In a world that is becoming more aware of the importance of sustainable
production, consumers are looking for easy shopping locations that still
maintain their increasingly eco-conscious values.
Independent online marketplaces offer a bridge between the growing
digital landscape and the demand for sustainably produced goods, while
simultaneously providing a space for brands that are looking to tell their
story. Each site holds its own individual purpose, while continuously on
the lookout for new opportunities that contribute to the sustainable
FashionUnited spoke with the CEOs of three marketplaces that define this
e-commerce reckoning, acquainting us with their selection processes, values
and perspectives on the future of the sustainable world.
Curated Crowd: community builders
In a mission to bring a more direct designer-to-consumer service to the
industry, Curated Crowd CEO Ada Yi Zhao translated her love of shopping for
undiscovered niche fashion brands worldwide into a digital platform.
Starting out as a crowdfunding site supporting emerging designers, it
quickly transformed into a UK based online marketplace for designers that
didn’t quite fit the traditional ultra-luxury or fast fashion moulds.
Curated Crowd developed as a response to the increasing demand for
mid-level fashion, looking further down the supply chain at individual
designers who often struggle to find their ways to access international
consumers directly. Through its constantly developing community, emerging
labels from around the globe are able to tell their stories while
simultaneously marketing their products.
Through extensive onboarding calls and atelier visits, generated from an
open application system, Zhao establishes one-on-one relationships with
designers, getting to know the story behind their label and the future
goals they have in mind. Only a small selection make it onto the
marketplace, with every item available either being limited edition or made
to order as a way to avoid potential mass-overproduction.
“The business side of sustainability is much more important than the
material and the journey of the product – from its conception to how it
ends up in the consumer’s home,” explained Zhao. “For me, I always look at
each designer and how they run their business. Is it sustainable as a
business? Is it a sustainable lifestyle for the designers? I am absolutely
against the so-called fashion cycle and I think every single piece that we
have on our platform needs to be something the consumer has to treasure for
The care towards designer relations extends into its personal connection
with customers. As many as 60 percent of orders come from returning buyers,
according to Zhao, who regularly communicates with them through WhatsApp
and other social media channels.
“For us, it is really curating that community,” she said. “We are not
for everyone. We are for certain kinds of people with an educated purpose.
People come to us because they want to learn and know about the brand, what
sustainability is about and how to preserve a wardrobe for seasons to come.
We are targeting the conscious consumer.”
A pop-up store in London accompanies the online marketplace, offering
personal styling assistance while collecting valuable visitor feedback on
the products. Future plans could see Curated Crowd continue its development
of this omnichannel business model, implementing this physical experience
into the digital sphere.
Recently relocating to Amsterdam, Ada Zhao’s new base also brings an
array of fresh possibilities, such as an additional potential pop-up store
or the chance to aid European brands on their ventures into the UK market.
“As a British Fashion Council member, I see so many talents in London
but because of Brexit it’s really hard for them to have a voice here in
continental Europe, and vice versa. We want to be that bridge between the
two,” explained Zhao.
She continued: “Online wise, we are also looking to launch our US site
to serve a wider audience. We do ship worldwide, but we realise that more
localised curation is becoming so important for customers.”
Seezona: emerging designer hub
Since its launch two years ago, Scandinavian luxury marketplace Seezona
has established a diverse platform offering everything from high fashion
and accessories to beachwear and activewear, specifically from emerging
designers. The multi-brand store curates on an international basis from
over 25 countries, securing a unique selection of brands you may not find
on alternate sites.
“Through our technical platform, we facilitate the interaction between
small businesses and customers, as well as taking care of the entire value
chain involved in those processes,” explained Seezona’s founder and CEO,
Her love and interest for the industry began in concept stores in
Southern France, where discovering new designers enabled her to stand out
among the crowd. After diving into the sector, Helander began noticing
distinct obstacles that made it particularly difficult for new brands to
“I began to understand how heavily reliant on wholesale the industry
was,” she said. “As a consequence, a lot of designers with great potential
never scale up, simply because they don’t have the right connections to
buyers or the capacity to produce a certain amount of products. I wanted to
solve that problem and, in the midst of our digital era, found that
technology was the best solution to do precisely that.”
Each of the over 100 brands featured on the platform has faced a
rigorous selection process, involving meetings where the label is evaluated
based on a list of criteria. Hearing the stories of each founder and the
process behind production allows a relationship to form and further ensures
that the brand fits well within the Seezona platform.
Helander stated: “We always look for brands that use quality fabrics,
have a local mindset in their production, a sense of community, on top of a
great design, of course.”
Items on the site vary between bold statement pieces and more basic
staples, offering up something for almost every conscious shopper that
visits. On top of that, a virtual styling room feature allows shoppers to
test out outfits and products in a digital try-before-you-buy setting.
Seezona is still fairly fresh on the scene and is continuously looking
to develop and discover. In terms of upcoming projects, Helander said: “We
have a lot of big plans indeed, this is only the beginning. Stay tuned!”
The Wearness: clear conscious shopping
German-based The Wearness, founded and run by four women, started as a
way to prove sustainable clothing could also be fashionable. Functioning as
a marketplace, that doesn’t want to appear as a marketplace, specially
curated brands have a home in a platform that also takes into account eco
and ethical production can be achieved in numerous ways.
“We started The Wearness to show that sustainability doesn’t need to
affect the look and style of a piece, that it can be the most beautiful
thing with a more sustainable production,” said Julia Zirpel, one of the
co-founders. “We wanted to show this was not a contradiction, because five
years ago sustainable items on the market were not fashionable in our eyes.”
The high-end pieces on the site are selected through a rigorous
questionnaire process that deep dives into individual sectors of
sustainability. Once on the site, each item is displayed alongside the
criteria it applies to, allowing buyers to shop according to their specific
requirements. These can include organic materials, fair production and
other specifically defined areas of sustainability.
The setup ensures that shoppers know exactly what they are buying, and
also allows for slight flexibility for brands that direct sustainability
efforts towards various perspectives of the production process. “We write
about the brand and we explain why they are sustainable, but we also show
where they might not be so sustainable just yet,” mentioned Zirpel,
emphasising the importance of transparency.
“Handcrafted is a very important element to us too and is something that
is not so evident with that many people. It opens up the possibilities of
indigenous production and traditional heritage, as well as local
manufacturing,” explained Zirpel. “Lots of women work in this area, and it
is another part of sustainability that people are less aware of.”
Female empowerment is an additional core value of The Wearness, that
takes into consideration the work of women who are strongly evident in the
fashion industry. The marketplace looks to highlight the rights of female
workers, stressing the importance of educational efforts, child care and
other assets that both support and empower women in the workforce.
Alongside the constantly developing portfolio of brands, The Wearness
also releases its own limited collection every three months. Only specific
products are available, this edition a dress and a shirt, each with a
concept completely based on the idea of circularity and bio-degradability.
Formed with all-natural and locally produced materials, the items sold
define the circular wardrobe that The Wearness is aiming to promote.
Addressing circular production, Zirpel said: “We think this is one of
the most important topics that is coming up in the future, but the market
is not there yet. Everybody talks about recycled materials, they are just
not aware of what happens to products when they are not used anymore.”
In fact, lack of effective waste management is one of the key obstacles
Zirpel identifies, noting that there needs to be a focus on obstructing
garment disposal before it ends up in markets Europe no longer can control
anymore. As part of its own efforts, products from The Wearness collection
can be returned to the platform once no longer in use, and the company is
additionally looking into the implementation of a repair service.
Guya Merkle, another co-founder and creative director of high-end
jeweller Vieri, has already made a start in the development of sustainable
waste management. Together with a Dutch NGO, she set up an initiative to
produce recycled gold from old mobile phones, transported from African
markets back into Europe.
Further future plans for the platform include the establishment of a
physical base, where consumers can see and touch the clothes in person,
allowing for direct meetings with shoppers. Zirpel concluded: “Especially
now during covid, we have the feeling that people are really longing for
personal contact and not just getting everything online.”