On Wednesday 31 August, Flemish member of parliament Annick Lambrecht undertook a VOKA summer internship at COSH!, conscious shopping made easy, here at our office in De Krook in Ghent.

Ms Lambrecht, originally from Bruges, spent the whole day with Niki de Schryver, the founder and CEO of COSH! The MP was hoping to get some ideas for her work in Brussels. "I always wonder how the clothes I grab in shops are made. For example, whether child labour has been used. Ideally, I would like to see one trust-worthy label certifying ethical and environmentally-friendly clothes. In the meantime, although using COSH! does require effort, it really helps consumers make sustainable choices.”

COSH! is a fashion tech start-up that, with the support of imec.istart and several cities including Bruges, Amsterdam and Antwerp, is working to map out sustainable fashion for consumers, but also to thoroughly research it. COSH! does this by assessing brands in 7 areas: ethical working conditions, use of materials, circular economy, short supply chain, animal welfare, slow fashion and transparency. Over just 3 years, this young company has grown from 1 to 12 employees and is gearing up to launch new technology in the autumn mapping out sustainable retailers in cities.

In the morning, the MP got a look behind the scenes at COSH! and assisted the COSH! team with their investigation into a large retail chain’s greenwashing practices. During this time, the politician received a message on social media asking how to find sustainable shops in Bruges, her hometown. Ms Lambrecht enthusiastically responded with a picture of the COSH! “sustainable shopping in Bruges” map.

In the afternoon, the politician, together with the founder of COSH!, visited several entrepreneurs in Ghent who have made sustainability their priority. Their first stop was at the vegan lunch spot, Madam Bakster, where they spoke with owner, Laura Verhulst, about balancing her focus on sustainability with being an entrepreneur.

They then headed off on a tour of several shops, where Mrs Lambrecht was astonished in Supergoods: "Can I have a look at the Vejas? I have never seen so many in one shop." Supergoods manager Olga Vangenechten told the story of the shop, which sells pioneering sustainable brands on Brabantdam.” Being on this shopping street allows us to welcome people who are not so familiar yet with sustainability and introduce them to sustainable brands. We want to show them that sustainable fashion is fashionable and reduce the perceived gap between sustainable and fashionable."

"The industry is making great strides, even our front-runner sustainable brands are continuing to innovate and incorporate more and more recycled or biodegradable materials into their products." Says Olga Vangenechten, manager of Supergoods Ghent.

Annick Lambrecht spoke to the entrepreneurs about their worries and how they would like to be supported. Indeed, retailers are really feeling the effects of consumers’ decreasing purchasing power and rising energy prices.

The tour ended at Ohne Steendam, a packaging-free shop. Owner Alexia Coppens said she would like to see a reduction in VAT on energy costs and feared that both her customers and her business will suffer from rising prices. For now, Ohne offers a unique and wide range of products in refillable packaging, including food and household products.

"Now that people are allowed out again, after the heavy lockdowns, sustainably produced and (non-)packaged foods are no longer a priority for families on tight budgets." Says Alexia Coppens, founder of Ohne, the cooperative of packaging-free shops.

"It was really fascinating to exchange ideas about diversity, the reality of entrepreneurship and small traders’ uncertainties with a politician who works on other sectors and themes. Although these are very exciting and fun times for COSH! thanks to its international expansion, they are also quite unsettled when I hear entrepreneurs' concerns. It is nice that Annick took the time to listen to their stories and worries." Reflects Niki de Schryver, the founder of COSH!

Annick Lambrecht a évoqué avec les entrepreneurs et les entrepreneuses leurs inquiétudes et la manière dont ils et elles aimeraient être soutenues. En effet, les détaillants ressentent réellement les effets de la baisse du pouvoir d'achat des consommateurs et des consommatrices et de la hausse des prix de l'énergie.

La visite s'est terminée chez Ohne Steendam, un magasin sans emballage. Sa propriétaire, Alexia Coppens, a déclaré qu'elle souhaitait une réduction de la TVA sur les coûts énergétiques et craint que ses clients et son entreprise ne souffrent de la hausse des prix. Pour l'instant, Ohne propose une gamme unique et large de produits dans des emballages réutilisables, notamment des produits alimentaires et ménagers.

"Maintenant que les gens sont à nouveau autorisés à sortir, après les lourds confinements, la nourriture produite de manière durable et (non) emballée à l'intérieur du foyer n'est plus une priorité pour les familles au budget serré." Nous a confié Alexia Coppens, Fondatrice de Ohne, la coopérative des magasins sans emballages.

"C'était vraiment fascinant d'échanger des idées sur la diversité, la réalité de l'entrepreneuriat et les incertitudes des petits commerçants avec une personne qui travaille sur d'autres secteurs et thèmes. Bien que ce soient des moments très excitants et amusants pour COSH ! les inquiétudes des entrepreneurs sont bien réelles. C'est bien qu'Annick ait pris le temps d'écouter leurs histoires et leurs inquiétudes". Nous a confié Niki de Schryver, la Fondatrice de COSH !