Hi, Matteo! Thank you so much for speaking to us today. We’re excited to learn more about you and Must Had. Let’s start with the basics. Where are you from?
I was born in Turin, Italy. However, even as a young child, I had a big passion for travelling and exploring new places, people and cultures. So much so that just a few days after I graduated with my Business Administration degree, I flew to Mumbai, India to start an internship with a certification company, focusing on sustainability, quality and safety. Luckily, the internship went well, and I was offered a full-time job there, eventually going on to become that company’s business developer for three years.
But that desire to travel and explore soon kicked in again, which lead me to Hanoi, Vietnam, where I worked with a leading Italian fabric manufacturer. I was the company’s sales developer for the USA, but I voluntarily took part in the company’s CSR activities, sharing ideas and supporting the development of its many projects.
After four and a half years in that role, myself and my two business partners decided to return to our hometown of Torino in Italy to found Must Had, our own start-up focused on revolutionising the way fashion is consumed and accelerating the transition to regenerative fashion. So, I was born in Italy and we founded the company in Italy, but I’ve been exposed to a diversity of cultures along the way.
Wow! That’s pretty cool. We love the idea of Must Had. What exactly led you to the idea for the business? Were you always interested in sustainable fashion? Or just fashion in general?
I started to become interested in sustainable development as a teenager and young adult. My later experiences in India and Vietnam further developed my knowledge of the textile industry, which married well with my interest in sustainability.
While in Vietnam, I was working with some of the biggest textile brands in the world, which really allowed me to understand the dynamics of mass-produced fashion, including the related business models and supply chains. I quickly realised that these models, while successful now, could not meet the needs of our society and our planet in the years to come. This inspired me to take action and start my adventure with Must Had.
We were really inspired by an Italian brand from Torino that rescues and revalues old cashmere sweaters. Through our research, we learned that a lot of artisans and emerging designers were starting to embrace circular production and sourcing. They were transforming discarded materials rather than producing new ones.
We looked into their unmet needs and decided to develop a platform that would feature these innovative, responsible brands, offering them an online sales channel, as well as other services that could help them grow.
That’s a really impressive story. You mentioned an early interest in sustainability. Is that what drives you to keep going with Must Had?
Yes. Each one of us (Must Had’s three founders) has a huge passion for changing the world through fashion. It’s no secret that the fashion industry has a massive waste problem. In fact, the UN considers it one of the largest global polluters.
Research shows that the number of garments purchased each year by the average consumer has increased by 60% compared to 2000, and according to The New York Times, nearly three-fifths of all clothing ends up in incinerators or landfills within a year of being produced. To us, that’s insane!
This linear model of constant extracting, producing, consuming and discarding makes less and less sense as the years go by and we learn more about the scarcity of resources predicted for future—but not so distant—generations.
Must Had was born from a true passion and belief that a more sustainable fashion industry can be achieved by reusing the waste we generate and focusing on three key actions: RESCUE, REPURPOSE and REVALUE.
That’s what gets us up in the morning and drives us forward. Our goal at Must Had is to disrupt the current system by embracing refashion as the evolution of fashion.
Rescue, Repurpose and Revalue is a concept that could make a huge difference in a wide variety of industries. Here at Brighter Future, we know that everyone can make a difference and help to build a better future in some way. Who exactly are you striving to help with Must Had?
At Must Had, we’re focused on helping our society and our planet by accelerating the transition from a linear approach to fashion to a circular approach to fashion. We believe that the products of today can become the resources of tomorrow, and that this shift can have a huge impact on the world
We all love fashion! It’s a way to express yourself and have fun. We’re not saying that people need to stop buying clothes. But as consumers, we really need to be a little bit more thoughtful about our relationship with the items we buy. We can all learn to shop more responsibly and sustainably while still building a wardrobe we love.
For example, if we can extend the usable life of our clothes by just nine extra months, each one of us could reduce our carbon, water and waste footprints by around 20 to 30 percent. That’s a very significant improvement! It’s a big impact for very little effort, and it’s something every individual can do.
Additionally, the fashion items we stock at Must Had not only positively impact the environment but strongly support small, independent artisans and designers who are struggling to grow due to the huge competition from low-cost, fast-fashion brands whose styles are designed to be worn a limited number of times.
At Must Had, all of the upcycled creations are unique pieces or limited editions. We’ve found that the people who love what we stand for also love our clothes and accessories. They care about making a difference and see sustainable fashion as just another way to express their unique personality and values. Must Had is for anyone who wants to make a difference in the world—and wants do so in style!
We love that! There’s no reason why being a responsible consumer can’t also be fun, exciting and stylish. Speaking of living your values, what aspects of your life before Must Had helped you make that leap and start the business? How did you know that you had a viable idea?
Great question! Again, my work experience in Vietnam was the spark that ignited my passion. But what turned that passion into real action was the market research we did to validate our idea. We had a hunch that consumers were beginning to care more and more about sustainability and were becoming more educated on the matter. There was an increasing demand for eco-friendly products and higher transparency, which meant brands were having to adapt their offerings to satisfy this changing market demand. We could see there was a gap in the market for a sustainable fashion platform—and we believed we had the passion and knowledge to fill it.
Myself and my business partners love quality, craftsmanship and creativity, and we identified in upcycling a truly viable solution. Upcycling eliminates the production of new materials and the associated environmental impacts, such as greenhouse gas emissions, the enormous consumption of water and energy, and the discharge of chemical substances into the environment. Last but not least, this regenerative approach also reduces the dumping of waste into landfills and incinerators.
We were the first upcycling platform in Italy. Our beautiful country has a long and rich textile heritage that we are immensely proud of, and it is our dream to be part of it in a new, innovative and positive way by accelerating this transition.
That’s a goal to be proud of—and it looks like Must Had is well on its way to achieving it! We know that starting a business takes more than just passion and a great idea. There are inevitably things that don’t go to plan. Can you think of a time where things didn’t quite turn out how you expected?
For sure! Upcycling is not yet a common practice, so there is a limited number of upcycling brands in the market (compared to traditional brands). Because of this, we weren’t too strict about the aesthetic and style of the brands we initially selected to showcase on our platform. With time, however, we learned the importance of editing our choices and being rigorous in our selection process, prioritising quality over quantity, for example. This wasn’t something we had anticipated early on, but you learn by doing. Ultimately, even as responsible consumers, we all want to purchase items we believe to be beautiful and useful. Sustainability alone is not enough. When we became more selective, it improved the appeal of the platform as a whole.
That’s a great lesson. Sometimes less is more. Is there anything else you wish you had done differently starting out with Must Had?
Absolutely! If I could go back in time to the early days of Must Had, I would focus more on building and growing a community before launching the website and its marketplace. It’s very important to cultivate your community early on, and that’s a lesson we wish we had learned sooner.
A community of like-minded people is so important. Especially for change-driven brands. On a more positive note, many entrepreneurs report experiencing an “aha!” moment—a split second where things fall into place or suddenly make sense. Did you ever have a moment like that during your journey with Must Had?
Yes. I definitely experienced an “aha!” moment where I suddenly realised that this was really happening. I had just come back to Italy and was standing in line for my first COVID-19 vaccination when I got the news that Must Had had been chosen to participate in a business acceleration programme. This was huge for us. Ultimately, it was that accelerator that enabled us to raise our first round of capital from investors. That was my “aha!” moment.
That’s amazing! Somehow the most life-changing moments always seem arrive during some mundane daily activity. It’s not all wins and big highs, though. Starting a business is difficult. What kinds of sacrifices did you have to make to get Must Had off the ground?
Launching a start-up is all-consuming. It definitely takes up most of your time, and your weekends become weekdays pretty quickly. We worked long hours, seven days a week, but that’s the part people never see.
As well as that, for its first year, Must Had was completely self-funded by the founders, which meant we all had to adjust our lifestyles and finances. It wasn’t easy to make those changes, but it got us where we needed to be.
Speaking of necessary changes, the world is currently undergoing a period of great uncertainty. As a society, we know we have to make some sacrifices and changes to ensure a better future for the next generation. We’re curious to hear a little about how you envision the future?
Positively! I strongly believe that hard times create strong people, and I’m certain that future generations will be able to meet the challenges ahead by leveraging a huge wave of innovations. I prefer to focus on what could go right rather than what could go wrong. That’s the entrepreneurial mindset, after all.
That’s very true. It’s easy to focus on the doom and gloom, but there’s also a lot of good to look forward to. When future generations look back on your life and what you have achieved, what do you hope they’ll take away from your story?
If someone is looking back at my life, I hope they see me as someone who, with passion and ambition, tried to, as my favourite quote says, be the change he wanted to see in the world. And I hope my story inspires them to do the same.
We love that quote! You’ve spoken to future generations with your last answer, now is your chance to speak to up-and-coming entrepreneurs, young or old, who are just starting out. What advice do you have for them?
Firstly, and this is just my personal opinion, I would advise those thinking of starting a business to consider finding a great business partner—or several! Obviously, these people need to be very carefully selected, but having others working alongside you on a shared goal is a completely different experience to taking it all on alone.
Launching a start-up is extremely tough these days, and I honestly couldn’t imagine doing it without the endless support of my business partners.
Other than that, I would recommend that you always road-test your idea, always ask for other people’s opinions, and always learn from your mistakes—and definitely do not underestimate the importance of building a strong network!
Great advice! I’m sad to say we’ve reached the end of this really insightful conversation. It was fantastic to have the opportunity to speak to you today, Matteo. To finish up, we’ve got one last question for you: If there was one lasting message you could share with the world, what would it be?
Thank you! I’ll leave you with my favourite quote: Be the change you want to see in the world.
A huge thank you to our inspiring guest Matteo Aghemo from Must Had! If you would like to find out more about Matteo and Must Had, you can find him at: www.musthad.com.
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