In a world increasingly aware of the importance of sustainable production, consumers are looking for shopping opportunities that maintain their increasingly environmentally conscious values.
Independent online marketplaces provide a bridge between the growing digital landscape and the demand for sustainably produced goods and at the same time offer a space for brands that want to tell their story. Each location has its own individual purpose and is constantly on the lookout for new opportunities that contribute to sustainable fashion.
FashionUnited spoke to the CEOs of three marketplaces that define this e-commerce billing and introduced us to their selection processes, values and perspectives on the future of the sustainable world.
Curated Crowd: Community Builder
To bring a more direct designer-to-consumer service to the industry, Curated Crowd CEO Ada Yi Zhao translated her love of shopping for undiscovered niche fashion brands worldwide into a digital platform. Starting out as a crowdfunding site supporting up-and-coming designers, it quickly evolved into a UK-based online designer marketplace that didn’t quite fit into the traditional forms of ultra-luxury or fast fashion.
Curated Crowd was developed in response to the increasing demand for medium-sized fashion and looks further down the supply chain for individual designers who often struggle to find direct access to international consumers. Its ever-evolving community enables up-and-coming labels from all over the world to tell their stories and market their products at the same time.
Through extensive onboarding calls and studio visits generated from an open application system, Zhao builds personal relationships with designers and learns the story behind her label and the future goals they have in mind. Only a small selection make it onto the market, with each item either limited or made to order to avoid possible mass overproduction.
“The business side of sustainability is much more important than the material and the way the product takes – from conception to the end product for the consumer,” explains Zhao. “For me, I always look at every designer and how they run their business. Is the company sustainable? Is it a sustainable lifestyle for the designers? I am absolutely against the so-called fashion cycle and think that every single piece that we have on our platform has to be something that the consumer has to cherish for years. “
The maintenance of the designer relationships extends to the personal relationship with the customer. According to Zhao, who communicates with them regularly via WhatsApp and other social media channels, up to 60 percent of orders come from repeat buyers.
“For us, it’s really curating this community,” she said. “We are not for everyone. We are for certain types of people with an educated purpose. People come to us because they want to learn more about the brand, what sustainability means and how to get a wardrobe for the coming seasons. We address the conscious consumer. “
A pop-up store in London accompanies the online marketplace, offers personal styling aids and collects valuable visitor feedback on the products. Future plans could see Curated Crowd continue to develop this omnichannel business model and translate that physical experience into the digital realm.
Ada Zhao recently moved to Amsterdam and also offers a number of new opportunities, such as an additional potential pop-up store or the ability to support European brands in their ventures in the UK market.
“As a member of the British Fashion Council, I see so many talented people in London, but Brexit makes it really difficult for them to have a voice here in continental Europe and vice versa. We want to be that bridge between the two, ”Zhao explained.
She continued, “In terms of the Internet, we would also like to launch our US site to cater to a wider audience. We ship worldwide, but we know that more localized curation is so important to customers. “
Seezona: up-and-coming designer center
Since it was founded two years ago, the Scandinavian luxury marketplace Seezona has created a diverse platform that offers everything from high fashion and accessories to beachwear and activewear, especially from emerging designers. The multi-brand store curates on an international basis from over 25 countries and ensures a unique selection of brands that you may not find on other websites.
“With our technical platform, we facilitate the interaction between small businesses and customers and take care of the entire value chain of these processes,” explains Seezona founder and CEO Anna Helander.
Her love and interest in the industry began in concept stores in the south of France, where the discovery of new designers allowed her to stand out from the crowd. After entering the industry, Helander noticed clear barriers that made it particularly difficult for new brands to reach consumers.
“I was beginning to understand how dependent the industry was on wholesale,” she said. As a result, many designers with great potential never scale simply because they don’t have the right connections with buyers or are unable to produce a certain number of products. I wanted to solve this problem and in the midst of our digital age I found that technology was the best solution. “
Each of the more than 100 brands presented on the platform has undergone a strict selection process in which the label is evaluated based on a list of criteria. Hearing the stories of each founder and the process behind the production enables a relationship to be formed and also ensures that the brand fits well into the Seezona platform.
Helander said: “We are always looking for brands that use quality fabrics, have a local mindset in their production, a sense of community and of course great design.”
The items on the site vary between eye-catching statement pieces and simpler staples, and have something for just about every conscious shopper who visits. In addition, a virtual styling room enables buyers to test outfits and products in a digital try-before-you-buy environment.
Seezona is still relatively fresh on the scene and is constantly on the lookout for development and discovery. Regarding the upcoming projects, Helander said: “We do indeed have a lot of big plans, this is just the beginning. Stay tuned!”
The Wearness: clear conscious shopping
The Germany-based company The Wearness was founded and run by four women to prove that sustainable clothing can also be fashionable. As a marketplace that does not want to appear as a marketplace, specially curated brands have a home in a platform that also takes ecological and ethical production into account, and can be reached in a variety of ways.
“We launched The Wearness to show that sustainability doesn’t have to compromise the look and style of a part, that it can be the most beautiful with more sustainable production,” said Julia Zirpel, one of the co-founders. “We wanted to show that this is not a contradiction, because five years ago sustainable articles on the market were not fashionable in our eyes.”
The high-end pieces on the website are selected through a rigorous questionnaire process that delves deep into individual areas of sustainability. The website displays each item along with the criteria to which it applies so that buyers can shop based on their specific needs. This can include organic materials, fair production and other specially defined areas of sustainability.
The setup ensures buyers know exactly what they are buying and also allows slight flexibility for brands aligning sustainability efforts with different perspectives on the production process. “We write about the brand and explain why it is sustainable, but we also show where it may not be so sustainable,” says Zirpel, emphasizing the importance of transparency.
“Handicraft is also a very important element for us and not so obvious with so many people. It opens up the possibilities of local production and traditional heritage as well as local manufacturing, ”explains Zirpel. “A lot of women work in this field, and it’s another aspect of sustainability that people are less aware of.”
Empowering women is another core value of The Wearness, which takes into account the work of women who are heavily represented in the fashion industry. The marketplace seeks to highlight the rights of women workers, emphasizing the importance of educational efforts, childcare and other assets that both support and empower women in the workforce.
In addition to the constantly evolving brand portfolio, The Wearness brings out its own limited collection every three months. Only certain products are available, this edition a dress and a shirt, each with a concept based entirely on the idea of circularity and biodegradability. The items sold, made from purely natural and locally produced materials, define the round wardrobe that The Wearness wants to promote.
Regarding circular production, Zirpel said: “We think that this is one of the most important topics for the future, but the market is not there yet. Everyone is talking about recycled materials, they just don’t know what happens to products when they are no longer used. “
Indeed, the lack of effective waste management is one of the main obstacles that Zirpel identifies, indicating that focus must be placed on hindering the disposal of garments before they end up in markets that Europe can no longer control. As part of its own efforts, products from the The Wearness collection can be returned to the platform after they have not been used, and the company is also reviewing the implementation of a repair service.
Guya Merkle, another co-founder and creative director of the high-end jeweler Vieri, has already started developing sustainable waste management. Together with a Dutch NGO, she founded an initiative to extract recycled gold from old cell phones that were transported back to Europe from African markets.
Other plans for the platform’s future include establishing a physical base for consumers to see and touch the clothing in person, allowing face-to-face meetings with shoppers. Zirpel concluded: “Especially now during Covid we have the feeling that people really long for personal contact and not just put everything online.”