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Collécte founder Mellisa Giuffrida. Image Credit: Collécte

Inside the Melbourne-based startup that is leading the fight against ‘fast furniture’

When Melbourne eCommerce startup Collécte launched mid-lockdown in 2020, its founder, Melissa Giuffrida, decided to bring high-end pre-owned designer furniture and accessories into the circular economy. 

For a small fee, the website connects buyers and sellers of sought-after designers, authenticates products, and handles shipping logistics for streamlined end-to-end service.

“The response has been tremendous,” says Melissa, an interior design maven intent on stamping out the scourge of replica furniture she has seen pop up all over the country since her return from overseas five years ago. 

“There is demand out there for genuine designer furniture that has been made to last. We are showing that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get access to beautiful pieces. Our buyers have a real appreciation for the value of quality furniture and accessories,” she said.

Humble beginnings

While living in the USA, Giuffrida worked for a luxury fashion consignment market, building on her considerable design expertise to eventually lead her to found Collécte. Confident in her belief in the allure of high-end furniture, Giuffrida started Collécte from home while still amid lockdown. 

“We have only known business in a pandemic,” she laughed, “Having said that, we have consistent weekly sales and continue to build an engaged audience. The stock sells fast too, we send a weekly newsletter with curated pieces, and most are gone within the week.”

Giuffrida, who was born in Melbourne, co-founded her first interior design firm, G&C Design, shortly after graduating from RMIT and hasn’t looked back since. 

Collécte is now run solely from her Melbourne home and a warehouse for some of the merchandise. However, she still arranges for furniture to be sent from the seller’s home.

“My passion is good design,” Giuffrida said, “I want to eliminate the need for replica furniture and accessories on the market. Helping customers buy authentic pieces, and supporting design across the world is my goal.”

“The average household throws away 24kg of wooden furniture every year and a whole lot of soft furnishings like sofas and armchairs too. Buying well and giving the furniture a new lease on life is a big step away from the disposable mentality of fast furniture,” Giuffrida said. 

“I’ve always been one to trust my instincts and back myself, and I knew that by enabling Aussies to give pre-owned designer furniture a chance, I was truly onto a winner.”

Like it, buy it, discard it

The proliferation of fast furniture has had a devastating and unabating effect on the environment. Every year, Australians toss out 50,000 tonnes of low-quality furniture at the curbside, most of which ends up in landfills. 

Fast furniture is a poor replica of true designer pieces. It is built with substandard quality materials containing toxic chemicals like formaldehyde rendering it non-recyclable. 

“It’s a huge problem,” said Giuffrida. “Australia is presently being inundated with low-quality fast furniture and replica furniture. Major cities across Australia are disposing of approximately 50,000 tonnes of low-quality furniture pieces each year into landfills. 

“In furniture terms, that is equivalent to 800,000 3-seater sofas or 6.85 million chairs thrown away every year. 

“When considering the investment over a lifetime, buying quality offers a much better outcome. Not only do you experience the joy of owning a quality piece, but you also support the designer, the environment, and ultimately save money,” she added. 

Dynamic Business sat down with Melissa to discuss her journey as an eco-friendly entrepreneur.

Is it possible for businesses to save money in the long run by switching to eco-friendly retailing? 

“I believe being eco-friendly can not only save you money but may also drive sales. Public awareness of environmental issues is increasing and is at the forefront of consumers’ minds when making purchasing decisions.

Also, by incorporating eco-friendly practices into your business, you could save money as you may find more efficient ways of delivering goods or printing packaging.” 

What advice would you give to business owners who want to go green?

“My advice would be to start by reviewing each step of the supply chain for your business. Look at each step and think about how that step can be more sustainable. I think you will find that the more you get in the mindset of sustainable practices, the better you will feel and the better your business will be.” 

What should you think about before starting an online business? 

“Do a business plan (it doesn’t have to be perfect), but it will make you think through why you want to do this and what problem you are trying to solve. Get to market quickly, even if your site is not perfect. Always trust your instincts and back yourself.” 

What are the challenges in launching an online business? 

“For me, one of the challenges of launching an online business was appreciating the large role technology plays in the business. Making sure the user experience is seamless and simple is critical. Also, listening to our users’ needs and reacting quickly to their feedback is really important.” 

Consumers are experiencing significant lifestyle shifts back to pre-pandemic lifestyles as the COVID-19 situation continues to be normalised. How would this affect online businesses?

“I believe the impact on online businesses will be relatively minor as consumers return to life pre-COVID. As more consumers have experienced the benefits of shopping online, I think they will prefer that experience.” 

Tell us about the advantages of adopting sustainable practices for a business like Collécte? 

“For Collécte, the most significant advantage of adopting sustainable practices is that we have not only reduced our environmental impact but thinking in this way has enabled us to create a more efficient business. 

“We believe in the value of the circular economy. For us, reselling pre-owned furniture already avoids 100% of the environmental damage caused by furniture production. 

“We are providing a trusted destination for people to buy and sell only authentic, original pieces. Once an item sells on Collécte, it is shipped directly from seller to buyer. Therefore no unnecessary shipping or storage is involved, further reducing our carbon footprint.” 

Waste hierarchy

Waste management services in Australia were worth $12.6 billion in 2014–15, and the sale of recovered materials was worth $2.9 billion. Waste-related activities generated a total of $6.9 billion, or 0.43 percent of GDP, as per official data.

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Employees in the waste and material recovery sectors, the corporate sector, and municipal governments employ almost 50,000 people directly in waste-related activities. 

The 2018 National Waste Policy establishes a framework for corporations, governments, communities, and individuals to work together until 2030. The Australian government is also working with Edge Environment to reduce the amount of commercial furniture that ends up in landfills and to help with recycling. 

This project will allow for more research into the waste and resource streams in the commercial furniture industry and involvement with a larger set of stakeholders to identify barriers and opportunities. 

The project will encourage the reuse of office equipment such as chairs, desks, storage cabinets, and workstations. The initiative will get a $372,890 grant from the Australian government’s National Product Stewardship Investment Fund.

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