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Sustainable startup SlowCo aims to change how we shop, in conversation with CEO Faris Hamadeh

By Rachel Douglass

17 Sept 2021

People |Interview

Image: SlowCo

An increase in demand for sustainable slow fashion has brought an influx of eco-conscious startups out into the open. Each one brings with it a unique sense of purpose and endless initiatives on how they want to adapt buyer experiences in the new sustainable fashion landscape.

SlowCo, founded in February of this year, is one of the innovative startups looking to make this change. Focusing on the development of an informative marketplace, the e-commerce platform curates a broad range of quality brands that define the modern-day shopper. “Slower, better, fewer, longer,” explains CEO Faris Hamadeh in an interview. “That really encapsulates our philosophy that we try to bring to SlowCo in multiple ways.”

Speaking with Hamadeh, FashionUnited learned who SlowCo actually is, the importance of an informed shopping experience and what its plans are to continue the eco-conversation.

What are the backgrounds of the four SlowCo founders and how did you all get into sustainability and fashion?

We all have very different backgrounds. My colleague Ronae, who looks after brand partner relations, used to work in fashion houses, including Mary Kantranzou. Fashion has always been in her DNA. She is great at bridging her experience in fashion with relationship management. Our creative director, Felipe is a photographer by trade and has worked at a number of British publications, such as Harper’s Bazaar and i-D. Jack’s background was in the legal counsel for other growth startups. He brought a wealth of experience in terms of legal elements to the team.

As for myself, fashion has always been something very close to me, though I had never worked in it before. In terms of online commerce, when I was 16 I actually started an online shop selling iPod accessories. It was my first experience with e-commerce and I kind of got the bug for it. After, I spent eight years working in finance and I realised it wasn’t for me and I wanted to start my own business while considering non-negotiable ethical and sustainable parameters. That is where SlowCo started and the rest of the team joined, bringing with them welcome experience and different capabilities.

You founded the web store at a time when the industry was in a bit of uncertainty. What prompted you to start the platform during this time?

I think it was more the result of realising that there was nowhere where we wanted to shop. A year and a half ago, when the idea came up, sustainability wasn’t the omnipresent word that it is today. It is great how far that conversation has moved forward now.

What we tried to do, and what we continue to do, is make sure there is a place where we want to shop, with clothes that we actually like that also fulfil our sustainability criteria. This is something that is important for each of us individually. There is also the third element of inclusivity, making a welcoming space for people regardless of how they identify. We aim to bridge these three elements together and finding the right curation of brands to represent this.

And because it was launched during this time, do you think covid-19 has any impact on the launch of the brand?

Minor impacts. We had to delay shoots and things like that. Felipe was particularly affected while he was in Spain, where they had one of the more brutal lockdowns. However, the biggest dampener for us has been Brexit and the regulatory changes, that have been a real expense. It has slowed things down very quickly and is now a very complex environment that we live in. We have made good progress, and we were well prepared. Even the changes on July 1 brought a new regulatory environment, which has now changed unrecognisably in terms of VAT and how things are managed.

Image: SlowCo

In the past years, we have seen a rise in sustainable startups come into the market and a number of fast-fashion retailers also implement sustainability into their strategy. How does SlowCo try and stand out from these other startups?

It is really encouraging to see this industry start to evolve. A lot of progress has been made in the last year. Our mission is always to be the most sustainable and informative fashion platform on the planet, that empowers people to understand the impact of their purchases. We want to always be one step ahead, with a constantly evolving prerequisite for the items we have on the website.

We will no doubt have stricter and stricter guidelines, and continue to evaluate our minimum requirements on either a twelve or six month basis. So it really is all about continuing to evolve as the industry evolves.

We are also working on a really exciting initiative that will ensure consumers are empowered on their decision. It is really interesting but I can’t say too much about it now as we are just developing it. It is going to be on the horizon over the next six to nine months and is part of our contribution to the positive conversation around the social and environmental impact of consumption.

The new initiative does sound intriguing…

Yes, it’s very exciting. We are just developing it now and once there is something in writing we would love to talk about it!

Image: SlowCo

One of the things that stood out on your platform was your intense screening process for each item. Can you explain why you decided to go with this process and what it actually involves?

You are right, we do a screening process. First, it is at a brand level with initial due diligence on the brand, building strong relationships with them and understanding how they work in terms of sustainable production, worker relations and developing trust. The initial foundation of everything is building a community with the brands that we work with.

We then move on to the more technical and logistical aspects, using conversation, questionnaires and product checks on every single item, which we check according to ten different factors we use to vet the products. These are upcycled, organic, vegan, social impact, natural fibres, low impact, certified, small scale and made in Europe or the US.

The most important is third party certification which I think above 80 percent of the products we currently stock have. These can be independently verified certificates, like Fair Trade, Blue Sign, Ecotex or Organic Content Standard.

Do you ever need to turn brands away when they come to you?

Whenever a brand reaches out we always respond and give any feedback we might have. There have been times where we found we might not be compatible for a number of reasons. Maybe they don’t fulfil our sustainability criteria or our aesthetic point of view. As part of our goal to connect sustainable consumption and aesthetics, we need to be careful that we are curating a cohesive selection of brands. We take this very seriously!

In what ways is SlowCo currently helping to inform shoppers of their purchases?

The first thing we do is take some of the work off the shoppers with the initial screening process. We also give them the freedom to shop according to their values, providing them with a filter to shop relevant to these values. Someone might look for only natural fibres, we are able to accommodate this.

The upcoming initiative is intended to do exactly that - inform shoppers on how to make sustainable choices and get people to consume less but shop better.

Image: SlowCo

Are there other areas that SlowCo is aiming to be more sustainable?

We always want to improve. We already offer carbon-neutral shipping and focusing on businesses made in Europe is another way we reduce the carbon footprint. Again flowing into the initiative, we are always looking to inform the public because there is a huge amount of misinformation. The quality of data in the industry is pretty awful so we make sure that this is being addressed.

People were getting used to sustainable shopping a year and a half ago, but now there is not really any question about it. Everyone wants to shop sustainably but they don’t really know how and there is only poor quality data available, so we are contributing to addressing that.

What is the importance of gender inclusivity in the brand’s choices?

This is really one of our three pillars of SlowCo’s philosophy. It is fundamental to what we do. We are trying to move away from the traditional menswear/womenswear way of shopping and towards something that is more appropriate for the society we live in during this day and age.

That’s why what you see on our website allows people to shop according to their expression, opposed to making people shop through classified gender. It is really about putting the emphasis on letting people shop according to their expression without asking them to identify their gender and shop accordingly.

Image: SlowCo