ShihYun Kuo and her business partner Lorenzo Albrighi, were spurred to create Lablaco after witnessing fast fashion’s excessive waste. We talk to them about how they use blockchain technology to digitise the fashion industry, and how they are short circuiting the industry’s wasteful production cycles
Startup Lablaco is digitising the fashion industry, using blockchain to make second-hand luxury clothing traceable and short circuiting the industry’s wasteful production cycles.
Founded by Gen.T honouree ShihYun Kuo and her business partner Lorenzo Albrighi, were spurred to create Lablaco after witnessing fast fashion’s excessive waste.
Since its beginnings in 2016, Lablaco has partnered with some of the biggest names in the fashion industry, including The Lane Crawford Joyce Group, Alibaba, Unilever, Swarovski and H&M.
With the coronavirus wreaking havoc to their plans to host a Circular Fashion Summit, the duo innovated once again by recreating the entire summit in virtual reality—a first of its kind. The VR summit replicated the Grand Palais, a historic Parisian exhibition hall often used by Chanel for its fashion shows. Through avatars, participants were able to watch talks while also networking with other attendees from around the world.
Here, we talk to ShihYun and Albrighi about their work, the summit and the future of fashion.
Can you introduce Lablaco?
Lorenzo Albrighi “We create a circular fashion platform for customers to pass from consumption to ownership of their garments. The blockchain is an encrypted technology that enables you to create a timeline history of events that cannot ever be modified. So long story short, as a customer, it's an end-to-end transparency system, where I can see who's the manufacturer, I can see who is the brand, I can see who is the retailer and if I’m the second customer I can also see who the first customer was. Every layer of the product journey is traced in layers of blockchain, making it impossible, for example, to modify what happened before. That's the valuable part—there's no counterfeit. There is no way of saying that this garment was owned by Justin Bieber if it wasn't. Using a QR code or an NFC chip I can just open my camera, scan the product and receive all this information.”
What sparked your interest in making the fashion industry more sustainable?
Albrighi “I was a bespoke tailor and designer before starting Lablaco, and after creating my first ready-to-wear collection I became more familiar with the ready-to-wear fashion industry. That’s when I learnt a lot about the issues in [the fashion] industry—it’s one of biggest polluting industries in the world.”
ShihYun Kuo “For me, my background is in merchandising and buying management for Giorgio Armani. At the same time, I was also helping some independent designers via consulting, helping them to understand how to go to market and basically sell their collections. So, I had the ability to see it both from a corporate point of view and an independent perspective. It was around 2012 or 2013 that we began to see the role of social media in changing how customers were consuming fashion—it was becoming a lot more digitised. That was when we started to realise that there should be a platform that helps designers and brands to digitise their products and trace the data of the products. Soon after, Lablaco was born.”
Tell us about the beginnings of Lablaco
Albrighi “At the start we had no investors, so we put all our money into it. I remember we went onto LinkedIn to find a developer in Indonesia, and when we found someone we’d obviously never met them but we sent them all our money. I didn’t sleep for many months because I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s going to run with the money!’ But he actually set up the first office in Indonesia. It was basically in the jungle, there was no running water or anything, but that’s where it all started.
“Our background wasn’t in technology, so I’d say it took us about three years to learn about all the technologies and all of those things which are necessary to create a technology product. We were lucky enough to get the co-founder of Net-a-Porter, Arnaud Massenet, as our first investor, and from there we managed to build an incredible team and basically have the product launch in September 2019. We launched it with the Lane Crawford Joyce Group in Hong Kong—that's when everything kind of started for us. Soon after we launched the Circular Fashion Summit, also in 2019, which gives a purpose to our partners to use our technology.”
Can you tell us more about the Circular Fashion Summit?
Albrighi “The Circular Fashion Summit is a global collective action summit, which is focused on design, technology and sustainability. But we don't just talk about the issues in the industry, we actually set three goals, one for each panel to achieve in a timeframe of 12 months using our technology. We support our partners by providing circular retail solutions to reach the three goals of the summit. The goals are very specific and related to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”
What are the three goals of the Circular Fashion Summit?
Albrighi “Goal number one of the summit is to provide 1,000 upcycled sneakers to kids in war zones in Afghanistan and to trace them on blockchain so the company that is donating the sneakers can know the name and face of the kids that receive the sneakers. So we’re using blockchain for good, to reduce inequalities.
“The second goal is about connecting 10,000 products in the supply chain using our system—essentially creating a transparent supply chain for customers with IoT products [and] connected items.
“The third and final goal is a goal that anyone can join. It's about recirculating 100,000 products collectively. We joined that goal with the Luxarity project of Lane Crawford, with [Luxarity's] Christina Ventura as our first catalyst of this project.”
What’s next for Lablaco?
Albrighi “Our overall goal is pretty straightforward. We want to accelerate the transition to a digitised circular economy and fashion. And we want to bring online 500 billion clothing items, because that's the number of clothes sitting around stores and warehouses around the world and they're all disconnected. Of course, we can't do everything, but even if we do 1 percent, that's huge.”