Lucky Sweater co-founders on working for Microsoft and Uber before launching a slow fashion app

Carley Tanya Lucky Sweater

“When it’s your own business, it’s hard to disconnect from work and not attach the company and how well it’s doing to your own worth and identity,” says Carley Lake, co-founder of slow fashion app Lucky Sweater. Fortunately, they’re on an upward trajectory…

Carley Lake and Tanya Dastyar are the co-founders of Lucky Sweater, ‘the app that makes it easy and fun to trade slow fashion pieces in a welcoming, community space’.

Having previously worked for Microsoft and Uber, they are teaming their tech knowledge with a passion for sustainable fashion, and investors have seen the potential (they have secured pre-seed funding). 

Some of the slow fashion brands they trade include Elizabeth Suzann, Arq, Paloma Wool, Ace & Jig, Girlfriend Collective, Beaton Linen, Tradlands.

The Lucky Sweater team is a fully remote team. Carley spends most of her time in Amsterdam, Netherlands, while Tanya is based in the US in Washington DC.

How did you come up with the idea for Lucky Sweater?

Carley: I started the sustainable fashion blog Thoughtful Flamingo a few years ago as a creative outlet and as a way to connect with people who are also passionate about slow and secondhand fashion.

While I was interviewing people for the blog, I’d ask where they would find their favourite closet staples. Of course people mentioned thrift stores and secondhand apps like Depop and Vinted, but places I never thought of started to come up more and more—niche Facebook groups and Instagram pages where people would buy, sell, trade, and discuss their favourite brands.

From there, I started digging into this world, interviewed admins and members of these communities, and saw how these spaces were not solving community members’ core needs to easily come together and share items they loved.

What problem are you looking to solve?

Tanya: Currently, these group members and admins have been hacking together solutions in crowded, ad-filled spaces that aren’t built for their needs: connecting and trading.

We’re creating a trusting, welcoming, and fun space where niche communities can more easily come together to trade and chat about their favourite things.

Right now we’re focused on a space specifically for people who love slow, independent fashion and plan to expand to communities for any of your favourite things.

What were you both doing, work-wise, previously?

Tanya: I worked at Microsoft as a product manager on Microsoft News and Microsoft Managed Desktop, then transitioned into freelance product design.

Carley: I was one of the first 500 employees at Uber, co-launched Uber Eats, and was a senior product marketer for Uber’s global safety work.

Talk us through the process from idea to launch…

Carley: It started with my sustainable fashion blog and finding the world of buy/sell/trade (B/S/T) groups. I then conducted a lot of interviews with people in these groups and eventually met Moria Deshpande, the co-founder of the Instagram community @selltradeslowfashion (STSF) – a community for fostering inclusion, community-building, and discussion around slow and sustainable fashion. Moria was interested in what I was exploring as she was struggling with constraints of Instagram as a platform, especially to help followers trade items.

I then built a basic MVP (minimum viable product) with the no-code tool Bubble. Moria shared the MVP with her community and I also sent it to a few other community leaders and members. People started to use the MVP, upload items, and share advice, even with the MVP’s tech limitations.

With this signal, I joined On Deck, an entrepreneur community and platform, and learned more about how to find a co-founder, how to fundraise, and more. I met my co-founder Tanya through this entrepreneurial community. With a super talented co-founder on board, we were ready to go.

Tanya: Once Carley and I made it ‘co-founder official,’ I spent time digging into her insights, user interviews, and no-code MVP to fully immerse myself into the months of work that she’d be doing on her own. We quickly realised that Bubble wasn’t the right tool moving forward, which meant we needed to hire a talented developer.

That was the moment we decided to move forward as a venture-backed company, which would allow us the funds to hire a team to bring this vision to life. From there, we pitched 100s of investors and raised a pre-seed fundraise, allowing us to hire our incredible founding engineer, Anthony. We took our learnings from the Bubble prototype, and from there with Anthony on board, we launched a react native MVP app within a few months.

How has it been received?

Tanya: Incredibly well. We’re still overwhelmed by the openness and graciousness of the slow fashion community. From the beginning, we’ve always been in close contact with the app’s community members to inform new features, and have never run out of people who are ready and excited to talk to us about their experiences and values as members of this community.

How does the partnership work; do you each have different roles within the business?

Tanya: I take on product, user experience, user research, user testing, design, and also manage the development process with our founding engineer Anthony.

Carley: I take on fundraising, marketing, any business operations piece (legal, finance, contracts, etc.), product copy, guidelines, and the support process.

We both collaborate and ask for feedback/advice on our work and partner on vision, strategy, hiring, company values, testing the app, and more.

Greatest challenge, running this business?

Carley: When it’s your own business, it’s hard to disconnect and turn off from work and not attach the company and how well the company is doing to your own worth and identity. We’re so passionate about it and are always thinking of new features, ways to grow, etc. But it’s important to remember it’s a job and we will be better leaders and founders if we take the time needed for all parts of our lives.

Tanya: Choosing what to do next. There are infinite features to build, brilliant feature requests from users, and (selfishly) a bunch of features I’d personally enjoy as a user of the app. At the end of the day, being able to take a step back from all those inputs to strategically understand what’s working, what’s not, and what to do next is hard. Although we’ve built the company to be agile and allow for rapid ideating, you can’t build a great product without thoughtful direction and strategy. It’s easy to get caught up in the startup momentum and just build what users are asking for.

Greatest success?

Tanya: Seeing an in-person international trade. So incredible to see on so many different levels. It’s been so cool and fun to see so many people join, tell their friends, and see the trades being made. People have found their dream items, discovered small batch brands they now love, and learned a lot about slow fashion in the app’s discussion space.

Carley: We also love seeing people new to slow fashion start to change their consumption habits and buy less, and when they do buy, it’s pieces from brands that care about paying fair wages and using high-quality materials.

Any other comments…

Carley: We’d love to have you join us on Lucky Sweater and/or share with your friends in the US and Canada. You can download Lucky Sweater on iPhone and Android here.

You can also follow us on Instagram @lucky.sweater for updates on new communities and expansion updates.

Author: Annie Ridout