Innovator Profile: Katie Haghighi

In the face of a global problem as daunting and monumental as climate change, it is hard to know how ordinary people can make a difference. Because of this, it’s extremely easy to be immobilized by paralyzing feelings of anxiety. This is made more complicated when traditional methods of saving the environment seem to not help the problem at all. For Katie Haghighi, this issue was apparent in the world of thrifting. The fashion industry creates a massive amount of waste, ranking it the third highest polluting industry in the world. Though donating clothes to thrift stores may seem like a simple action to help counteract this environmental damage, Haghighi discovered when donating her clothes that over 80% of all donations still end up in landfills. Haghighi, however, decided to take action.

She decided to create FR8, an online platform that allows users to schedule home pick-ups for their clothes, which are sorted and appropriately redistributed within the community, ensuring donations are not going to waste. FR8 prioritizes independent designers, schools, and charities local to the community when allocating the clothing. With the help of D2P and the mentorship of Cecily Brose, Haghighi is successfully servicing the Madison, Wisconsin, and The Twin Cities (Greater Minneapolis/St. Paul) communities and optimizing thrifting’s environmental benefits. FR8 encourages expression through fashion as it props up independent fashion designers and allows users to purchase unique, custom pieces. Above all, it enables individuals to make small, actionable steps toward fighting climate change and healing the planet and its people.

We asked Haghighi to speak on her experience as a young innovator and her insights on the future of creating a more sustainable fashion industry:

Where did the idea for your company come from initially?

Haghighi holding a bundle of FR8’s clothing

For me, going to Goodwill to drop off my clothes always felt like an extra chore to do. Then, in 2020, I learned that more than 80% of donated items end up in landfills worldwide. I thought there must be a local company that I could pay to come pick up my clothes and ensure every item got repurposed locally. When I couldn’t find the service I was seeking, I set out to create it myself. The idea of FR8 is that people can schedule a pick up for their clothing donations online, which FR8 picks up, sorts through, and redistributes to local independent designers, schools and, charities.

How has D2P helped you, and what have you learned?

D2P has helped me take this massive problem of reducing the waste from our current fashion system and break it down into actionable pieces to build a business model. I started with customer discovery interviews to learn what target markets I should be going after for my proposed idea. I was then awarded a D2P grant, which helped me test my business hypothesis that consumers are willing to spend money on this service through paid social media ads. I also used the funds to attend a conference in NYC to learn from industry leaders and pitch my idea. My biggest takeaway from D2P is learning to stay consistent in the work and focus on the mission. There can be a million moving pieces in the beginning of a startup journey, and D2P guided me step by step.

What other entrepreneurial resources/programs have guided you?

CS Nest, UW–Madison collegiate chapter of gener8tor, helped me take what I learned from D2P and deploy a pilot program to secure our first customer. ILT Academy, based in the Twin Cities, helped me refine my pitch and learn how to scale the model.

What’s your current focus with the company?

My current focus with FR8 is to continue to build brand awareness and educate our communities about ethical fashion consumption and disposal. We ran a successful pilot program last year and have a growing interest list for clothing donation pick-ups. To scale the business, I plan to continue developing the model and attract the talent needed to help me to do so.

What are your hopes for the company moving forward?

Haghighi posing with a truck full of donations

My hope for FR8 moving forward is to expand from servicing Madison, WI and the greater Twin Cities to major metropolitan cities across the globe. I hope that FR8 encourages consumers to explore their own style and find ways to express themselves authentically. The greater goal is for FR8 to be able to divert 1 billion pounds of clothing from landfills and instead circulate it locally to bring more love and color into communities.

What drives you/why is this project important to you personally?

This project is important to me because fashion has always been my favorite method of self- expression. My dream is for everyone to wear what truly feels authentic, so that we can raise the vibration of the world and create a sustainable and fashionable future. Clothing is as essential as food, water, and shelter, so building a platform where sustainable clothing is accessible is a privilege I am honored to have.

What advice would you give to other campus innovators who are just starting to explore the potential of their ideas?

Be delusional. A lot of Gen Zers say “stay delulu until it becomes trulu” and I think that’s key for innovators. Humans are naturally habitual creators that are resistant to change, so the beginning will force you to think outside of the norm. When the phone was first invented, 80% of people said they wouldn’t buy one because it felt like an invasion of privacy. Almost 150 years and many iterations later, nearly everyone has a phone! My advice would be to have fun envisioning the future or end goal of your idea and be willing to iterate and reiterate as you learn more along your journey. It is also to believe in yourself. When I first started FR8, I had about 20-30 different people tell me that I was crazy for thinking of this idea or that it would never work before I heard a single person tell me they loved my idea. Every moment of pushback and resistance made it beyond worth it to hear from my customers how much they love FR8. Failure is a crucial part of business success. Fail as fast and as small as possible so you can learn from it and move on.

Campus is full of bright minds and amazing ideas, but people often do not self-identify as an entrepreneur. Do you connect with that term, and why or why not? Is there another term you’d use to describe what you’re doing with your project?

I’ve never considered myself an entrepreneur because that term entails prioritizing making money from your business model. FR8 started as a passion project and remains a passion project that has turned into a business. I like to describe myself as an innovative visionary. I engaged with the current second-hand clothing system put in place and saw an optimized system with integrated technology to make it more sustainable and community-oriented.

Read more innovator profiles from D2P