Meet the Zalando of sustainable clothing, Project Cece: Dutch AI startup gets fresh funding from ASIF Ventures

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Most of us usually purchase clothes based on the fashion trends, quality of the fabric or what usually suits us. Very few consider if an outfit was made in a sustainable manner or what impact it has on the environment or on the people manufacturing it.

However, there are some online marketplaces that intend to change this scenario by making sustainable clothing available as an easy alternative. Project Cece is one such tech and fashion startup, which is one cut above the rest as it takes the concept a step further by implementing Artificial Intelligence (AI) into the concept.

Collaboration with Pixyle

The online sustainable fashion marketplace based in Amsterdam has collaborated with the North Macedonia-based AI startup Pixyle (currently in the Rockstart-accelerator programme) that uses AI to train machines in order to identify garments in images. Project Cece is leveraging the technology so that users can simply upload an image of a product to their website and get results of similar products, which are made in a sustainable manner. The fashion startup is also much more than just an online marketplace for sustainable attires and here’s what you need to know about it.

In a conversation with one of the company’s co-founders, Noor Veenhoven, we found out the story behind the collaboration. The company wanted to use Pixyle’s expertise for sustainable fashion as they have a platform that is similar to Project Cece. Veenhoven reveals that Pixyle didn’t want to build an entire platform “since their tool itself is really applicable for every e-commerce website.”

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The company said that they want to improve and deploy their machine learning algorithm. “And so we decided that we should work together like they can put their tool on our website so that we can use it. And they get all the data they need to improve their products and their tool. Also, they get to see how well their tool works and we get the tool in exchange for that. So, everybody wins.” The image searching tool is the first thing one will find when opening the Project Cece website.

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Also some latest funding!

Now, Project Cece is climbing up the ladder of success as it has secured its first round of funding. The fresh funds of under €50,000 come from Amsterdam Student Investment Fund (ASIF), which is a student-run Venture Capital (VC) fund. This is the second investment by ASIF ventures after it invested in a fast-growing fintech startup from Amsterdam, Dyme. The VC fund invests exclusively in student and recent graduate startups and is also run completely by Students and recent graduates. It manages €1 million that it receives from both public and private sources, which include the University of Amsterdam, Vrije Universiteit and multiple angel investors, ASIF.

“It’s not every day you see a company like Project Cece,” says Saskia Verstege, ASIF Ventures Director. “This is what student entrepreneurship is all about, starting from nothing but a problem and the motivation to solve it. With no resources and limited know-how, the founders fought each step of the way to get here. We are excited to provide the first funding for Project Cece and help them grow even further.”

Project Cece: So, how does it work?

While we have briefly described what Project Cece is about, there’s much more to the startup. During our conversation with Veenhoven, we found out what the startup is all about and how does it function. We already know that on Project Cece’s website, one can find sustainable clothing and now, thanks to Pixyle’s AI, a user can simply upload an image of garb to find its eco-friendly alternatives.

However, the idea of Project Cece came from the fact that it was quite difficult to find sustainable outfits before the startup came into existence. Veenhoven tells us that while there were numerous ethical brands manufacturing sustainable garments, but their fragmentation online made it difficult to find the right product that adhered with the values one follows for purchasing eco-friendly outfits.

This is where Project Cece steps in. The biggest fair fashion aggregator in the Benelux makes it easier to find sustainable clothes by sourcing them from multiple brands. Additionally, all pieces of clothing on the site have a summary stating why it is ethical, along with some labels that help users identify if a product is environmentally friendly, vegan, fair trade, made in Europe or if it supports locals. If a brand has received some certificates like a fair trade, that too is displayed on Project Cece.

”So, in that way, you can see just by one glance, basically like this brand scores well in these areas and it has the certificates. And if you want to read more, you can check its short description, you have everything you need to make the conscious choice. And that’s really what Project Cece stands for, conscious clothing. So that’s how we started,” says Noor Veenhoven.

What to expect from Project Cece this year?

With the fresh round of funding, Project Cece aims to expand its services to the UK in 2019 and increase visitors on its website, the numbers for which currently stands at 20,000 per month. “The upcoming funds will surely help the startup with that. However, that’s not all. Veenhoven tells us that the company might soon launch gift cards so that users can enable users to “give the gift of sustainable fashion to someone.”

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Project Cece’s business model and its key competitors

“Project Cece currently runs on the affiliate marketing business model where it earns a commission fee for every successful purchase. What’s even more interesting is that the company uses its proprietary affiliate marketing program that enables not only big but also smaller brands to join them.” Veenhoven reveals that joining big affiliate platforms can be expensive for smaller brands and not to mention, really complicated.

Project Cece is operational in the Netherlands and Germany, and in the sustainable clothing space, Veenhoven says there aren’t really any major players competitors, at least in the Netherlands. In Germany, their main competitor is said to be the Avocado store.

The Dutch startup was founded in September 2015 by Noor Veenhoven and the sisters Marcella and Melissa Van Carter. Marcella and Noor studied physics together at the University of Amsterdam, and Marcella is currently pursuing a PhD in astrophysics. On the other hand, Melissa did a course in economics and business at the University of Amsterdam and is currently handling the startup’s finances. Now the startup they created has received funding but until now, the founders got so far by relying on sales commissions and their part-time jobs.

The three co-founders worked together to create the backend technology for their offering. In just two years, they are now spearheading the fair fashion movement in the Benelux with over 529 brands and more than 20,000 items on their website. Combining the large catalogue of sustainable products with fresh capital and AI-based technology, it seems that the company has found a sure-shot recipe for success.

Stay tuned to Silicon Canals for more updates in the tech startup world.

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Akansha Srivastava

Akansha Srivastava previously served as Silicon Canals' Editor in Chief. A typical tech trend follower. Favourite job: analyzing the global tech industry. A true camera geek, gadget lover and travel enthusiast. You can reach her via [email protected].

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