It wasn't too long ago that the conversation about ethical fashion was a niche one being carried out mostly outside the fashion mainstream. But with celebrities like Emma Watson foregrounding sustainable production on her latest press tour and organizations like Fashion Revolution educating consumers through social media initiatives, more and more people want to make responsible decisions about what they buy.
Seeing that three-fourths of millennials claim they would pay more for an inherently sustainable product, mega-corporations like H&M have sought to strengthen their corporate responsibility and a host of newer brands (including Everlane and Reformation) have cropped up to meet the demands for more transparent production. The increase in options is positive, though it can be overwhelming to shoppers who want to shop ethically but don't have the time or energy to do tons of research — especially when so many emerging ethical brands have small advertising budgets that keep them under the radar.
These are the problems that Erin Houston and Emily Kenney are hoping to address with Wearwell, a personal shopping service that connects customers with brands that share their values. Similar to other personal shopping services like Stitch Fix, Wearwell has customers fill out an extensive profile about their clothing preferences, indicating things like which colors and prints they like and for what price range they're looking. Wearwell's team of stylists then selects and ships pieces that match those preferences, allowing customers to keep the pieces they like and return those they're uninterested in.
The main differentiating factor between Wearwell and competitors? Wearwell also accounts for the social and environmental impact of the clothing, treating it as no less important than finding a flattering fit or shade.
"Too often, women feel like they have to sacrifice their style if they want to dress consciously," Houston told Fashionista via email. "If they do find pieces they love, the price point is often out of reach or the search is too difficult, so they give up. We take the search out of the mix and help women build a conscious closet that is suited to the look and needs they have."
If the response on crowdfunding site Indiegogo is any indication, Houston and Kenney have hit the right nerve. Their campaign, which launched at the end of March, raised $30,000 in its first seven hours, and has now reached thousands of dollars more than its initial funding goal — with more than a month left before the campaign ends.
"We've heard so many times in the past month, 'I was just looking for a service like this!'" Houston says. "If it were easier to find clothes that were consciously made and at accessible price points, our gamble is that most people would opt to shop this way."
While Houston asserts that Wearwell's stylists will select from brands that "lead with beautiful style," it was her and her partner's backgrounds in international development and social enterprise that first got them interested in the idea of starting a fashion company. Through their studies and own experiences working in developing nations, they saw firsthand the impact that corporate social responsibility initiatives could have on garment workers in emerging markets. Creating Wearwell is a response that they hope will help consumers who wish to be more conscious, in addition to giving a bigger platform to the small brands that are already doing excellent work in the space.
If their venture is successful, they could see the data they've collected about consumer habits having a bigger impact on the market at large.
"We want to motivate the fashion industry to change," says Houston. "If we can strengthen the conscious consumer market and lift up brands that women can feel great about supporting, we just might create a reason for the big names of fashion to begin to compete for the business of conscious consumers."