrics to suppliers and then to Canada.
What are some of your biggest achievements to date?
Having navigated the fashion industry (greenwashing, supply chain, logistics, social media e-commerce saturation, and much more) and producing a final product that SINGLA is proud of is a huge milestone. This are some of our favourite memories:
- Having built a team: We're currently a team of 4 strong women. We come from all walks of life, but one thing we all have in common is a deep love for creativity and the environment.
- Stakeholder interest - By being completely transparent in the pitch of the brand's purpose, we attracted investors whose values aligned with SINGLA’s core pillars. Rubaina hopes to be an active voice for stakeholder interest in sustain-tech and impact driven businesses.
- Customer support - A large measurement of success when it comes to a small business is the passion within a community for what you’re trying to do; your purpose. Having seen extensive customer feedback and support has been massively influential to the direction of SINGLA, helping it shape its product directly to what consumers are demanding.
What's next for SINGLA...
SINGLA’s journey from cultivating the idea to producing a final product has been long, but intentional. The factors of personally picking out material, choosing the most sustainable design and deciding the best way to deliver this product were all carefully thought out and reshaped with support from customer feedback. Going forward, SINGLA plans to locate exactly what is valuable to you through feedback! A more built-out e-commerce store is also in the future, as well as a lot of cool social media content, behind-the-scenes, and new product launches!
Post your SINGLA selfies and tag @singlaintimates on IG and reach out to us at anytime :)