Raise your hand if you have ever been personally victimized by returns.
And by “returns,” I mean retail. I mean those pieces that we find out only after we’ve bought them that we really don’t love; that we now have a window to take back into the store we ordered them from.
Lately, this process has brought about a learning curve for not only customers, but retailers as well. In January of this year, CNBC reported that retail returns have jumped to an average of 16.6% in 2021 versus 10.6% in 2020, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation and Appriss Retail, which ultimately means that more than $761 billion worth of merchandise will wind up back at stores and warehouses.
Which is a lot.
And this spike has only increased since the lockdown and onset of COVID. Online shopping has become so normalized that it has completely shifted buyer behavior, even after brick-and-mortar stores have fully reopened.
“As online sales increase, the return rate has also increased significantly, and I don’t think it’s a secondary problem anymore,” says Mehmet Sekip Altug, Associate Business Professor at George Mason University.
Which means that there is more of a need now for reverse logistics in the fashion supply chain.
Reverse logistics involves returning goods from the consumers to the retailers or manufacturers and handling those items accordingly, which is often overlooked despite the volumes of textiles pumped out each season by some of our favorite fast fashion retailers.
As a personal shopper and stylist, who is often filling wardrobes with capsule collections and carrying clothes around for others, I understand that reverse logistics provide multidimensional touch points for consumers. And in the world of Amazon, where returns have been made not only easy, but complimentary, this is one of the glaring reasons why reverse logistics are not only a necessity for turning consumers into repeat buyers, but attracting them in the first place.
So, it was a pleasure to be introduced to Chelby Gill–Owner and founder of Boummeringe, a new third-party logistics provider and return management software designed specifically for returning our unwanted apparel; namely that from our favorite fashion eCommerce sites.
Which I love.
Because not everyone is Nordstrom’s, or Amazon, or ASOS, where returns are easy and labels are pre-printed and there are multiple drop-off locations placed for easy access throughout the city. For some of my favorite boutiques to patronize–some smaller businesses with higher quality clothing but less streamlined processes for returning purchases–getting clothes back in the hand of the retailer is a lot easier said than done.
But, that’s what Boummeringe is established to do–make returns easy.
“So, anytime you're returning things from Zara or from your local boutique, you know, that's online, we specialize in returning, quality assessment, and making sure that the item can be resold as quickly as possible.”
Which is important because, this not only streamlines the process for the customer, but retailers themselves. A software like this helps retail giants plan their inventory recalls, repairs, and, as more fashion giants sign on to sustainability pledges, recycling. Boummeringe is the third-party managing this process so others don’t have to. Boummeringe is quite literally the answer we’ve all been waiting for.
As a stylist, as a shopper, as a consumer, as a brand owner, this is exciting.
And what’s even more important is that it is helmed by a young Black woman with a background in and passion for disability rights and disability studies, having graduated from San Jose State in just 2019. There, she was focused on the lack of resources and life care for those who were intellectually disabled–which ultimately became the catalyst for her work.
“And,” she says, “that was my focus.”
And Chelby was fortunate enough out of college to have a position where she was immersed right back in her field, working with the logistics of multiple residential care homes during COVID 19.
And it was during this time she claims to be like “a startup experience in itself,” although it provided her with necessary experience in creating different logistical systems and people management.
“There were such high stakes at the moment as we were managing the very vulnerable life situations of our clients [during the pandemic], as well as maintaining like the upbeatness and the morale of our staff; essential workers who were, you know, putting their all into making sure that the technical and tangible logistics kept it all afloat.”
Boummeringue came about during this time because, just like the rest of us, Chelby was also doing a lot of online shopping.
And, she says, “throughout that process, I'd always been afraid of shopping online because it kind of just seemed like this black hole of, okay, I can enter my card information, they'll send me the dress, but if I don't like it, what do I do? So, I created a really organized system of how I wanted to return those clothes. And I felt like, okay, why isn't there a service available to do this for me?”
Lucky for us, now there is a service available.
And it’s hers.
1. In typical ClothesPetals fashion, would you mind providing a bit about your background?
My name is Chelby Gill and I’m originally from Sacramento, CA. I’ve always been interested in fashion whether it was studying what celebrities wore on the red carpet to reposting fashion editorials onto my old Tumblr page.
Problem solving is a key component of entrepreneurship, and that's what really piqued my interest, but the people in my life who inspire me like my friends and family are all problem solvers.
2. What was your career path prior to starting your own business? Did you always know you that wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Prior to becoming a founder my career path was focused on disability advocacy and public policy. Before Boummeringue, I was an administrator for supportive living service for the intellectually disabled community.
I was not planning on being an entrepreneur but I always had ideas around fashion and creating a community and using clothes to connect one another. I get such a thrill whenever someone compliments my Telfar bag, I know it’s because they understand the importance of that bag whether it’s cultural or the actual difficulty of securing the bag. Each item we wear connects us to a larger community and ideal that others want to acknowledge. I was always thinking of solutions to better facilitate that sense of camaraderie around fashion.
It’s very special when you are able to wear clothes that make you feel good and align with your favorite version of yourself. In an image driven age where every IG/Pinterest is an ad either directly or indirectly, no one should feel like they have to sit on the sidelines and not participate in creating their own image.
3. We don’t often see Black owners disrupting the fashion world highlighted in Vogue. What has your experience as a Black female founder been like?
It’s been exciting so far! I’m constantly talking with people whether it's a customer, mentor or fellow founder. Everyday I’m learning something new.
It’s important to have people around who understand your experience and therefore can provide advice that actually applies to you.
4. In what ways do you think we as consumers help elevate the stories and creative talents of Black founders?
I think 15 minutes of a potential customer's time is so valuable in the startup world. Founders want to know what their ideal consumers think as they continue to improve their product and their business model. Whether it's a survey or a quick over-the-phone interview, that type of support is gold in any entrepreneur's journey. Every business owner wants to create real, tangible value in the lives of their customer, and by just volunteering your time and honest feedback you can support and elevate innovators in your community.
5. What does your daily work schedule look like? How do you prioritize self-care?
My daily work schedule consists of customer interviews, Zoom meetings, and deep work that goes well into the evening. In some ways I try not to be too rigid in how I divide my time. Instead I measure what I achieve each day in relation to how those tasks move the business forward.
I prioritize self care by keeping a routine for how I manage my downtime. That means setting aside time in the evening for my skincare routine, planning an afternoon for rollerblading, or a night out with friends.
6. You made a very important statement during our interview, and that was about how your studies in disability rights and studies has been a long-standing passion of yours and has contributed to every bit of work you do. How has this impacted the logistics you've put into place for Boummeringue?
One of the more memorable parts of my job was always communication. Day or night I had my phone in my hand ready to answer the phone because I knew someone would call.
Whether it was coordinating people and locations or helping employees onboard into our different HR platforms, it made me realize just how many other important industries and work experiences have not experienced innovation through tech enabled platforms.
I started Boummeringue because I became really interested in smoothing out processes that are inefficient and time consuming. And after working in the caregiver industry I was able to realize how much of that time I spent on my phone coordinating people and places. In any other industry there would be an app for that to make everyone's life easier.
So, making people's lives easier through automating daily tasks, taking innocuous tasks off of the consumer's plate/already busy schedule became part of the mission of my company, while adapting to the new normal and meeting people where they are. I started my job at the beginning of the pandemic, which meant we had to rebuild/reorganize our business in motion to meet the ever changing demands. It was exhilarating and challenging to be an operator and supporting our vulnerable clientele and their essential care staff.
Now we are redefining the shopping experience to enable online shoppers to use their home as their dressing room, a true try-on-before-you-buy experience.
7. And finally, what are the products you love and would recommend out of your skincare routine?
Black Girl Sunscreen
Kiehl's Midnight Oil
Laneige Lip Mask
According to Retail Touchpoints, which specializes in trends and marketing retail data, consumers are actually split between pickup and carrier drop-off.
Meaning, that there’s a need; that consumers are currently seeking ways in which their lives can be made easier when it comes to getting unwanted products back to their favorite brand (and their online sites).
More recently, as of December 2021, nearly half of consumers (46%) expressed that they’d be likely to use home pickup for returns if offered the option, which furthers the importance of Chelby’s mission with Boummeringue.
This is needed.
And while she’s beginning locally, providing her service currently in the state of California, I can see this becoming an international service; because with access through the Boummeringue app, Chelby has already begun the process of making accessibility and ease of use a priority.
But, most importantly, I am fully attached to the vision of wide scale growth for this brand. It is both so empowering and incredible to see not only a startup that is reimagining the logistics of an industry we all partake in, but it is equally empowering for a Black woman to helm such perfect disruption. It’s equally empowering for a Black woman to bridge fashion and tech. It’s equally empowering to see yourself in the innovation of others.
I am honored to share this story, breaking now, before Forbes 30 Under 30 showcases the growth and magnitude of this brand.
It was my pleasure to introduce you to Chelby Gill, CEO and founder of Boummeringue.
For more information on either Chelby or Boummeringe, or to get on the Boummeringue Waitlist, follow for more: