Introducing London Fields member, co-founder and CEO of Thriftify & the definition of dogs looking like their owners: Rónán Ó Dálaigh.
We caught up with Rónán to chat about how Thriftify came to be, a €21,840 book that was almost recycled, his advice for starting a business and the only music to listen to while you work.
Introduce yourself & your business.
My name is Rónán Ó Dálaigh & i’m the founder of Thriftify. Thriftify is a social enterprise which helps charity shops to sell online. So basically, it’s a single source for you to find all of the amazing things in hundreds of charity shops across Britain.
Can you tell us about Thriftify & how it came about?
OK – this is a big question. I’ll try and keep it short.
So basically the entire concept for Thriftify is to disrupt the fashion industry. And what we know at the moment is that the fashion industry is accountable for 10% of all emissions.
It’s the most polluting industry after the oil industry. And what we’re trying to do at Thriftify is completely change how and also why people shop. And the way we do that is by connecting the biggest source of used fashion, which is charity shops. Hundreds of millions of items are at charity shops every year, but they can’t sell them online because they don’t have really good technology.
And that’s what we do. We give them really, really amazing technology, which uses artificial intelligence to understand just from photographs what the item is. And then we sell it online and we make it accessible and easy for the general public to shop from hundreds of charity shops across all kinds of brands, categories, styles and price points. And that’s the whole idea, really, is to make sustainable and impactful shopping a reality.
Thriftify came about primarily based on my love of charity shopping and bargains. But also based on the real pain point of not being able to find stuff that you need. So nobody walked into a charity shop looking for a size nine pair of hiking boots because you don’t know if they’re going to be in that charity shop, but if they’re all accessible online, then we make it realistic to shop particular items from charity shops.
"The entire concept for Thriftify is to disrupt the fashion industry. And what we know at the moment is that the fashion industry is accountable for 10% of all emissions"
What advice would you give to someone looking to launch a business or a project?
I think I’ve learned a lot and would do a lot differently if I could go back in time. I think the most important thing is don’t do it alone. I think there’s a myth of the kind of hero-preneur, and that’s not the reality at all. Like, you need really good people around you, and that would be the first thing.
And the second thing, it should be enjoyable and it should be something that you’re really passionate about because it is hard and it is stressful. And what keeps you going is a real passion and love of it. So, you know, if you’re doing it for commercial reasons only, it’s not worth the energy. You only get one chance at this life so do something you really love.
What are the benefits of working from Second Home?
I think there’s loads of benefits from working at Second Home. So, apart from my dog being welcome and not having to fix the printer, the best thing I think, is the physical building itself and the energy in the place. And as soon as you walk in the door, I feel like I’ve arrived at work, that it’s a really calm and balanced place and I’m able to be really productive. And then when I leave, I leave and everything is catered for and amazing. So yeah, it’s a great space to be.
I think the main thing for us has been the ability to connect with people who are in other industries and learn from them. So the people around us are working at a really, really high level in completely new industries that we’ve no awareness of. So you’re able to be really, really honest and open about the similar challenges or similar struggles and without any worries for, you know, them working in the same industry.
What are the ambitions for the next 5 years of Thriftify?
Big question. Thriftify is on a kind of a hyper growth journey. So over the last year we’ve we started in Ireland and we’ve scaled to about 90% market share. So we’re working with almost every single charity shop in Ireland. We launched here a year ago and we’re adding dozens of new people every month. So we’re on a really, really fast growth journey.
And I think that that’s fantastic because it shows there’s a massive demand for not just used and sustainable and a new way of shopping, but people are fed up with their money going into ruthlessly greedy and horrible corporations, and they want their money to go to good causes. And that’s what we’re facilitating. So I think over the coming years, really what we want to do is scale that and turn the fashion industry from something that’s historically been polluting, destructive, based on racism, colonialism and terrible workers rights.
To an industry that’s based on circularity and impact with all of the money that people spend on fashion going towards the best causes in society and solving the problems that in many ways the fashion industry has created, it’s going to be these charities that solve those problems. And if we can fund them and resource them – then happy days.
What’s your favourite book?
I don’t have a favourite book. I have too many. What’s my favourite book? I don’t necessarily have a favourite book, but I definitely have books that have had a big impact on me. The book that’s had the biggest impact on me was probably actually a biography of Martin Luther King. Going back to when I read it as a teenager, I think that set a course and a passion for social justice.
But recently I’ve been reading all of the Dune books. There’s 12/13 Dune books. I’m on book ten of whatever. I’ve been reading them for the last seven months, and that’s great. It’s just like a nice ability to switch off and get deep into sci-fi. Love it.
What is the best music to work to?
The best music to work to is techno and anyone who disagrees is a liar. I think techno is what you need to listen to if you want to be productive. There’s an amazing DJ in Ireland who you should all listen to. I listen to Jenny Greene and the Electric Disco, which is like an orchestra combining techno, and it’s great. It feels like you’re listening to something really refined, but a high BPM, so you’re like powering the keyboard.
How important is it for people to change their shopping habit and shop more Thriftify way than new?
I think when it comes to people’s shopping habits, I think we’ve actually made the mistake of putting a lot of the emphasis on change onto the individual and I think it’s unrealistic to expect people to spend more money in a less convenient way. And I think there’s two things we really need to do. The first thing is we need really effective systemic legislative top down power and changes on what we’re importing into the country and what we allow to be sold.
I don’t think it’s OK that we allow companies to import stuff that’s being made in many places on slave wages or by slaves unsustainably. I don’t think we should allow that in. And secondly, then I think we need a bit of a bottom up approach as well. And for those people who do have the privilege and capacity to support good causes, spend a little bit more on sustainable to also take part in that kind of movement and activism to force that change.
But I guess for us at Thriftify what we’re really trying to do is make it not only as convenient, not only that bit cheaper but more sustainable and more impactful and really enable consumers and the general public to find a solution that hits all of the buttons and we have to do that if we want to achieve systemic change.
"I think the main benefit of working at Second Home has been the ability to connect with people who are in other industries and learn from them."
What is your best ever charity shop find?
This jumper definitely [as seen in the video]. I have a huge amount of top quality charity shop finds. The amazing thing about working on Thriftify is the fact that I can get stuff really before anybody else and hand on heart, I do take things before I should. I do pay full price for them, but I don’t let other people have them. Such as this jumper. As soon as I saw this on the website, I was like mine.
Some of the other amazing charity shop finds I found are particularly books and vintage and knickknacks and coins and jewellery. So I have a good eye for spotting like gold and silver, and I’ve picked up really cheap gold rings, silver rings, some coins, rare valuable coins, and then books.
I have way too many books that I need to get through. The biggest, most expensive Thriftify find however, was a book that was going to be sent for recycling and our technology valued it at €3,000, and it went to auction and sold for €21,840. And that book would have been recycled. So that’s just an example of the kind of amazing stuff that charity shops have and can resell if they use good technology.
What’s the book?
The Economic History of Cork City from the Earliest Times to the Act of Union, signed by the author and it was the only copy left in existence. People, like academics and stuff, had been looking for a copy and they couldn’t find one.
Who bought it?
University College Cork.
How did your software figure it out?
Well it didn’t price it at €21,000, it priced it at way less because the technology integrates with probably two dozen different online databases for products, so hundreds of millions of different products and skews. Basically one of them is Google Books so we have a list of basically every book that was ever printed and then it’s able to look at the demand for that product based on search terms and stuff.