It is often hard to find a store where one dress oneself from head to toes in sustainable fashion. As we have been talking about in previous posts about sustainable businesses, we had the opportunity to speak with Ethica about how they run theirs. They are an e-commerce, with offices in New York City, who curates an amazing set of sustainable designers without compromising style. Read below to get to know them and who knows maybe get some shopping done…
Tell us about Ethica and how you incorporate sustainability in your business.
We support and promote designers and brands that employ practices to lower their environmental impact, whether this be sourcing and producing locally; using eco-friendly materials; recycling or upcycling fabrics and metals; creating minimal (or zero) waste; disposing of said waste in an environmentally responsible way; creating high-quality, long lasting pieces; producing in small batches; etc.
We’re based out of an LEED-certified (green) building in New York City and ship our packages with sustainable materials via carbon-neutral shipping. We’re also a carbon-neutral business–we offset all of our carbon emissions by purchasing credits through CarbonFund.org, a non-profit that funds projects in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and reforestation.
How did you come across a need for this type of business?
At the time that we launched, the concept of a multi-brand shop that focused exclusively on sustainable fashion was very new. We wanted to build on a concept that had been pioneered in brick-and-mortar stores by creating an online version that was rich in storytelling. Before sustainable multi-brand shops came into being, we often found ourselves visiting numerous designers’ websites in an effort to shop consciously. Even ethical and sustainable brands weren’t necessarily delving too deeply into their practices, so it required a big commitment to get information and support good brands. We believed that, like us, there were other people out there also looking to shop consciously, and we wanted to start a business that would approach ethical and sustainable fashion in a way that was exciting, thoughtful and transparent.
What do you offer consumers that helps pave the way for a more sustainable industry?
From our very first day, we have communicated exactly why every product that we carry is sustainable and special. It’s difficult to remember that as recently as a few years ago, many companies were just making blanket claims that a product was “green,” without explaining why. To this day, we come across websites that have a stated focus on sustainability, yet don’t disclose basic facts like the country of origin. Obviously, sustainability and ethics are subjective and relative terms, and providing thorough, accurate but digestible information enables people to make the best choice they can, so transparency and accuracy are really important. We’re very proud that the model that we innovated has become widely adopted throughout the space, as it was an important and necessary evolution. We believe that the more that people understand sustainability, the more they will seek it out.
We also try to present ethical and sustainable fashion in a way that is appealing and accessible. It serves as a hook for getting people interested in the concept of ethical fashion, and eventually invested in the success of both the industry and our individual designers. The designers are ultimately the ones making the change, and we are the gateway offering consumers an opportunity to support that change.
What do you look into when selecting the designers/products you sell on Ethica?
Style comes first, and then we dig deep to see if value-wise the brand is a potential fit. There are so many ways to approach sustainability and ethical production that the first thing we do is allow the designers to walk us through their process. For the most part, companies that are committed to environmental protection and social good are going above and beyond what we would think to ask about, so there are always pleasant surprises and things that we learn. But there are definitely things that we always want to know about, starting with fair labor, which is non-negotiable for us, and then on to elements like sustainable materials and processes, and any social good elements that are part of the company mission.
What do you think is needed to create a sustainable fashion industry?
Because ethics and sustainability can mean different things to different people, supply-chain transparency is essential, and the next step beyond that is making third-party certification accessible to small businesses. To date, certifications are out of reach for many of the small independent brands that are working ethically and sustainably, but they shouldn’t be, and it’s where we need to go.
From the consumer side, we have a lot of collective purchasing power and can have a tremendous impact by choosing to support sustainable brands and retailers. The industry will grow and innovate as the demand for these products increases.
How do you envision the future for Ethica?
When we think of the fact that most e-commerce websites raise millions of dollars in capital just to finance their entry into the market, we can’t believe how receptive and kind the response has been to what we’re doing. We attribute part of that response to the fact that we’re personally involved in every aspect of our business. We’re not selecting merchandise based on trends forecasts or sales reports. We’re not mining data. We’re interacting with our customers and responding to what they’re looking for, and we love it. We love being an independent, value-oriented shop. So while we’re obviously focused on growth, we’re also committed to managing that growth in a way that is strategic and true to the reasons we started this company.