New Innovators: ReFunk breathes new life into old furniture

Four college students with an interest in the circular economy have embraced upcycling

Clockwise from back: ReFunk co-founders Meredith Davis, Ellen Ryall, Ellie Walters and Anna Sheehan. ‘Ten million tonnes of furniture is discarded annually in the EU, says  Ryall

Clockwise from back: ReFunk co-founders Meredith Davis, Ellen Ryall, Ellie Walters and Anna Sheehan. ‘Ten million tonnes of furniture is discarded annually in the EU, says Ryall

 

Four young masters’ students at Trinity College are the brains behind ReFunk, a sustainability business focused on furniture upcycling. The founders are keen to help develop a circular furniture economy in Ireland and their business takes care of the three main aspects of upcycling – donation, refurbishment and selling on – in one go. 

“Our unique, high-quality pieces are an alternative to cheap furniture options and our goal is to reduce the amount of furniture being dumped into landfills. Ten million tonnes of furniture is discarded annually in the EU,” says ReFunk co-founder Ellen Ryall.

The company was born last November following a hackathon during Trinity College’s Provost’s Innovation Challenge which encouraged students to come up with bright ideas to make cities more sustainable. This struck a chord with the founders who share a strong interest in changing consumer behaviour.

“The circular economy is already booming in the fashion industry so why not extend it to furniture?” Ryall says. “We also wanted to support local craftspeople and offer upcyclers a place to sell their pieces.

“There are lots of upcyclers around Ireland who don’t have a platform to reach larger audiences even though consumers are increasingly interested in buying sustainable items. ReFunk provides people with an easy way to get rid of furniture they no longer want and each of our pieces tells a story and is a one-of-a-kind.”

Ryall read European studies at Trinity and then spent a year travelling the United States as a whiskey brand ambassador on an Ibec global graduate programme. Anna Sheehan is a graduate in international commerce and German from UCD who spent two years with Deloitte following her primary degree, while Ellie Walters studied food business at UCD and Meredith Davis read law at Oxford before signing up for the MSc in marketing at Trinity.

The founders have recently taken part in Launchbox, Trinity College’s accelerator for student entrepreneurs, and their target buyers are 30-50 year old homeowners who appreciate nice furniture and support sustainability.

They have bootstrapped their start-up on a budget of €18,000 and, earlier this year, managed to pull off a deal with GoCar which is providing them with free vans for collections and deliveries under its CSR programme.

ReFunk only accepts donations of solid wood pieces in good condition. It collects for free but does not pay for anything that’s accepted. Pieces are matched with the company’s panel of 60+ upcyclers and when the piece is sold the proceeds are split 50:50 between the upcycler and ReFunk.

The company is about to embark on a fundraising round of €100,000 and, to keep body and soul together for the next year, Ryall and Walters are taking up employment outside the business while the other two co-founders will run it full-time for now. “We are fast outgrowing our current storage space and our goal is to rent a space in Dublin before the end of 2021,” Ryall says. “This will act as a workshop for upcyclers who do not have space to work at home, a showroom for our finished pieces and a learning space for those interested in the circular economy.

“We launched ReFunk via Instagram and sold our first piece in July. We accept donations through Instagram and also sell our pieces through it but our own platform will be going live later this month.

“We are mostly operating in Dublin at the moment. However, we do have upcyclers in Cork, Waterford, Kildare and Clare as well,” Ryall adds. “Our goal is to form a solid base in Dublin and then expand to London and New York in the coming years. Those cities will be a great culture fit for ReFunk as rented housing is typically unfurnished and consumers there buy furniture at a younger age.”

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