Nisolo, a popular sustainable shoe brand, now wants to push beyond footwear. Launching a new marketplace of curated items from ethical brands, Nisolo is making a one-stop shop for customers wanting to invest in purpose-driven brands.
“We had many customers asking us where to shop, aside for shoes,” Patrick Woodyard, CEO and co-founder of Nisolo says. So they decided to do the vetting themselves, and have companies sign a code of conduct, which sits publicly on their site and is based on the Social Accountability International’s SA8000 standard.
Each company showcased on the site meets numerous criteria on working environment and wages, and promotes a less wasteful lifestyle. That’s to reckon with the onslaught of greenwashing taking place in the marketing right now, Woodyard says.
“There truly are a lot of really great brands out there now, but knowing which ones have legitimate supply chain practices and which ones are just good at marketing is a real concern,” he adds.
There are 21 brands currently on the site: five are B Corps and six are part of 1% For the Planet. They include an eclectic mix of city guides to beanies to candles. But it’s not just a smattering of everything; there is a common thread. The new marketplace will still be curated, Woodward says. “Everything fits into our aesthetic as a brand, the presentation, the quality.”
That design-centric approach, which the company has followed in footwear as well, could be its shot to success with the ethical marketplace, says Woodyard. “Sometimes you’re shopping on these online marketplaces and they’re chaotic, almost as if you’re shopping at a strip mall somewhere. It can be overwhelming.”
Instead, Woodyard promises to keep the Nisolo marketplace more zen-like: the company’s muted, natural tones, earthy materials, and the essentials.
The business model is also different: they’ve currently invested in the stock, unlike many drop-ship sites that depend on brands to mail out the product, offering just a platform instead to host their product. While Woodyard has not finalized the backend business model of the marketplace, he wants to make it small business-friendly, he says. “We’ve got a team of researchers looking at the model and down the road, it’ll likely be a hybrid model of wholesale and drop-ship, but always mindful of the companies we’re working with.”
This is not the first effort to build a purpose-driven marketplace: others have come and gone, questioning whether the drop-ship model has viability. But with sustainability at the forefront now, and Nisolo already having a core customer base, Woodyard argues that it can be done and must be done, he says.
“We really set out to contribute to the [fashion] industry in a big way. And we still want do that. There are companies using sustainability language loosely so that customers can feel better about themselves.”
But are they really? Language is not enough, Woodyard argues. Hence Nisolo’s push to have companies sign a code of conduct is an act of accountability, which for one brand led to an eye-opening experience.
“In full transparency, one of the brands in our marketplace hesitated to sign our Code of Conduct because they were unsure if their workers were receiving a living wage. This prompted them to dive in head first to find out. Their team discovered that a wage increase was needed in order to get the full team up to a living wage, and a plan was put in place to make the needed change,” Woodyard wrote on the company’s site.
It’s this action-based approach that Woodyard hopes will allow for real improvement in supply chains.