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Shopping sustainably can be a challenge. From finding quality brands you love to trusting the retailers you’re supporting are actually talking the talk and walking the walk, shopping consciously isn’t something that always comes easily.
Thankfully, there are retailers like Toward out there on a mission to change that.
Founded by Ana Kannan, a Gen Z woman of color, Toward is a luxury shopping platform that exclusively carries brands that meet rigorous sustainability and responsibility standards, including fan-favorite clothing and beauty brands like Vivienne Westwood, AGOLDE and Olio E Osso.
In honor of Women’s History Month, Kannan caught up with In The Know’s Julia Webb via Zoom to share why she founded Toward, how everyone can make responsible purchases and the brands she can’t stop shopping. Keep scrolling to read the entire conversation.
In The Know: What inspired you to found Toward?
Ana Kannan: I created Toward to solve a problem I identified during quarantine. During that time, there was an increased focus on the environment and this renewed a passion for sustainable fashion. The industry was already growing, but one real disconnect that I saw in the industry was that people really wanted to shop responsibly but they had no idea where to get started. 80% of shoppers don’t trust brands’ sustainability claims, so it’s really difficult to get started if you can’t even trust the brands you’re shopping from. With that in mind, and with myself being a conscious consumer, I wanted to create a space where people could come and shop products that they love knowing that these items have been vetted across a bunch of criteria for responsibility.
What sets Toward apart from other luxury shopping platforms that sell environmentally conscious brands?
I would say that we have the most comprehensive vetting process in the industry. Our framework covers 100+ criteria for responsibility, divided into progress, understanding and future goals. Within these three categories, we have multiple focus areas like transparency, emissions, water management, responsible forestry, workers’ rights, etc. So we get really granular when we’re asking our brands about how they’re responsible, and we require them to provide proof with every answer they have.
I would say the trust factor is what really sets us apart, because any retailer can slap “sustainable” onto any of their products just because they use some organic materials or 10% of an item is recycled. But we really are very holistic in the way that we cover responsibility. Toward is truly a destination that shoppers can really trust to find their responsible fashion fix.
What should shoppers look out for when they are trying to tell if a brand is actually responsible?
I think that there are some basics that we can all agree on that are super important for responsible brands. One is transparency and making sure that the working conditions in which the products are produced are ethical. Some brands will tell you which factories they work with, but if not there are ethical certifications you can ask for. You can also ask if they’ve done any audits of their factories in the past six months, and that’s a great way of just making sure that the products that the brand is producing are being made ethically.
Another way is just looking at their material mix. Not every brand will have 100% organic materials, 100% recycled materials all the time, and that’s okay. It’s a process! But you can see which materials they’re using. If it’s all polyester, if it’s all plastic, you can tell that the brand isn’t really thinking about responsibility. But if they’ve started introducing more and more responsible collections over time, that’s a really good start.
And a third way is to see if they have a “sustainability” or “responsibility” section on their website. That’s always a really good start to see that they are thinking about responsibility and if they have a plan in place. That’s a great way to see if a brand is on the right track.
Tell me about your experience as a Gen Z woman of color founder in the responsible retail space.
I feel like Gen Z is very different from previous generations in that from the very beginning we’ve been very in tune with social and environmental issues and we’ve been very vocal about them. So part of being a Gen Z woman of color, I put a lot of emphasis on supporting responsible woman-owned brands and minority-owned brands. A lot of our clothing and beauty brands are woman-owned, Black-owned or Asian-owned because I really feel like representation matters. It’s important to showcase these brands and support their growth so that they do make up a proportion number of the big brands that are out there.
What are some of are your favorite responsible fashion and beauty brands?
I love the denim brands that we have. AGOLDE is one of my favorites. They use recycled leather in a lot of their collections and they just make the coolest products. They made these jeans this last season, that were half leather, half denim. It was one of our best sellers and I’m obsessed with it.
Another great brand is a Ukrainian brand called Anna October. They make the majority of their products from deadstock fabric so that no new waste is created during the process. They’re super intentional about how they pick their pieces and pick their fabrics as well. And they take video feeds of their factories to make sure that everything is ethically produced.
For beauty brands, I love Vapour Beauty. They have really great base products all around. You can’t go wrong with their High Voltage Lipsticks or their foundations. I just love that brand. Another brand I really love is La Bouche Rouge. It’s a French lip brand, and they make all of their cases out of recycled leather, and they’re a super low waste brand.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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