This Chicago startup takes the 'Trunk Club for kids' model to a new level

by Andreas Rekdal
April 11, 2016

For busy parents, buying clothes for their kids can be something of a nightmare.

Carving out the time to go to a number of stores can feel impossible and if you want your kids to try clothes on, that scheduled time needs to overlap with the child being in a great mood. And just as a child's wardrobe feels complete, they go up a size and their entire closet needs to be replaced.

, a River North-based children’s clothing startup is looking to take on all those problems at once. Like for adults and for children, they deliver curated boxes of children’s clothing to parents’ doors with an interesting twist— when your child grows out of the clothes they send you, Runchkins guarantees to buy them back from you, and even pay for your shipping.

Founder and CEO Jeff Cheng said the idea for the company came about when he was buying Christmas presents for his niece. After spending hours shopping around, he found an adorable cashmere hoodie, which he bought. But walking away from the store, he started doing the math. By the time his niece would actually get the hoodie, there would only be a couple of months left of the season. And when next winter rolled around, the outfit would be way too small. And really, how many wears can you expect a toddler to get out of a dressy sweater in a couple of months?

Cheng saw the whole industry for kids’ clothing as inefficient and unsustainable. As kids grow out of their clothes, boxes upon boxes fill up closets, attics, basements and storage units until another kid comes around, or until the stack of boxes reach a critical mass and get purged.

With Runchkins’ guaranteed buyback, Cheng hopes to put kids’ gently used clothing back into circulation. They pay parents 10 to 15 percent of the original sale price while taking care of the logistics around shipping, and freeing up much-needed space in closets and basements.

Clothing that doesn’t meet the company’s standards for resale are bought back at a lower price and either donated to GOOD+ Foundation — a nonprofit that works with families in poverty — or recycled at a fabric mill, depending on its condition (hey, accidents happen).

Upon signing up for the service parents are asked a number of questions about the clothes their children like wearing, including how “edgy,” “preppy” or “casual” they usually dress, and which kinds of garments to avoid. Parents can also highlight colors, patterns and design features they like, including checkers, dots, animals and objects. Alongside this survey parents are shown a number of sample outfits, and are prompted to highlight the ones they like.

Kids’ outfits are chosen by specialized stylists, local to different parts of the country to ensure the clothing is appropriate for the local climate and fashion sense. The stylist also sends a heads-up email to parents once items for the box have been chosen, so they can confirm the kid’s size and highlight items they don’t want before they’re shipped. Once the box arrives, parents can return whatever they don’t like.

Only a month into providing its service, the startup is currently only offering brand new clothing. Come next year, as inventories of returned gently used clothing build up, they will also be offering a used clothing service where parents can get curated used outfits for about half the price.

Runchkins charges a $20 styling fee for each box, with the average piece of clothing priced at $32. Accessories average $12. The company also offers a 10 percent discount to parents who sign up to receive boxes monthly or seasonally.

Joining Chicago startups like

and , Runchkins is part of a cohort of companies centered around busy parents looking to spend less time on errands and more time with their children. A pioneer in the field, Amazon started its “Amazon Mom” service back in 2010 to give parents free shipping and discounted prices on items for infants and toddlers (the service was renamed “Amazon Family” late last year). As tech-savvy Millennials begin forming families, there’s every reason to expect this trend toward parent-oriented startups to continue.

Images via Runchkins.

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