Shopping Toward A Better, More Responsible Future
During the Covid-19 pandemic the world began leaning toward sustainability and responsible production. Many consumers wanted to learn the provenance of fashion and beauty products rather than taking brands’ pronouncements at face value.
Toward is giving consumers metrics for brands’ sustainability efforts so that they can make informed decisions about the products they’re buying.
The company has a mission to disruptively create a more responsible way to shop for luxury goods through a Framework, which consists of a set of 100 questions posed to potential brands. Created by Toward’s responsibility director, the Framework gives consumers a guarantee that the brands on Toward meet the highest standards of responsibility, said Ana Kannan, founder and CEO of Toward.
“The concept came up during the Covid-19 crisis,” she said. “I was finishing up college. There was a renewed focus from people around the world for the environment. There was a push to shop more responsibly and know where clothes the clothes came from.
“It was difficult finding out whether brands were truly responsible or whether they were greenwashing,” Kannan added. “I did the research and came up with a list of brands that did more than plant a tree for every purchase. I realized there were a lot of people like me who wanted to shop more responsibly but three-quarters of them didn’t know how.”
Asked whether responsibly-sourced and produced products are inherently more expensive than goods without the stringent oversight, Kannan said, “In terms of price, there’s a little bit of a misperception. There is a price point luxury consumers are very used to. I was grappling with whether I wanted to go with middle market pricing or high-end. Brands with very low prices means there were sacrifices made somewhere in the supply chain.”
The Framework is 100 questions divided into three categories: current position on responsibility journey, future plans for more responsible practices, and limitations that the brand is facing on the journey to becoming more responsible. Within these questions, Toward accounts for regulations such as making sure the pillar worker’s rights is in alignment with the Higg Facility Social and Labor Module and the International Labour Organization Conventions and the United Nations Guiding Principles of Business and Human Rights.
It’s a mouthful. There are six more pillars, related to materials, transparency, ethos, animal welfare, water management and emissions, and biodiversity and forestry. Each each area must be in alignment with an NGO or other institution.
“We require brands to answer 100 questions and require evidence,” Kannan said. “Certification and factory documentation about chemicals, for example. Some brands staunchly refused to go forward with the information. That was the main pushback we got from brands. At launch we plan to have 45 brands. We signed up 60 in total. Other brands will arrive in the fall. We’ve added six or seven new brands for resort.”
Toward will offer denim brands such as Citizens and high fashion labels such as Vivienne Westwood and Rosantica. “We’ve bought across the spectrum,” Kannan said. “We tried to hit as many different types of brands from contemporary to high luxury.”
Toward tries to keep the number of deliveries to a minimum and is working with influencers to promote its products. “We have a funnel for advertising,” Kannan said. “To start with, on a new site, people will start purchasing on the lower end, close to $200 to $250 per basket. On the beauty side, the average basket size would be $75. Then, when they trust us, they’ll spend more.
“Clean beauty and no animal cruelty tends to be within the spectrum of clean beauty,” Kannan said. “We ask about packaging and greenhouse gas emissions. Were hoping to get refill packaging. We have Bolt Beauty, where all products come in individual little packets that are compostable in water.”
Kannan is young, but said starting a business early runs in her family. “Both of my parents started businesses where they were young. With their help and guidance I tried to be as fearless as possible. They built up a lot of experience in tech, which doesn’t translate because we’re on the retail side. The team I have with me is very experienced. I have buyers who worked at Goop and Harrods. Our designer is from Spotify and our content director came from Net-a-porter.”
For pre-fall and fall, Toward bought 2,600 units of fashion and 1,000 beauty items, with sell-through expected to be 60 percent, Kannan said, adding that Toward didn’t go too deep in any one sku, which gives the company a better chance of hitting its target audience. Sku count increased 15 percent for the resort season.
Kannan, who attended the University of Southern California, majored in math and economics, “quite different than fashion,” she said. “I had to do a lot of reading and research. I took sustainability science outside my major. That’s where my interest and in responsibility started.”