Spanish startup Sepiia interweaves sustainability and ecommerce
How vintage clothing inspired a founder to create the fabric of the future
Not all founders are cut from the same cloth. Federico Sainz de Robles was working in a textile laboratory when he wondered why clothing brands hadn’t evolved with the times. He decided that if nobody else was making attractive, practical, and sustainable clothing, then he would. So he founded Sepiia, a Spanish clothing startup that operates at the intersection of fashion, technology, and ecology. Instead of creating cheap resource-heavy fast-fashion items, Sepiia focuses on high-quality, durable items. Federico says, “We engineered our products to be attractive and comfortable, but also to be functional: They’re stain-resistant, wrinkle-free, and odor-free. And since they’re produced locally and require fewer washes and less care, their water footprint is 87-percent lower than that of conventional products and their carbon footprint is 53-percent lower.” When customers are done with a clothing item, they can dispose of it guilt-free by participating in Sepiia’s easy-to-use recycling program.
The nine-person Sepiia team was working in Valencia and considering a move back to Madrid when another startup recommended that they look into the Google for Startups Residency: Madrid program. “As soon as we heard about it, we knew it was the perfect opportunity and the best place to be. And we were right,” Federico remembers. As part of the seven-month program, Federico participated in weekly mentorship sessions as well as roundtables where he shared his progress with the cohort. He looked forward to the monthly “theme day,”, during which the founders learned about successful startups that served as models for growth in a particular industry. During the annual Startup Advisors Summit, Googlers from around the world visited Madrid for a few weeks to mentor Federico and the other founders in their areas of expertise.
When COVID-19 hit Europe in early 2020, retail companies like Sepiia’s had dropped to a near all-time low. Despite the slow down in growth and in the spirit of giving back to their community, Sepiia donated enough fabric to produce 10,000 face masks at the outset of the pandemic. Luckily, the Google relationships didn’t stop with the end of the Google for Startups Residency program and soon after, Google presented Sepiia with macroeconomic reports to help them understand the situation and how it was affecting the retail market. This helped Sepiia quickly pivot to accommodate shifting consumer priorities. “Instead of focusing on our technology and the functionality of our garments, we communicated our local production, and the sustainability aspects of our garments, which was something that people valued more than innovation at the time,” Federico says. “The key was to adapt—but you can’t just do that if you don’t have information.” After updating their positioning on Google Ads to focus on being a local, sustainable business, they were able to triple their sales and regain momentum from before the pandemic. Now, Sepiia works with 14 suppliers and employs more than 500 people between their supplier network and their own team.
Throughout the process “We learned a lot, including how to make the most out of Google’s tools, which is a great asset in any business.” On a daily basis, the team uses Google Analytics to measure fundamental KPIs and understand user behavior; Google Ads to reach new customers; and Google DataStudio to create useful dashboards. Every few weeks, the Sepiia team looks at Google Search Console for a window into their company’s positioning and visibility. They also turn to Google Trends to identify new keywords for search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM), and Google Optimize to conduct A/B tests.
Federico recommends the Google for Startups programs for open-minded founders, calling Residency “probably the best opportunity for someone who is willing to learn, grow, and share.” And he still loves being an entrepreneur, even with all of the unexpected twists, turns, and challenges: “A sense of frustration fuels a spirit of innovation. To be able to change the things that we don't like in the world, and to do it with a bunch of great people is a dream come true.”