Ethical fashion companies have slowly competed with mainstream brands for some time now, thanks to the fact that buyers, for the most part, want to do good. But even though the sustainable fashion market has exploded over the past 10 years, the definition of sustainability is still very fluid.
In 2013, Jason Keehn realized that consumers had to do too much research on the topic and still had no great destination to buy ethically made products. This is where he created To accompany, a Net to wear– as a site that sells clothing, accessories and household items made by marginalized groups and indigenous communities around the world. The name Accompany comes from “the idea of going on a trip with someone, somewhere”.
“It started out as a Whole Foods for Fashion,” he said, “but it evolved a lot from there.”
The company is B Corp certified and defines its goal as: “Not only to do no less harm, but also to do more good”. They create ethical advertising campaigns for other brands through their agency, but their main goal is to collaborate with artisans to sell classy products to the modern and conscious buyer.
“So we look at fashion trends, but we also rely on the ability of the artisans and what they know how to do. Because … they are not manufacturers, they have a trade,” said Keehn. “And also it would be like cultural relativism to just say, ‘Do that western thing.’ You want to find out what they’re already doing and work together to find that happy medium. “
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Their collaborations change with each season, but over the past eight years, the founder said he has worked with over 300 different artisan groups around the world.
Some of Keehn’s favorites are: a handbag made in Colombia by members of the Wayuu community, a hat made from natural fibers in Ecuador, espadrilles handmade in South Africa, coasters handcrafted in Democratic Republic of the Congo, ceramic items made by a group of former homeless women from Atlantic City called Mud Girls and tote bags made from recycled PVC plastic made by members of the Penan tribe at Borneo.
The company also works with artisan groups who support HIV-positive widows in Ethiopia, and with a community of Massachusetts refugee women from countries like Myanmar and Iraq who are trying to become US citizens.
Despite Accompany’s incredible mission, Keehn doesn’t want buyers to think they’re only selling “hippie granola” accessories. The site was created specifically to provide shoppers with luxurious and desirable items that are also ethically made.
“I wanted to create a place for the consumer who felt the aesthetic and design standards were as high as the ethical and impact standards,” he said.
One of the things that made the site so successful was Keehn’s understanding that shopping can be very emotional for shoppers, especially now.
“If I tell you these jeans are made using 50% less water (a big deal with denim because a lot of water is used to do the indigo dye), you know, that’s fine. , but that might not turn you on. compared to like, this denim jacket which has this amazing aboriginal design embroidered on the back which is really bold and colorful which is something that feels really special and emotional and that you you feel excited to wear it everyday, ”Keehn explained.
He said brands can’t just think that by simply fixing their supply chains they will be seen as more ethical and automatically appeal to the conscious buyer, it takes a lot more work than that.
“I think it’s difficult with mainstream brands because they haven’t always had ethics at heart,” Keehn said. “Consumers are looking for a lifestyle ally. Consumers want targeted purchases and they like to feel like they can vote with their wallet or choose brands that reflect their values.”
But that doesn’t mean mainstream brands shouldn’t try to embrace sustainability just yet, many are already making great strides.
Amazon Fashion is putting green labels on items that are ‘climate friendly’, Zara is committed to using 100% sustainable cottons and linens and recycled polyester in all of its designs by 2025, Patagonia is focusing on environmental activism because her main client loves nature, Eileen Fisher uses recycled and eco-friendly materials and Athleta creates sustainable products and collaborates with groups that support the empowerment of women. Even Target, arguably the most popular brand of all, hired Support for ethical collaboration.
There are also companies such as The RealReal, which does luxury resale, or Levi’s, which recently launched a second-hand online store, which have different definitions of sustainability and ethics. “This is where the word sustainable is a flexible term,” Keehn said. “This does not mean that all of these products were necessarily made using eco-supply chain practices, but the idea that it is pre-worn is a sustainable notion, because by not buying something again, you are not creating waste. “
Companies that claim to be 100% sustainable must ensure that they also have sustainable materials, working conditions, packaging and shipping services, because planes waste a lot of energy, Keehn said, this is therefore not always a realistic business model.
While many of the products Accompany sells and manufactures are environmentally friendly, this is not always the goal. The ultimate goal is to help people in need by supporting marginalized groups, giving jobs to artisans living in poverty and paying above average wages.
I think during this pandemic everyone has had a minute to pause and realize … the world is a little more fragile than we thought, and it just makes you want to buy things that count, ”Keehn said. woman in Colombia by buying this bag instead of buying a mass-produced one from a factory, and that’s important for now … especially if it helps the indigenous communities that have been hit so hard by COVID. “
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