COSH! on Befair

COSH! makes sustainable clothing shopping easy

Would you like to go through life in a sustainable way? And will you be able to do so if you buy clothes? Niki De Schryver concluded that many people stumble on this, even if they have a sustainable mindset. "People don't know which brands they can really trust in that area. Or they think that their taste will not be found in a responsible variant. Many also wonder whether sustainability isn't far too expensive for them."

All these questions can now be answered thanks to COSH!, the online platform that makes sustainable shopping easy.

COSH! - COnscious SHopping - is the brainchild of Niki De Schryver. Formed in fashion and e-commerce, she launched the platform to the general public in September 2019. Of course after months of preparation and a much longer process in the back of her mind. "As the right hand of fashion designer Bruno Pieters, I was one of the founders of the most transparent fashion brand in the world seven years ago. Honest By no longer exists, but it has been repositioning itself in the clothing industry. Many brands are taking their first steps towards ecological materials, fair and transparent production. Actions such as 'Who made my clothes?' reach further than before ... But the consumer still doesn't know where to go. We solve that problem."

Hacking into the fashion sector

Niki's career has been moving around less sustainable clothing retailers and luxury fashion houses and she worked for a while as an e-commerce marketer. "Until I realised that my job no longer suited who I was. Someone close to me suddenly blurted out that I had become superficial. I was shocked, I didn't see myself that way at all. But it was an eye opener. I stepped out of the hollow marketing world to fully focus on sustainable fashion again. Coincidentally, shortly afterwards, De Tijd invited me to Hack Belgium (2017, nvdr). That's where the COSH! ball started to roll."

During the large-scale, three-day think-tank marathon on sustainability, Niki De Schryver tested her vague ideas with other innovation enthusiasts. She immediately took the opportunity to set up an initial survey: "It confirmed my feeling: there is a trend towards a more sustainable life. Many more people are making that mindswitch. But when people choose clothes, there's a huge gap between their attitude and what they buy."

Mix of online and offline

Showing consumers with a hunger for sustainable fashion the way to the brands that offer it. It became Niki's new mission. The only question remained: how?

"On the advice of Flanders DC, I signed up for the Open Call of Flanders Circular. Thanks to that budget, I was able to carry out a second analysis: a broad study into the purchasing behaviour of people with an affinity for sustainability. What turned out to be? Consumers usually take their first sustainable step with a choice for green energy, others with veggie or vegan food. Sustainable clothing dangled at the very bottom of the list."

Meanwhile, Niki De Schryver gathered a team around her: IT and communication people, a financial expert ... With a third market research COSH! sought out what the Belgians and the Dutch already knew about sustainable fashion and what guidance they wanted in order to convert their good intentions into purchasing behaviour. "We learned that 80% of the clothes are still sold in physical stores, despite the strong growth of online stores. That's why we decided not to develop an app."

COSH! became an online tool that guides people to find their way offline to the sustainable clothing that suits their taste and budget. "And by promoting sustainable physical stores from here, we also contribute to the local economy."

Thanks to the users

Like many start-ups, COSH! relies heavily on its community. From her living room, Niki De Schryver and her colleagues keep in close contact with interested consumers and retailers. Their input was indispensable to develop the web platform into what it is today.

COSH!'s online shopping guide has taken off steeply since its launch. After two months, more than 10,000 visitors had already registered to create a tailor-made shopping route. COSH! now puts 38 - and counting - clothing stores with a sustainable offer on the map and is already screening dozens of brands.

What is sustainable according to COSH!

How does the screening actually work? Every shop that becomes a member - and therefore appears in the shopping guide - must have at least three of its brands screened by COSH! every year! In this way, a lot of brands in total go through our screening. The results will appear on the site as soon as you click through to a store."

COSH! looks at the total sustainability picture: how does a garment come about, what impact does this have on the environment and on the people who make it, can it be easily recycled, how short is the supply chain, is it vegan ... ?

"On our site, symbols make it clear which brands meet which sustainability criteria. You can also read about the areas in which the brand still has work to do. As a shopper you can click on what are the most important criteria for you, within your budget and clothing style. Hardly any brand currently succeeds in scoring well on all aspects and being affordable. But every serious step deserves support."

"In addition to the brands, we also look at the vision and motivations of the traders. A shop that sells a few sustainable brands, but also attaches little value to ethical trade, does not come to, for example. Unlike some other guides, we do not only rely on statements from retailers or brands, but we also carry out systematic analyses".

Next steps in preparation

Meanwhile Niki is already planning the next steps for COSH: "We hope to get an extra budget soon. With this we want to screen new or really innovative brands ourselves, even before they are in many shops." You can also expect second-hand shops in the next phase in the COSH! shopping guide.

COSH! also aims to collaborate with city councils and trade associations. "We can relieve them in their sustainability communication and put them credibly on the map as a sustainable shopping city, with a national audience. We see associations that bring traders together as ideal partners for setting up events on ethical clothing."

This is only the beginning

Let's be clear: Niki De Schryver has no intention of resting until the fashion sector is more sustainable. "My ultimate goal is much further than COSH! I want to contribute to an economic shift towards sustainable fashion. It's still a niche, but it can't stay that way. As more people buy sustainable clothing, less will be produced under unfair conditions. This unsustainable economy will eventually collapse and be replaced by purpose first companies. Which, in turn, provide decent work."

Ambitious ideas, but they are not unfounded. "I can already see side-effects of COSH!, which are heading in that direction. Our assessment points brands to aspects in their production chain that they had not yet considered themselves. As a sourcing consultant, I help them to find the adjustments that will allow them to have an impact quickly."

Both brands and shops can come to COSH! to help them on their way or even to guide them very closely. "Recently, I've gone through a long-term process with two brands to completely switch to sustainable production, both on an ecological and fair trade level (Yoga by Julz and Studio Ama, nvdr). Multi-brand chains ask my advice to improve their purchasing policy. I even get questions for which there is no solution yet. An example: at the moment, no brand offers really sustainable clothing in plus size. I recently started working with a fashion chain that wants to make its own plus size brand more sustainable."

In short, Niki enjoys nothing more than sharing her knowledge and experience. Also with consumers: she gives lectures and training sessions at all kinds of events about sustainability.

Close the loop

We can call Niki De Schryver without reservation a pioneer in fair fashion. While most brands are still taking cautious steps towards organic cotton, she is already thinking a few steps ahead.

"I strongly believe in circular production. We must stop exploiting new raw materials, but close the material cycles. Close the loop, that's the future. I dream of clothes made from 100% organic and vegetable raw materials, which you can recycle endlessly."

How realistic is that? Niki is formal, but hopeful. "At the moment, we're nowhere to be found in this area. For example, very little clothing is made from a single material. That makes it difficult to recycle. For example, even jackets made of durable material are often still given a synthetic lining. A mindswitch is therefore also needed by the designers. I support the clothing industry in every step it takes towards sustainability, but keep a critical eye on it all."

Article by Griet Rebry