A Scots entrepreneur has revealed how spotting a business opportunity brought by the Covid pandemic helped save lives . . .  and has ultimately led to a reimagining of how the retail industry works.

Speaking on the Go Radio Business Show with Hunter & Haughey, Cally Russell, co-founder of zero-waste clothing company This is Unfolded, said: “I had a consumer insight business called Mallzee. We generated a billion customer opinions on products and used the data to try to help retailers not make things we wouldn’t sell. 

“We learned a valuable lesson: even if you find a problem – such as huge amounts of waste – you might not be able to fix it.

“It might impact the business but, for the people making decisions, fixing that problem is kind of their job – so maybe they don’t want you to do that.

“We grew a business to 40 people but realised we couldn’t win, not over the long term.

“Instead, along came Covid. And it turns out, if you’re selling insights to retailers at a point where no retailers can make money or buy stock, they don’t really have a business anymore. 

“So we did something crazy. At the start of the first lockdown, we saw major retailers cancelling stock orders and refusing to pay for them. We thought: ‘That’s just wrong!’.” 

Russell recalled there was a news article that noted, if Covid didn’t kill garment workers, starvation would. This was because retailers had cancelled orders and refused to pay the garment factories, who then couldn’t pay their workers in countries like Bangladesh and India. Russell believed he could help.

“All of these clothes finished for retailers were now sitting somewhere,” he said. “So over three weeks my business partners and I put together Lost Stock, selling the clothes as mystery packets.

“The idea was, if you bought one of these packets, you’d get three items worth double the price. And we would support a garment worker in Bangladesh for a week, with her and her family using the money you’d paid.

“So the clothes were not going to waste but doing some good in the world. We thought maybe we could sell a couple. We sold 10,000 in the first four days.”

Despite finding organising global logistics in the middle of the pandemic far from easy, he and his team ended up selling 125,000 of the packets, supporting 113,000 people in Bangladesh for a month.

Russell revealed he now has plans to build on this success.

“I can’t go back and sell insights to big retailers. I cannot try to fix their model because fundamentally it’s broken in such a way they don’t care about the people across their supply chain.

“So we’ve created a business called This is Unfolded and we’re reimagining how retail works from the starting point. What we do is design clothes on the Unfolded brand in collaboration with our customers.

“We started with 100 women helping us and, 18 months later, there are 5000. 

“We don’t produce any of the waste. It’s better for the planet. It’s better for everyone involved. It saves a lot of money. With the money we save, we provide sustainable clothes at very affordable prices. We pay government workers in India where we produce higher wages.”

Unfolded, which has secured £2 million in funding, also funds a charity in India to teach children to read and write: “Over the past 18 months we’ve funded 5000 kids.”

Russell said: “We’ve plans to grow more quickly now. We’ve built this concept of making clothes in a different way and now we can open this up to other people. 

“Over the next couple of years we want to build 100 brands for Unfolded that are hyper-ethical, good for the planet, good for the people making clothes, by partnering with people who already have amazing communities.”