COSH! on Fashion United

Sustainable shopping with the help of Cosh!; new retailers connected and also looking at the Netherlands

Cosh! is the brainchild of Niki the Schryver. With the new platform, the Belgian businesswoman wants to help consumers shop sustainably. Cosh! was officially launched last September and now has 38 affiliated retailers in Flanders and Brussels, says the founder to FashionUnited. Cosh! has also recently been nominated for the Belgian entrepreneurial award De Bertjes. The winner will be announced on Friday. As part of the Belgian Fashion Week, we are calling De Schryver about the latest developments.

How does it work? Cosh! is an online platform aimed at consumers who want to shop sustainably. Via the Conscious Shopping platform, consumers can see which retailers have sustainable brands and the way in which these brands are sustainable or circular can be seen. The user can search the platform for all kinds of ethical, sustainable fashion items. Cosh! informs the user about the sustainability characteristics of the registered trademarks. For example, if you are looking for Fair Trade pants, you can enter them on the platform and see exactly where you can buy them. Cosh! produces a map showing the route to the various shops that have what you are looking for. It is also possible to search by style or price range, so there is something for everyone's style and budget. This saves a lot of time. "Cosh! simplifies the consumer's search," says De Schryver.

Cosh! (a fusion of the words 'conscious' and 'shopping') initially started with a list of prospective sustainable brands that are available in both Belgium and the Netherlands. De Schryver then approaches retailers that carry these brands to join the platform. For retailers, this may result in new customers who might not have found them without the help of Cosh! If a retailer wants to join, they have to take out a subscription. The subscriptions are the source of the platform's income. The retailer then chooses three to seven sustainable brands that he runs, which are then screened for sustainability by Cosh! All findings are then shared honestly and openly on the platform, including any areas for improvement. In this way, Cosh! shows retailers the way to a more sustainable assortment and shoppers can search specifically. The communication about the brands in question therefore runs via Cosh! and the shop is reaping the benefits.

The number of retailers participating since the launch in September has risen from 26 to 38 and De Schryver expects a number of new names in the near future, she says. "There are also boutiques that approach us. They find us mainly through social media such as Instagram and through publications in the media. We've noticed that the retailers who sign up are really enthusiastic about the initiative and are keen to act sustainably, but it's far from easy for consumers, and also for the Schryver itself, to find brands that are completely transparent about their supply chains," notes De Schryver.

Sustainable shopping with the help of Cosh!; new retailers connected and also looking at the Netherlands

A lot of work to be done

De Schryver currently has its hands full with research into brands and building a 'dedicated community' of affiliated stores. After a subsidy of 100,000 euros from Flanders Circular in 2018, Cosh! also received a subsidy from the City of Antwerp. "We differ from other similar services because we do not opt for "affiliate marketing", where a platform is paid on the basis of commission from the brands it promotes. It is a conscious choice so that our focus on demonstrable and truthful sustainability is not clouded by another source of income," explains De Schryver.

"We can break even in Belgium and the goal is therefore to form a stable basis for the Belgian market with a dedicated community. Only then can I focus on the Netherlands. There is even more potential in the Netherlands than in Belgium, and many of the brands already screened here are also sold in pioneering boutiques in the Netherlands. We look forward to welcoming them to Cosh!"

Physical store remains popular

With the business model, Cosh! encourages not only sustainable brands, but also physical multi-brand retailers (independent retailers). Belgian consumers prefer to buy in the physical store, according to 76 percent of the 799 respondents to a market survey conducted by Cosh!

Physical shopping is a more sustainable choice, says De Schryver, because the ecological footprint to the shops is smaller, there are no environmentally unfriendly returns of orders involved, and the focus on smaller, locally produced, whether or not made from local waste streams, also makes a positive contribution to the environment. "If a consumer has a positive shopping experience, as well as personal service by connecting with the retailer, this will increase his affinity and love for the purchase, which will prolong the relationship with the product and its lifespan," adds De Schryver.

Cosh!'s web team measures and analyses how often retail points on Cosh! are viewed, as well as how often they have been added to a shopping route. Although until now it has been difficult to measure what the real buying or selling effect of a subscription to Cosh! is on physical retailers, De Schryver has received positive reactions. A few designers from the Belgian design collective Edo, for example, already reported that several new customers had already arrived via the platform.

Sustainable shopping with the help of Cosh!; new retailers connected and also looking at the Netherlands
Making an impact
As far as the future of Cosh! is concerned, De Schryver is ambitious but also modest. "I don't want to say that I'm going to conquer the world. Right now, Cosh! is exactly what the consumer is asking for right now, and that's what I want to focus on."

"Ultimately, I want to make an impact on the industry. If 10% of Belgians suddenly started to shop sustainably, that would have such an enormous impact on the fashion industry," says De Schryver. The Flemish consumer spends an average of 78 euros per month on clothing, according to a study by iVox. De Schryver suspects that the average for potential sustainable shoppers is slightly higher, "mainly because people who are interested are often highly educated and therefore probably have a higher spending budget," she speculates. "Consider how much that market would yield if more people were to shop ethically and sustainably; more money, more honest jobs inside and outside Europe. That would be great."

The affiliated retailers include Tenue Préfereée in Leuven, Edo Collective in Antwerp, SuperGoods in Mechelen, Ghent and Antwerp, and Just Hazel Feelgoodstore in Ghent.

De Schryver has a background in sustainable fashion. She worked for fashion designer Bruno Pieters and his honest sub-label Honest by for a long time.

Article by Wendela van den Broek