eBay Australia has launched a $200,000 circular fund initiative to provide grants for the Australian fashion industry. In this Q&A with Ragtrader, head of fashion Brooke Eichhorn talks emerging circular solutions.

What led to the launch of the circular fund initiative?

A couple of things led to it. First of all was our partnership with the Australian Fashion Council - we've become a patron member of the Australian Fashion Council this year. As we were connecting with the whole team, we really came together on a shared purpose to transform how clothing is used, reused, and recycled in Australia. With all the great work that the Fashion Council is doing with the Seamless product stewardship program, we saw an opportunity to do something now to kick start things, while seamless is really being established and set up.

And secondly, eBay UK ran a similar circular fashion fund last year. What we really learnt from that was just the diversity of businesses that applied and the value that those businesses got out of not just the funding, but also the mentorship and the network that they've built since. So that's what really led us to do that here.

We've wanted to bring together just a really diverse group of leaders in the Australian fashion industry. We're really tackling that circular part of the sustainable fashion industry. Because that's where eBay plays - we're a circular fashion destination. That's where we're seeing a lot of innovation in the businesses and people that we talked to.

eBay has always played a role in sustainable commerce and connecting millions of sellers and buyers all around the world. Fashion has always been a key part of eBay. But we really recognize that we've got a role to play in helping propel the circular economy forward. So this fund is really about letting innovative businesses that are already tackling these problems and really helping them easily enter the circular space and grow.

What key emerging technologies in circularity are you seeing at the moment?

On the design side, there's sustainable fabrics and materials, lab-grown leather and textiles made from recycled materials, which talks to circularity. But from our eBay perspective, where we see some cool stuff happening is in the sharing economy; eBay invested in The Volte which is the peer-to-peer luxury marketplace, and that really changes how people monetize their closets, but also wear quality, great branded luxury outfits, and share that.

Digital IDs is a space where we see so much innovation happening. So whether that be blockchain for supply chain transparency, right through to authentication, and then digital IDs. That space really is opening up a lot of innovation, whether that's giving customers an inside peek into where their items came from, but also for trust and authentication. And eBay (global) has acquired a company that does that. eBay acquired Certilogo, and where they play is in digital IDs and digital authentication. So we're really looking at those areas of the market, and that's where we're incubating and putting funds to help really change the way that consumers interact with fashion.

Are there any other key factors that prevent these emerging technologies from getting off the ground?

There's a lot to it. We recognize that funding can provide that kickstart that a business might need. You can have a great idea, but funding for that in a market like Australia is where we really see eBay adding some value. And then also, connections within an industry. It's one thing to have a great idea, but you need a brand partnership, or you need customers to go and then adopt that. So by having that diverse panel of judges on our fund, from academics like Lisa Lake; we've got Rossana from The Growth Activists, who's really plugged into the startup community, as well as James Chin Moody from Sendle. It's really about how you foster that idea so that the go-to-market plan is really strong.

Looking ahead, do you have any predictions in the fashion space when it comes to certain technology solutions?

Really, it’s in that digital space of digital IDs and digital authentication; really understanding the quality of a garment and authenticity of a garment. It's a barrier to buying secondhand fashion online. So if we can remove those barriers, we can really grow the market. We're demonstrating how much of a trend we think it is by investing in companies like Certilogo, who are building our digital ID and digital authentication technology. And it complements what we're doing in the real world with authenticity guarantee, because that's where we physically inspect goods, with expert verifiers. So really, it's about addressing both sides in the physical and the digital world.

We've also now got the ability to 3D view items, so you can see around the whole shoe. We're really trying to bring that real-world experience onto the eBay platform.

There is just a fundamental thing about making, buying and selling secondhand clothing, like removing all the friction points that are there. And that is, for the most part, where we invest in driving things forward, particularly with our product roadmap at eBay. And things like shipping, knowing your item condition, and yeah, innovations in size and fitment.

Is there a push towards sustainable fashion in the secondhand market?

Yes, you know, we did a survey earlier this year, and nearly half of Australians are telling us that they're buying pre-loved fashion or they intend to very shortly. So it really is switching into the mainstream. It's kind of like: let's move from this ecommerce to a re-commerce world. What we're finding is that it really is Australian brands that are in demand on eBay Australia - Zimmermann, Scanlan Theodore and Aje are all searched every two minutes on

How is current cost of living pressures affecting eBay's fashion categories?

It's more category-wide with the cost of living pressures. When we surveyed Australians, being able to access clothing and the brands that they still love at a more affordable price point is the main motivator. But we still see the perennial favourites doing well on the platform - the top brands I just mentioned before but you know dresses, big handbags, luxury handbags, even though it is a high price point, they are in very strong growth. And even menswear. It's not just a women's game, menswear is growing very strongly, too.

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