08.02.18

Ethi Is The New Online Shopping Destination For Ethical & Sustainable Fashion

All your favourite ethical fashion brands in one place

Emily Uebergang

At the unlikely cross-section between tech and fashion, you’ll find an even more unlikely champion for the sustainable fashion movement.

As a former management consultant, Jimmy Zhong was oblivious to the term ‘Fast Fashion’ and what it represented.

Fast forward a few years, as founder of Ethi Collective, a marketplace for conscious consumers to purchase directly from sustainable fashion brands, he’s now challenging the very status-quo that’s entwined with the fast fashion industry.

ethical fashion

"We aim to solve this through providing a shopping destination for beautiful fashion and lifestyle products made sustainably and ethically. "

A Change Of Pace

Before Ethi  was even a thought and while he was still working full time in consulting, Jimmy took the entrepreneurial plunge in founding Akagu; a reverse auction fashion marketplace. As his first foray into the fashion industry, Jimmy was able to provide an alternative pricing model to the aggressive price cutting strategies employed by the fast fashion industry. Under the Akagu model, independent designers had a greater opportunity to recover profit margins. As he learned more about the destructive tendencies of the fast fashion business model, the itch to do more in challenging the status-quo grew.

On the heels of Akagu’s success, in August 2017, he relaunched the website under the Ethi Collective brand.

“I decided that we could do more to help reverse all the destruction that fashion had caused. This went well beyond just business, but also the environment, people, and animals. Similar to Akagu, we wanted to build a marketplace to maximise impact by helping both the sell-side (brands) and buy-side (consumers) to accelerate change.”

On Empathy

At the core of the Ethi is the ‘EMPATHY‘ philosophy.

It’s an acronym for Environment, Material sustainability, People, Animal-free, Transparency, Handmade, and Your local. These are the very values by which Ethi screens brands looking to sell through their marketplace.

Brands are required to meet at least one of these values and within each value, a more specific set of criteria must be met. For example, to meet the Environment value, the brand must use recycled or upcycled materials to produce their products.

Jimmy speaks of the public reception since their rebrand to Ethi, “Since August, the feedback we’ve received from brands and customers has been overwhelming – we now work with over 30 brands and our customer base is building, with many first time sustainable fashion shoppers!”

A Holistic Approach

As he proceeded further down this path, Jimmy has discovered that doing business in this manner requires a holistic approach to doing life. The two can’t be separated.

He explains this further, “I think sustainable fashion is a catalyst for me to understand that in order to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to take a holistic approach that is more than just the traditional profit and loss view, but that social and environmental impact is equally as important.”

It’s within this revelation where Jimmy finds his inspiration to persevere. He goes on to explain, “This holistic approach extends beyond business since it’s only one aspect of your life. I look at successful entrepreneurs that have built amazing businesses that are socially responsible and are still able to live a healthy and happy lifestyle – that is the Holy Grail for me.”

He speaks fondly of other entrepreneurs leading by this example as seen in Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, and Isabella and Lizzy, the sister founders of Spell & the Gypsy.

“I get tremendous energy from these people who are making such a positive impact in the industry. Likewise, our customers are a huge source of inspiration because ultimately, they are the ones that decide whether change sticks. It’s always easier to stick with the status-quo or bury our heads in the dirt, but these customers have made a choice and voted with their money. I feel very grateful to be constantly inspired by their choices!”

ethical fashion
ethical fashion

“We are firm believers in progress over perfection and that we’re on the same boat as everyone else, constantly learning and improving.”

The Ethical Hurdles

But stepping outside of the status-quo is no easy feat. With it comes a unique set of challenges as Jimmy points out, “It’s all too easy to feel paralysed by the complexity of sustainable fashion as well as the feeling of inadequacy to start something like this.”

From what he has seen in the industry, Jimmy goes on to speak about what he considers to be some of the biggest hurdles facing the sustainable fashion industry.

“Transparency continues to be one of the biggest challenges. There are some fantastic brands such as Dorsu and Tonle that are providing information in great lengths to provide transparency but for the majority of brands, this is an immensely difficult task. I think a lot of brands pursuing the ethical or sustainable route will need to rely a lot on trust.”

Ethi is continuously striving to improve the marketplace not just for their customers, but for their suppliers as well. In doing so, they’re casting aside the old way of thinking that declares business as a zero sum game. As a two-sided marketplace, Ethi is challenged daily to ensure that the platform provides tremendous value to both the brands and the customers.

Jimmy reasons, “Tackling challenges such as transparency stem from the beginning of the supply chain, not right at the end where the customer lives. So we’re looking into technologies (think blockchain) that could help solve this. Because we have the marketplace that connects to consumers, it would be incredible to have a fully transparent platform once we’ve connected to the full supply chain.”

ethical fashion
ethical fashion

Progress Over Perfection

As far as a movement at large goes, sustainable fashion is still in its infancy. The movers and shakers remain on the outskirts of the industry, even as we see huge shifts taking place for the better such as through Ethi Collective. In terms of consumer awareness and supply chain maturity, there’s plenty of room for growth.

“We are firm believers in progress over perfection and that we’re on the same boat as everyone else, constantly learning and improving.”

One key takeaway from the Ethi story is that we all have our part to play in consciously pursuing a lifestyle that advocates the EMPATHY values.

 “An empathetic lifestyle means that you are self-aware and conscientious. We believe these are key ingredients in enabling you to become the best version of yourself. It can be a bit lonely and isolating at times but all change requires the innovators and early adopters before it becomes widely adopted. So you’ll need to persevere and be patient, look for incremental changes rather than a giant leap forward and remember, progress over perfection!”

Jimmy speaks a final word on his ambitious vision for Ethi, “We want to continue to work on flying the EMPATHY lifestyle flag, and will look to scale our efforts into becoming not just a fashion marketplace but a true lifestyle platform.”

This post is sponsored by Ethi. 

Images from TAMGA Designs and Studio Kolektif

Emily Uebergang

Emily Uebergang is a writer, farmer and ecoprenuer who transitioned from the urban jungle to a working farmstead in the beautiful mountains of the Manning Valley in New South Wales, Australia. She writes like she's out to try and save the world... or at least make a difference for the better.