Bandi is a clothes swapping app founded by UK sisters Frankie and Nicole Theakston. Launched in September 2021, the app wants to be a sustainable alternative to fast fashion, allowing users to swap the clothes they never wear and build a wardrobe without the cost of new clothing (and doing damage to the environment). After growing a members-only Facebook community, Bandi opened the doors to new users by launching a mobile app. We wanted to know from Bandi co-founder and CEO Frankie Theakston what is so special about their swapping concept.
When did you start Bandi and how did the idea come about?
A few years ago, I was travelling around Morocco when [my sister] Nicole came to visit me. Just like at home, it wasn’t long before we had emptied out her suitcase and started swapping clothing. I had been travelling for a while and was desperate to refresh my wardrobe. Afterwards, I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if everyone had a sister or a friend to swap with?” Nicole responded, “Yeah! Imagine if it was like Tinder and we could match on style and size.”
One month later, Covid hit and so we used our time to found Bandi (and do our yoga teacher training) together. We drew every page of the app, what features we wanted, how we wanted it to look and feel. Then we began reaching out to developers, developing our business plan and pitch until we realized we had taken our passion project perhaps a little too far and all of a sudden after months of hard work, everything was becoming real.
How does Bandi work for consumers? And what criteria can they follow in searching for products and swapping them?
First, you need to create a profile and upload your preloved garments. Then you can find your fashion twin and swap clothes. You send your item and wait for your new garment to arrive.
We’ll match you with people who are a similar size and shape–and have similar taste in fashion. After the first exchange, you have a message thread open so you can keep in touch, share recommendations and arrange future swaps for years to come. Once you match and find your clothes twin, you are able to browse and shop their wardrobe and request swaps for any items you want; you can even request multiple at a time.
By what criteria do you determine that consumers can swap products through your app? What credentials or certifications do you require to participate in your platform?
The criteria to meet is that users MUST love fashion and the planet. Of course the credentials needed are the full name, email and postal address (for delivery of items). To match with others you have to upload items to your wardrobe. This involves uploading photos, selecting size, condition and category of clothing as well as a short description. Imagine, Instagram meets a clothing website–it has this feel.
We have a rating system, so everyone in the app can rate each other. There is nothing we can do about counterfeits, but we have a very strong honesty policy and zero tolerance, so if someone is abusing the app we will remove them straight away.
What products or brands are most popular?
We have over 1,000 items in users wardrobes right now and the most popular items are tops, dresses, skirts and jumpers.
Most of the clothes on the platform are fashionable yet practical items that are lightly worn and highly loved. People aren’t getting rid of their clothes because they’re old. It’s usually because they fancy a change or they hardly wear the item. If something isn’t in like-new condition, we have an honesty policy that asks people to show any wear and tear.
What kind of consumers use your app?
We just hit over 1,000 users and they are 18 to 35 years old. They are mostly female but we have more males coming on board and joining the community.
In which markets is Bandi available?
Currently, we are available in the UK on iOS. We are planning on releasing on Android and afterwards in Europe, the USA and Australia! This will be after we tackle a few more rounds of funding. Currently our mailing list has people from all over and since launching we have had several countries reach out to ask when we will be launching there–all very encouraging!
How much does the use of Bandi cost?
The app is free to use, users only have to pay for the postage, making Bandi ideal for students and young people who can’t afford to buy new or for those who are decluttering their wardrobe after binging on episodes of Marie Kondo. Plus, to reduce the impact of shipping and eliminate single-use plastics, Bandi gives each customer the option to purchase a reusable Bandi Bag that stays in circulation, so it’s a fully circular system.
So how do you make money with the app since it's all for free?
We take a very small amount from postage.
Swapping and sharing is not new to the fashion world. What makes Bandi different?
What makes Bandi different is its focus on the values of sustainability, affordability and community.
Bandi is a fully circular alternative to fast fashion. All you have to do is pay the postage, say thank you, then bask in your own environmentally friendly glow knowing that you didn’t send another sweater to landfill.
There’s no subscription (and swaps are free), so you don’t need a clothing budget to look the business. As long as you have clothes to swap, you’ll never run out–because when one item leaves you, another one arrives.
And we’re not just about clothes. Bandi is a place where people want to hang out. From finding your “clothes twin” who shares the same clothing and fit challenges to belonging to a community that shares your values–we’re bringing together an eco-aware generation.
When do you see the “preloved” fashion trend come to an end?
I don't. I think preloved and secondhand has been on the rise through marketplaces and vintage or charity shops over the past five to ten years, and it is set to take over fast fashion by 2030.* Swapping will have its moment and I am excited to see what other like-minded businesses pop up over the next few years and see how we can all do our bit to help save the planet and fight back against fast fashion.
(*Source: 2021 global report conducted by Thredup with analysis by market research firm GlobalData)