Karma Trade: Creating a Zero-Waste Clothing Swap

Karma Trade team from Left to right: Mona Fang and Igor Zhuravlyov.

Have too many clothes that you don’t wear? Feel like you’re spending too much money on fashion? That was the problem Mona Fang, founder of Karma Trade, encountered throughout high school. 

Compared to 15 years ago, the average person buys 60% more items of clothing and keeps them for about half as long. The typical woman spends between $150 to $400 on clothing each month, accumulating over 3,000 clothing items during her lifetime. 

The fast fashion industry has generated an environmental crisis from its linear “produce then dispose” model. We collectively create 80 billion new items each year and toss out 250 million tons of textile waste each year. 

“Fashion lovers who juggle through clothing on a regular basis end up with a lot of excess” stated Fang. Selling and donating clothes can be difficult. Current clothing-recycling solutions are not zero-waste and do not offer a high return on donated clothes. 

Plato’s closet does not offer a reliable solution. Each garment has an RN number that states how old the garment is. Plato’s closet will not take any clothing older than 2 years. The typical lifetime for clothing is 2.2 years. 

Goodwill throws away 90% of its donations. If the item doesn’t sell in a week, the clothes are taken to the backroom for a ‘clothing bale’. Sub-Saharan African countries are the most common countries among many other developing nations to be recipients of this ‘donation’. However, it disrupts the local economy and most of the clothes are unwanted, thus becoming trash. 

This pollutes our waterways and leaves carcinogenic synthetic material in our lands. “A friend of mine went on a mission trip to Haiti and saw dozens of ‘clothing bales’ on the sides of the street and polluting farming irrigation systems,” said Fang.

Karma Trade found a method to upcycle clothing to keep out of landfills and offers a high return. The company’s clothes swap service lets you instantly trade your old clothing for Karma Points. Karma Trade helps you clean out your closet, rejuvenate your wardrobe, and gain affordable access to actual sustainable fashion. With Karma Points, you purchase apparel ranging from athleisure to professional wear.


“Shoppers can drop off clothes in a designated location and typically get around $100 of store credit. We charge a 15% service fee and $0.65 per item when they checkout so we can cover our costs of organizing the clothes,” explained Fang. This offers a high return and keeps the clothes affordable.

You may think, what about the garments that don’t sell? Well, Fang is perfectly positioned to redistribute those garments to the University of Illinois fashion designers. Pre-COVID, Karma Trade was selling articles to use in an upcoming fashion show. Next semester, Fang will continue to do this.

“We have customers to serve,” Fang describes as her driver. Customers are continuously messaging Fang if they can swap their clothing now. “There are people who come to our events in one outfit and leave in another outfit,” said Fang.

Fang is extremely excited to continue working on Karma Trade. The customer traction and knowing her zero-waste model is helping the planet keeps her going.

What I wish I knew before starting a company

Fang started Karma Trade in high school. “I wish I just built this,” stated Fang. Many people gave feedback, and she went through different iterations of the company. She incorporated people’s feedback but realized that she should have just built the solution and then got feedback. 

The team is not focused on getting a large investment, but on bootstrapping the business’s first retail & warehousing location. Investor interests are not the same as Karma Trade’s interests. “We are not trying to make as much money as an investor would need, and we want to make an environmental solution,” Fang explained.


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