A sustainable fashion search engine for the conscious consumer

Introducing the Ethical Clothing Search Engine. Ethical Clothing was founded by Ben Heinkel - a serial entrepreneur whose previous ventures include an organic clothing brand and a fashion tech startup - and Jack Hesketh - a researcher and writer focused on the fashion and textile industries. They founded Ethical Clothing to make the daunting task of sourcing sustainable fashion easier for consumers, by doing the work of weeding out the most ethical clothing brands themselves… and the result? Their search engine.

While the search engine currently only evaluates fashion products from the European market, the small (but mighty!) team will continue to evolve their offering over time, with the goal of expanding worldwide. They also plan to develop algorithms to ensure that every product they list is ranked and graded, all to help customers understand exactly how ethical/sustainable a product truly is. In the meantime, we’re excited to share this with all of you, as it certainly represents a step in the oh-so-necessary sustainable direction. 

We love the fact that they espouse the understanding that “before you buy anything, we encourage you to stop and ask yourself: ‘do i really need this?’ As the first step in this battle is to stem our personal level of consumption.” We couldn’t agree more. 

We interviewed the team about why they created the search engine in the first place, what benefits users will glean from its use, what it adds to the market, and more. Take a read… 

  1. What gap did you notice in the market that made you want to create the Ethical Clothing Search Engine?

We were often on the lookout for specific pieces of clothing – t-shirts, socks, jeans – and wanted to buy from, and support, ethical brands that use sustainable materials and have transparent supply chains. 

However, even as tech savvy people we realized it wasn’t that easy to find sustainable versions of the clothes that we had in mind. And most importantly, it was all too easy to get funnelled into the arms of the biggest brands with the biggest online presence. So we decided to do something about it…

We knew of a few ethical brands already, but we were also aware that new brands were popping up all the time. We needed a way to easily search their collective offering, without having to scour the internet for hours. 

Fashion search engines such as Lyst were already doing this for general (mainstream) brands, but we couldn’t find a helpful service that did the same for the ethical alternatives. This lack of ready availability was creating a lot of friction for people that set out with the intention to buy ethical clothing online.

Beyond consumers, we noticed that numerous smaller brands were producing clothes in a very conscientious way, but they seemed to lack the resources necessary to market themselves effectively online. This is an area where we hope to provide further value for smaller brands to get noticed and credited for their sustainable practices.

  1. What is unique about your product? What are the main benefits for users? What makes you different from ranking systems like Good On You?

We’re unique in that we don’t stock any of the products ourselves, and only act as a conduit between consumers and brands. We offer consumers an easy way to find clothing and discover new sustainable brands, while giving brands the exposure they deserve. 

The main benefit is convenience. For users, we provide one central place from which they can find all the clothing they want, with the assurance that whatever our search brings up is from an ethical brand. Our goal is to make an ethical shopping experience that’s both easy and offers a wide range of options, so people don’t feel restricted when making ethical choices. You hear people associating ethical clothing with a ‘hippie’ image, but it’s really not like that!

Ranking systems like Good On You are definitely helpful when you’re looking to discover brands, and see how a third party evaluates them, however when you’re looking for a new top or some ethical trainers, it’s easier to just type that into a search engine and get results based on the type of product, as opposed to a brand-based directory.

Furthermore, organizations like Good On You have, in our opinion, developed quite a vanilla approach to the fashion industry. Their umbrella is pretty broad, including many bigger brands that really only produce a fraction of their clothes via sustainable means. And in turn, their ratings of some larger brands can be somewhat misleading for consumers – we think they should be a lot harsher. Having a small collection of sustainable clothing within a huge range of unsustainable alternatives just doesn’t cut it. 

  1. How do you vet the brands and products included on the site? What is the approval process like? How do you screen out greenwashing by brands?

The brands that we have listed at the moment are either brands that have a large proportion of their products certified by organizations that we know have a suitably strict criteria, such as GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard). Or, they are brands that have been verified by various third parties to follow sustainable practices. 

While we found that this was the best way for us to get the platform going, this is one area in which we’ll be innovating more to automatically prevent brands that engage in greenwashing from being listed. At the moment we do a lot of this checking manually, so as we grow we will utilize technology to help us out.

Our team is currently working on our own rating system that will help us weed out those brands or products that don’t meet our expectations for sustainability and ethical practice. Although we will never list ‘unethical brands’ we hope that a rating system will help our users further understand what and who they are supporting with their purchase decision. 

We’re not worried about playing nice with brands here – if they do not meet our standard, we won’t feature them. Big or small. 

  1. How can users filter their searches? And why did you filter it in the way you did?

At the moment you can search by type of product, material and gender. In particular, our initial research showed that ethical shoppers tend to be more clued up on clothing materials than the average consumer, which is why it was important to offer this specific filter right from the beginning.  

To roll out this platform, we wanted to keep things as simple as possible. Right now we include the clothing search fundamentals for an efficient shopping experience with minimal friction, but of course, this is by no means exhaustive. 

The motto is to develop, test and add. In early 2021, we will start by adding filters including brand, price, and product rating, once the data collection is complete. 

This is an area we’ll be paying a lot of attention to!

  1. Consumers are clearly your focus here. How important is it for consumers to educate themselves on sustainable fashion? Was that the driving force for this project?

We think it’s extremely important for consumers to know what sustainable fashion is, where and how their clothes are made, and the impact that all of this has on the environment. Understanding and education are no doubt fundamental in motivating us to change the way we live for the better.

It’s also becoming increasingly important for people to be able to spot greenwashing, a practice that is becoming all too common and sometimes difficult to notice without thorough inspection of the fine print. This is a topic we hope to address by filtering out greenwashing when we screen brands to feature on the platform itself, so consumers don’t have to do this digging themselves. 

Whilst we believe that there should be an easy route to make ethical purchases, we also actively encourage our users to be inquisitive and make up their own mind wherever possible. After all, the choices we make as consumers directly impact our lives and the planet we live on, and we can’t make the right choices without being properly educated on the consequences of our actions.

We’ve started to publish articles on our blog covering some of these topics and will continue to do so with some more data-driven content coming in the near future. In our writing, our goal is to be accurate and informative, without oversimplifying ethical issues that are often complex by nature. We are keen to help people break down these complexities, like here with bamboo clothing for example.

  1. What’s next for Ethical Clothing and the search engine in particular?

We’re currently working on bringing more brands on board to expand our database of products and improve the user experience by including more filters. I also mentioned the rating system that we would like to have implemented early next year, as well as a few small surprise tools to make the shift towards ethical shopping even easier!

Ultimately, we want the platform to aid people’s well meaning intentions and to demonstrate just how easy it can be to make ethical choices when it comes to your next pair of socks. 

Click here to shop using the Ethical Clothing Search Engine!

Share this post

Get our Newsletter

Get our Newsletter

The inside scoop on what's happening

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.