Sustainability is having a moment. As we outlined in the beginning of the year, the discourse around how brands and consumers think about conscious consumption has spiked immensely in 2018.
In September, the most important month in fashion publishing, Elle UK dedicated its entire issue on the topic, advocating for a more environmentally-friendly fashion industry throughout its pages, made from 100% recycled paper.
As part of the project, the glossy conducted a sustainability-focused research among UK women, reporting that 9 out of 10 want to know more about sustainability in the fashion industry; two-thirds (62%) were unaware that the fashion industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters; 62% are more likely to buy an item of clothing from a brand that values sustainability; 55% found it important or very important to know where the clothes they buy come from and that they are ethically made; and 51% want to know what they can do to become more sustainable.
While these findings might come as a surprise to people working in the industry, they’re a clear sign that there’s still a lack of consumer education around the issue. And even if shoppers want to buy consciously, it’s usually too time-consuming to look at thousands of items before you find something that truly reflects your ethical values. “From a consumer standpoint, shopping for sustainable brands is a lot of work, you have to do a lot of research. There isn’t a single marketplace you can trust 100% and know that everything they feature is sustainable,” says Ieva Balciute, one of two co-founders of sustainable shopping site Aequem. “We thought: wouldn’t it be great if we have a site showcasing only sustainable brands?” And that’s how Aequem was born.
The e-commerce platform, which launched last week, wants to make sustainable shopping effortless. “Effortless sustainability doesn’t have to compromise style or design,” says Magda Daniloaia, Aequem’s co-founder. To validate this theory, Daniloaia set out to find conscious brands during her trip to Paris fashion week this year. “I found a lot of great brands that looked great and made you feel good at the same time, completely opposing of the idea that sustainable fashion has to be plain. So I came back to London and we started working on Aequem. We want to solve the problem for conscious consumers, who really want to shop more sustainably but have nowhere to go that offers them peace of mind, variety and well designed pieces.”
It’s crucial to educate people and brands that there are means to do that. And it’s not that hard, you just have to make conscious decision.
- Ieva Balciute, Aequem
The shop already offers a broad selection of men and women’s clothing and accessories, all of which tick the sustainability box in at least one of four ways. To be sold through Aequem, products need to be environmentally-friendly by either being organic, upcycled, recycled or made from high-tech materials such as tencel. “We don't really mind if the brand is established or new. As long as they are sustainable and they look great, we are interested in it,” says Balciute.
Another key differentiation is Aequem’s mission to make conscious consumption accessible. For example, currently the highest priced item in the women’s section is a JPL Atelier dress at £350, and in the men’s – a Maium park raincoat at £155. “There are other sites that target the conscious consumer but they are at the higher end of the spectrum, and the items you find there are very expensive. Or there are platforms that offer affordable choices but their selection is not that enticing. We have a different proposition. We want to be inclusive and show that anyone can afford to live sustainably and stylishly,” explains Daniloaia. “We want to create a platform where you don’t buy the clothes because they’re sustainable, you buy them because you want to wear them. And the sustainable part is just a nice little perk.”
But the platform is not only about the products. Just as important will be Aequem’s journal, where the retailer will be sharing the stories of the brands on the site and all things conscious consumption – from discussing sustainable travel, to new materials, to educating readers on how to lead an environmentally-friendly lifestyle without making too many changes.
“This is an important part of our project – we want people to come to Aequem to learn more about how to make their lifestyle more sustainable: from clothes to travel to anything else,” says Balciute. “There are little things that you can change easily that will make a difference to the environment. It’s crucial to educate people and brands that there are means to do that. And it’s not that hard, you just have to make conscious decision.”
The founders also hope that Aequem’s editorial platform will help spark more conversations about sustainability. “It’s about that discussion. We want to spread the word about anyone doing anything to help the planet and talk to different companies and institutions in this space because we don’t feel we know enough, you know? It’s constant learning,” says Daniloaia.
We’re yet to see how Aequem picks up pace in the ecommerce space, but if consumer behaviour is anything to go by, it won’t be long until the platform becomes a successful shopping destination with strong values at heart.
Going forward, the entrepreneurs believe that ensuring stellar product recommendations and selection will be the main challenge and opportunity. “We looked at many ecommerce sites, what they do, how they do it. And then at our customers and what we can do to ensure that shopping sustainably is as easy as possible,” says Daniloaia, referring to the fact that unlike most sites, Aequem shoppers can filter products not only by category and colour, but also by sustainability type (organic, upcycled, recycled or tech). “Customer service never stops. You have to always be improving and offering them something that they can’t find anywhere else.” By making sustainability the norm, Aequem is doing exactly that.
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