Grécie Van Innis from Just Waldo on fashion sustainability

Sustainability is the word we have all learned to add to our vocabulary and lifestyle recently! What does this mean in terms of fashion sustainability?  Is fast fashion being replaced by secondhand vintage clothes where quality and pricing offer individuals the opportunity to constantly have a new wardrobe and give their clothes a second chance so they don’t end up filling landfills?  According to BBC, in the US, 85% of clothes get thrown away yearly, up to 37kg for the average American.  By 2030, we are expected to discard more than 134 million tons of textiles annually.  We can all imagine what that does to our planet, and it’s not pretty. 

Just Waldo is creating an option for shoppers to contribute to our planet’s future by making a curated marketplace for vintage, secondhand clothes and accessories available.  I recently sat down with their founder, Grécie Van Innis, who shares her journey and best practices for entrepreneurship.

Grécie Van Innis from Just Waldo on fashion sustainability

Can you share with us your story and starting Just Waldo?
It’s been quite a journey.  I studied law, and when I started university, as with many high school students, I didn’t know what I wanted to do “when I grow up.” I looked at what my friends wanted to study, and that’s how I ended up studying law without thoroughly realizing what I was getting myself into. Quickly, I realized that this wasn’t for me.  

My dad is a notary, so he was quite happy that I was studying law to possibly take over his practice one day. I quickly realized that that was not the right path for me. I hadn’t even finished my bachelor’s degree when I decided to go on a gap year to backpack through Southeast Asia. My parents weren’t happy with that decision, but they saw that I wasn’t happy and that I needed to figure out for myself who I was and what I wanted to do with my future.  My parents lent me some money, and I just left with my backpack.

Traveling through Southeast Asia was a fantastic experience. When I was in Thailand, I discovered that vintage markets were big over there. I visited so many of them. It was a way to shop timeless clothes for very affordable prices. I didn’t know that this even existed, but in hindsight, I realize that this experience started shaping my idea of Just Waldo. My other inspiration is my mom because she is a true hoarder. Our home is a collection of so much stuff from second-hand shops and markets. She loves it and hunts for beautiful high-quality pieces of furniture, porcelain, and crystal. Our home is gorgeous. When I was younger, I used to go to the markets with her, and I discovered this thrill of finding unique items that no one else had. My mom also kept all the clothes she bought since she was 18 years old, and when I was 16, I was allowed to look through her bags and found all these clothes from Max Mara, Laura Ashley,… amazing designers. I still wear these today and love the fact that I’m wearing some of her clothes.

After my year of traveling, I returned to Belgium and finished my bachelor’s degree in law with honors. As it became more and more clear that I wanted to become an entrepreneur, completing my master’s in law really didn’t make that much sense at that point (although I still have this hidden ambition to one day finish my law studies). I enlisted myself for a master’s in Business Management and my end-of-year thesis was a strategic analysis of the market for vintage & secondhand clothes in Belgium… of course, it was!

During my master’s, I wanted to give entrepreneurship a go and started my own Instagram shop for vintage clothes with a friend. This is where it really started for me. Then Covid hit and this side-tracked me a little bit. I somehow felt the need for job security & started working in an administrative job. Nevertheless, this was the way it needed to be, because it was that experience that finally pushed me over the edge. I resigned and at that point, I thought it was the perfect time to venture out on my own with Just Waldo as I realized there weren’t any platforms for curated vintage secondhand clothing. The existing platforms allow people to upload their items, and you can scroll for hours which can be fun but frustrating for many in terms of quality and the credibility of the sellers.

Grécie Van Innis from Just Waldo on fashion sustainability

How would you describe Just Waldo?
Just Waldo is a digital marketplace for contemporary, quality secondhand vintage. Secondhand is on-trend, and people want to find ways to have a more sustainable lifestyle.  It’s also cool to wear unique items that no one else has; this is why people are drawn to our concept.

How would you describe your product offering today?
The items that we look for are trendy, classic items that people can wear daily.  They tend to be more neutral, not too crazy, with less focus on oversized items, big shoulder pads, or loud patterns.

We are very selective regarding the sellers that can showcase their collection on our website. We check their Instagram page to have a sense of their branding, to see what they are selling, see if they are selling on other platforms, and check what their ratings & reviews say about them.  If that matches our brand values, we allow them to sell on Just Waldo.

In December 2021, we selected ten upcycling European designers who created an exclusive limited-edition collection for Just Waldo. We gave 30% of sales to a good cause called Fashion Revolution to give back.  This initiative was so successful that we plan on repeating it!

What is your pricing and positioning strategy?
Our target audiences are millennials and Gen X. People that are open to buying secondhand or still require a little push, but don’t have the time to go to shops where the shopping experience is messy and finding the right items is hard.

Our marketplace offers a clean and uniform website where customers can browse for what they are looking for from the ease of their phone or computer. We want to bring the high-end shopping experience that online customers nowadays are used to, to the secondhand segment.

Our average pricing point is €55, which is different from items you can find in a typical thrift shop where they start at €5. Our sellers do sell an experience with a focus on high-quality items. Each item is washed and ironed before it’s sent out.

What was your key driving force to become an entrepreneur vs. working for another marketplace?
I have always been a bit stubborn in the sense that I think that I can do this on my own; I get much energy from following my vision and developing Just Waldo. I could probably learn a lot from working for another marketplace, however, I see this project also as an investment in myself. I might learn some skills more quickly in the ‘safe’ setting of being an employee at a marketplace start-up, but the highs & lows of being an entrepreneur, constantly having to figure out what the next step is, solving every little problem, … that I think is an invaluable experience in itself. One that I might not be able to have in 10 years’ time. I love doing it all by myself and learning a lot that way. On top, I receive much guidance from mentors and my board of advisors, that have helped and supported me from the first day. 

How did you come up with the name Just Waldo?
My ambition for Just Waldo is to become a European marketplace and, maybe one day, even worldwide. I wanted a name that was easy to pronounce in many languages. I first came up with many names that were too complex. During a brainstorming session, Waldo came to mind, and I thought this reminded me of a name from the past. Then we added the “Just” to make it even more catchy.

Grécie Van Innis from Just Waldo on fashion sustainability

How did you build a thriving customer base?
We have been doing much community-building marketing, including our limited-edition collections, which got us press attention and a lot of new followers on Instagram.

Our communication strategy is to be authentic. I’m working on being the face of the brand and being featured in our content to be relatable. Our models are real people from our community or our team.  We do social media posts & reels to showcase our products but also show how to style different items together from your closet or our shop.

In September, we will have our first pop-up shop in Ghent, Belgium allowing our community to meet us in person and get personalized styling advice. They will also have the option to see our collection in real. We will continue to present at different events to build our customer base.

How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
It has had a positive impact on my family life. My parents noticed that I wasn’t happy with what I was doing and wanted me to do something that was close to who I am and provided me with passion. Since starting this journey, I have grown closer to them; they are very supportive. They don’t always understand what I’m doing because it’s not their field, but it’s cute to see that they are trying to understand, and they want to be present when I do events; they talk to their friends about me, which is so funny. My mom even started wearing vintage and secondhand. I don’t see them as often as I did before, but we try to see each other every Sunday.

I live together with my boyfriend, and as he also has a very demanding job, we prioritize the weekend to be for us to do activities together that give us energy, like riding our bikes in nature. He is of great support and is there during the good and bad days.

What motivates you when you get up in the morning?
I love that every day I can decide what we should do. It’s motivating. It’s a new day, a continuation of the day before in developing my vision and this marketplace to bring it to as many people as possible. I am quite a positive person.

What is success for you?
It’s a question I have often asked myself lately. Like, when will I be proud of what I have accomplished? Now, it’s all about building a team that shares my vision and values and is all-in in building this company with me. Once I reach this goal, I will feel that I have attained success.

Grécie Van Innis from Just Waldo on fashion sustainability

What has been one of the most satisfying moments in your journey?
There are a lot, but one of the top moments must be an article about Just Waldo in Marie Claire.  It made me realize I was onto something and that I wasn’t the only one believing in this business.

Another one is having one of my interns ask me if she can stay on after her internship is finished. For me, it’s super satisfying to see people around me also believe in this project and see themselves developing this further together.

How did you make your first sale?
We went live on May 4, 2021, and we had this one big vintage seller who showcased her products on our platform.  She brought excellent visibility and had twenty items online.  Twelve sold in the first minutes we were live. @daysofgold_

Grécie Van Innis from Just Waldo on fashion sustainability

Are there any business-related books or podcasts that have inspired you?
1. StartUp podcast. The first episodes are about a man who builds his own podcast company from scratch. It includes his first pitch to investors when it was only an idea. This was just before I started Just Waldo and is very inspiring. It was the first podcast about start-ups that I listened to.

2. The Lean Marketplace. “The Lean Start-up” is a classic when starting to build your own company, but “The Lean Marketplace” should be your bible when trying to build a marketplace. I discovered this one way later than I should have, but it has helped me tremendously in my marketplace journey.

If you could rule the world, which are the three things you would change?
1. No more fast fashion
2. More support for women in entrepreneurship
3. A ban on weak coffee

Connect with Just Waldo

Would you like more inspiration? Read our 5 minutes of inspiration interviews with great entrepreneurs on our blog.

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