Posted: Thu 16th Sep 2021
Environmental sustainability is an increasingly important issue for small business owners, with many companies already starting to go green.
Last week Enterprise Nation launched Plan it with Purpose, a programme to help business owners implement sustainable best practices that deliver a positive impact on the planet, society and the economy.
As the second largest polluter in the world, the fashion industry accounts for 8% of global carbon emissions, and nearly 20% of wastewater. The good news is, as consumers are taking more actionable steps to demand better from the industry, improved business practices are being implemented and new sustainable trends are starting to emerge.
Enterprise Nation member Ted Gibson has already proven his eco-friendly credentials. He built Coalo, a premium online marketplace selling only ethical, environmentally conscious men’s fashion brands. We caught up with Ted to find out more.
Ted, where did the idea for Coalo come from?
Coalo is a marketplace for men’s fashion brands that champion sustainability. We partner with small designers from around the world that offer long-lasting products that look great – and connect them with conscious customers.
I started the business in October 2019 after struggling to find fashion that I could trust. I knew these makers were out there and that filling your wardrobe with items that are both long-lasting and good-looking shouldn’t be so hard.
Frustrated, I decided to build a platform for like-minded shoppers; somewhere that people who want to make a difference can easily find brands they can trust. Our partners have been vetted so our shoppers can rest easy knowing that what they're buying is good for the planet.
The way fashion has been operating is often described as a 'race to the bottom'. We propose a race to the top, where all can benefit. More than just being green, it's also about being fair and respectful, and Coalo has become a community for those who believe that sustainability is an all-encompassing way of life.
Our members often tell us that sustainability is important to them, but often they're not sure what to look out for or who to trust. How do you choose who to partner with?
We thought long and hard about what we understood sustainability to mean in the context of what we do. When choosing our partner brands we take into account a number of factors.
We assess their environmental impact to ensure that their end-to-end product cycle is as low emission as possible. We insist that they support local skills and work with local farmers, factories and supply chains. They must only use natural materials from certified sources.
And, of course, we look at the design of their products to ensure that they’re long-lasting and repairable. It’s a rigorous vetting process. We do all the hard work, so that our shoppers don’t have to.
There's been talk of an 'eco gender gap', with green products being overwhelmingly marketed to, and bought by, women. Would you consider expanding Coalo to include women’s fashion brands?
Broadly, our target is millennial men – and we'd love to think we're playing a part in plugging that gap. Opening up Coalo to women's fashion brands is certainly a consideration, but the market for women's clothing platforms in general is a lot busier.
Interestingly, around 40% of our customers are actually female; we hypothesise that they're buying for friends, partners and family.
At the moment, we just want to continue growing our current categories and customer base, and to build a killer content platform. Longer-term I see us expanding into homeware and interior design. We want to encourage a lifestyle that revolves around caring for our environment.
You've featured in a number of well-respected publications, including men's style bible GQ. What fantastic publicity!
Absolutely. We've focused our marketing strategy more on PR than any other channel as a way to reach potential customers, and we've benefited from some great coverage so far. I've actually learnt a lot about marketing my business from Enterprise Nation.
I've been a member for a while now and have found it to be an incredibly valuable network; there are so many resources to help small businesses like mine.
I also pitched at Next Gen Fest in 2019. It was right at the beginning of my journey and standing in front of a crowd really solidified why I wanted to run my own business.
What would your message be to consumers who want to factor sustainability into their clothing purchases?
Clothing has become a fundamental part of our consumer culture, so the ability to incite change really lies with us. Where to begin?
Well, ultimately, the most sustainable thing to do would be to not wear any clothes – but that's far from ideal, for obvious reasons. The next option is to buy second-hand clothing. And then there's a third choice: buy less and buy quality!
And by quality, I mean pieces that last a long time, can be repaired, and get better with age. Time's up for fast fashion and throwaway culture.
I always say that our choice of purchase is a vote; a vote for a brand's ability to act responsibly through it’s manufacturing process. Don't compromise looking good for doing good.
Plan it with Purpose
A programme designed to help owners of small and medium-sized businesses develop a better understanding of environmental and social issues in the UK. Visit the Plan it with Purpose hub