The Good Wardrobe was founded by Zoe Robinson with the aim of making it as simple as possible to dress stylishly and sustainably. The Good Wardrobe is ‘your online style-sharing community hub mixing the best of sustainable fashion with services that prolong the life of your wardrobe’.
Earlier this year The Good Wardrobe won the Highly Commended Award in the Sustainable City Awards, and last year Zoe was short-listed for the Observer Ethical awards. Zoe is also a journalist, online content manager for furniture retailer Out & Out Original, and founder of Think Style an innovative, award-winning style consultancy that assists clients in dressing more sustainably without compromising on style,
In May 2012 Zoe was appointed a London Leader by the London Sustainable Development Commission, who are supporting her in her mission to help the capital consume more consciously. Here she speaks to Poq about mastering the challenging task of integrating e-commerce branding with sustainability…
Zoe Robinson at the launch of The Good Wardrobe and their Sew it Forward initiative (Photo Credit:Susanne Hakuba).
How did the idea for The Good Wardrobe come about?
The idea was born out of the increasing demand for affordable fashion that had been produced responsibly, the positive impact of personal creativity (such as learning to sew and mend clothes), and the desire to promote local and ethical industries. Plus, when my sewing machine broke I had no idea where to get it fixed – who could I ask? I knew there was so much knowledge out there and I wanted to find a way to bring it all together.
Can you tell us more about The Good Wardrobe’s Directory of Online Retailers?
Our ‘long-life style’ directory features brands who take a conscious approach to production and consumption. There are a set of criteria which retailers need to fulfil to be considered, but it is not enough just to produce an ethical collection – we want to show people that fashion can be ethically produced, well-designed and beautifully-made, so if the design or quality is lacking then they won’t be right for the site.
We feature independent designers, online boutiques, vintage shops, charity shops and more. Our focus on prolonging the life of clothes means that we also feature retailers who sell sewing supplies and relevant publications. In addition to the retail element, we also place a strong focus on services such as tailors, cobblers, sewing classes, where to recycle textiles, where to hire, sell or swap your clothes and lots more. At the moment we are focusing on London and UK-based online business but the plan over time is to expand this reach.
How can the fast growing fashion ecommerce industry benefit from the adoption of sustainable manufacturing of produce?
Manufacture is not my area of expertise, however it’s clear that the market for sustainably and ethically produced products is increasing – a 2011 poll for Global Action Plan by YouGov Plc found that 89% of 16-24 year olds said they wanted to see people living more sustainably, so there is a definite business case. Being sustainable also means being more resourceful so cost savings can also be made. But profit aside, knowing that you are doing the right thing by the workers in your supply chain and the environment in which you produce, can (and should be) a huge benefit to retailers. It will be an integral part of their corporate responsibility reporting which is becoming increasingly important.
Ecommerce doesn’t necessarily need to be about buying products. Looking at the future of fashion (and many other industries for that matter), services will feature more in a retail brand’s business model and in the online space. This will lead to products being designed and made less for obsolescence and more for longevity (garments should be made to be mended or altered, not made to be disposed of). Already eCommerce brands provide mending services and clothing hire will also become more prevalent. This can generate additional income streams and engender customer loyalty.
What effect do you think the rise of mobile will have on sustainable supply chains?
The easier it is for us as consumers to access information about a retailers’ sustainable practices, the more likely we are to think twice about buying a product when we are unsure of its provenance. If we’re in a store and we want to find out about a company’s CSR policy; where and who makes their products, we can go straight to their website from our mobile, or visit other apps or sites that assess brands according to their ethical practices. When we have information at out fingertips we no longer have to trust retail spin – we can begin to find out for ourselves how a brand is treating workers in its supply chain and we can make an informed choice. This knowledge also means we can tell a brand when we’re not satisfied with the way they are doing things, or when we want answers. Social media can be a powerful for campaigning and spreading a message, and when we’re mobile, we can take action wherever we are. Fashion Revolution Day, which took place on 24th April this year – a year to the day after 1133 people were killed when a garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh – is an amazing example of how people across the world used mobile technology to come together and make a statement about how the fashion industry needs to change. Only in its first year, Fashion Revolution Day is already a global movement that was the number one trend on Twitter globally on the day, reached 60 countries and garnered worldwide press attention. Retailers will find that kind of consumer pressure hard to ignore.
What advice would you give to independent ethical retailers looking to gain profit through e-commerce?
Sounds obvious, but make sure your product is as good as it can be – that quality and design is excellent. Don’t just trust the opinions of your family and friends (as helpful as they can be) as it is essential that your brand is well-conceived and brilliantly executed, both in terms of product and ecommerce experience. The website and whole eCommerce experience has to be as good as any other site out there – being ethical will only get you so far. Get professional advice on your collection and your brand, and hire a professional photographer and stylist.
Following on from that, you need to set yourself apart. I have lost count of the number of online ethical t-shirt brands that contact me, and whilst some have interesting graphics or illustrations, many of them blend into one another. You need to research your market and understand what your potential customers will be buying into. A start-up who sells t-shirts featuring their own new logo that is, as yet, totally unknown is unlikely to have great success.
An example of a t-shirt brand who certainly has set themselves apart is THTC, a pioneer in the ethical fashion world. They produce hemp and organic cotton t-shirts (recently coming top in the Ethical Consumer guide to alternative fashion) but most importantly, they work with a range of fantastic designers and their designs are recognisably THTC. They are unique in their offer.
Provide an excellent service and listen to your customer. I can deal with something going wrong with an online purchase, so long as it is dealt with professionally and thoroughly. As consumers, when we make a complaint and we don’t feel heard (and don’t receive an appropriate acknowledgement), even if we get a refund, we will go away seeing it as a bad experience. We will not recommend that business and are more likely to share a negative experience than a good one.