July 25, 2021

‘I’m trying to build a better shopping platform’

8 min read

Coalo is a new online marketplace for eco-conscious and ethically made men’s clothing that was launched in February 2020. The UK-based site is offering brands such as +351, 40 Colori, Carpasus, Onekind, Rozenbroek, SPA and Elliott Footwear. We talked to founder Ted Gibson about the concept behind.

Please tell us a bit about your personal and professional background…
I always had a great interest in fashion and the arts. I remember being blown away by magazines like GQ and the Rake, which I would pick up as often as I could. I ended up studying Art History before beginning my career in recruitment of all things! Whilst working there, where I was supporting start-up businesses with staffing, I began to get really taken with the idea of starting my own business, but I was missing a key ingredient, an idea! I moved around a bit working in finance and then Amazon, where I focussed on the marketplace business and helping Amazon sellers grow their businesses. Here I put two and two together and combined my interest and this business model where I could support multiple brands in reaching more customers whilst also supporting sustainability.

How and why did you start Coalo?
It was really a combination of three different interests and ideas combining into a business. I find fashion fascinating, and the menswear space in particular is great. Men have these rigid codes that they confine themselves to (for better or worse!) and seeing how designers and brands operate within these codes is incredibly interesting. The sustainability element was introduced as I wanted to find some way of making an impact. Naturally, I was always reading about it and it always felt out of my hands, so I felt drawn to the idea of running a business with a strong compass when it came to impact. I was particularly inspired by the ethos of Patagonia, who is truly a pioneer in sustainable fashion.

Sneakers by Elliott

Sneakers by Elliott

What makes Coalo different from other platforms and stores for sustainable (menswear) fashion?
We are still quite new but I’m keen for our identity to develop, which will be driven largely by the brands that we partner with. At the moment, our focus is on bringing on truly sustainable brands that operate in a sort of trendless manner. Only one of our brands has seasonal stock, which they try to produce just the right amount of to minimize waste, but the rest have small ranges, which they slowly add to. So I think we’re different in that we’re not sticking to a niche of say athleisure or suiting. I hope that eventually we’ll have a broad range that encompasses a little of everything. It will be the ‘look’ of these brands that define us and that will become clearer as we grow.

Even though you follow ethical and sustainable goals: Why another shopping platform? Wouldn’t it be more sustainable not to offer any further incentives to buy at all?
This is a totally valid point. In answer to why another shopping platform, I would say that I’m trying to build a better shopping platform. The ones that exist predominantly promote fast fashion and brands that aren’t operating sustainably, whereas we’re trying not to do that. Admittedly we have some work to do there, but there’s always going to be room to grow.

The second question is interesting, as you could say, “Everyone stop buying clothes!” and force shops to shut etc. and sure, this would have a direct effect on CO2 emissions. But where does that leave these supply chains, you suddenly have farmers sitting on crops they can’t sell, factory workers unemployed, in some cases, generations of skill lost, small brands out of work, large companies laying people off and more. Now my aim here was to doom monger slightly to make a point, naturally, this wouldn’t happen, at least not at once. But it illustrates that there is an ecosystem around this industry, which supports people around the world.
Similarly, fashion is a very personal thing, yes, you can look and feel great wearing vintage clothing, but how would you express yourself if that’s all there was? You need new clothing as part of the options available.

A better option, I believe, is to reorganize what’s currently available. Customers should be (the options are more readily available than ever) buying more second hand, repairing more and swapping or renting. That should make up the majority share of the fashion industry, say 80%, there’s then a much-scaled back availability of new clothing. In this near-utopia I have just created, that sliver of the pie that’s devoted to the production of new clothing is then forced to behave in an uber sustainable manner as the end customer has finally become incredibly discerning. Within this scaling down process, the supply chains mentioned above are given fair warning to shift into other industries or roles, for instance, factory workers, rather than stitching new products, they could be part of the massive resurgence in repair work using the skills they already have!

Look by +351

Look by +351

What criteria are used to select the brands?
When talking with a new brand I ask questions on the following areas: Materials, labor, production and distribution. With materials, I need proof that they’re using certified organic natural materials or genuinely recyclable synthetics. Labor is more an ethical concern, are they aware of who’s in their supply chain, do they pay higher than average wages (or work with a partner who can confirm that), is it local to either the brands HQ or the farmers producing the material? With production, questions focus on waste; so making sure they are aware of water usage, dyes excess material. Finally, distribution, it’s important to me that throughout production line air miles are kept to an absolute minimum. Packaging and shipping come into this final area as well.

The brands I have partnered with so far are generally small and relatively new. So I have to allow some leeway, I, therefore, only partner with brands who pass a minimum requirement in each area. Interestingly, what I have found is that each brand really doubles down on a particular area, which I think is incredibly important. They’re stretched already with being a small business but the fact that they have taken the time to find local labor that has been operating in the same for generations for instance, is truly inspiring, and it will be these brands which invoke change in the larger incumbents.

How do you avoid picking the ‘wrong’ brands/products that only do greenwashing?
All selection is done at the brand level at the moment. This is certainly an area where we can improve indefinitely. At the moment it is based on prior research, what they have on their website for instance. I’m looking for pictorial proof that they have visited their manufacturers, certification with organizations like the BCI and generally what they have written about themselves. However, this is the normal ‘check’ that most people would do to see if they are sustainable. I go a step further in my initial conversations with them as I dig down into their operations based on the criteria above and, where necessary, ask for proof in the form of certificates etc.

Which are currently your bestselling products/brands?
Summer is on it’s way so Portuguese brand +351 is getting popular, I would even wear most of their winter collection on the beach! The 40 Colori beanies are perennially popular and the shirts from Zurich based Carpasus are simply beautiful and made to last a lifetime.

Shirt by Carpasus

Shirt by Carpasus

Where do you search for new brands?
Originally I had a long list of a hundred or so brands that I had put together that I was already aware of and from magazines that I subscribe to. Since starting the business and getting on Instagram with it, I have started tickling their algorithm so I get great brands popping up on there. It’s great as I can just message brands directly.

How does Coalo act with regard to its own ecological footprint, e.g. packaging and shipping?
Our brand partners manage packaging and shipping. They all use recyclable materials for their packaging, which is the least we can expect. We work with Ecologi and donate a portion of any sale to them. They run reforesting projects so we plant five trees per order. Some brands also offset on top of that. Again, this is something we’re looking to work on, as it would be great to get more involved with a project directly.

Hoodie by Onekind

Hoodie by Onekind

How did male consumer behavior change in the UK/Europe in the last seasons when it comes to sustainable products?
Gender aside, I have seen conversations around sustainability and make better consumer choices snowball during the last year. I suspect a main driver is that people have found themselves with a bit more time on their hands, and in some cases, some more disposable income. Men are a little behind their female counterparts in actively seeking out a sustainable brand, however, their fashion habits tend to be better, as in, they buy less and less often. Similarly, men’s brands often don’t shout about their sustainable credentials. Men are still looking for quality, multipurpose items, which is frankly what we should all be doing when looking at fashion. That behavior will entrench and hopefully swing towards being even more sustainable as people spend their saved up income on a non-fast fashion piece.

Any plans to launch your own fashion collection?
Not at this stage or in the near future. I think the only thing we would maybe consider is some sort of collaboration. We would naturally need to assess the impact of that!

What are the plans for the future? E.g. could there also be a brick-and-mortar soon? Will you start to offer womenswear or other product categories such as home interior?
The plans are exciting. We’re in this great space now where we’re still really new to market so any decision we make will be massively impactful. Our current focus is on The Edition, our content platform. Our aim is to start building this up with interview pieces from across the fashion industry and beyond. Following that we’ll then begin assessing in more detail how we communicate our brands’ sustainability metrics to help people make more informed decisions. We recently launched Ede, a cosmetics brand, so we’re teasing with new categories. I am really interested in how we can work more with artists as part of a new category, whether that be through offering prints or rentals, I’m not sure yet!


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