7 Things I Love about Ethical Personal Shopping Service wearwell

wearwell founders Erin Houston and Emily Kenny

wearwell founders Erin Houston and Emily Kenny

As subscription boxes surge in popularity, I’ve been unsure how to feel about them. Although I like the concept of a specially-delivered batch of products I’ll (hopefully) love and use, I have a hard time justifying the carbon footprint of regular shipping, along with the push to consume more on a regular basis. But there’s at least one company out there doing things right, and that’s the ethical personal shopping subscription service wearwell.

Founders Erin Houston and Emily Kenney started wearwell with the purpose of connecting women with a personalized selection of ethically-made clothes. After speaking with Erin about the company’s mission, business model, and ethics, I’m a full-fledged fan. Here’s why:

1. They design for the conscious-but-busy

wearwell makes it easy to shop ethically, saving customers the time is takes to research to impact of their purchases. Because of this, they’ve found a sweet spot among older millennials.

“Many millennials are entering into new chapters of their lives from growing their careers to growing their families,” says Erin. “With ever-increasing demands on their time, we make it easy for them to find clothing they look good in and feel great about buying because it fits the conscious lifestyle they've chosen to live in every other aspect.”

2. Your mom will love iT

Surprisingly, Erin and Emily found that the moms of those millennials - young boomers – love their service, too. “They come to us looking for pieces that have a unique story to tell and style advice now that their daughters have left the nest.”

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“It's of the utmost importance for us to drive industry change at the root of the issues.”

3. They don’t settle for anything less than ethical

While other services do carry some ethical and sustainable brands, wearwell requires all of their partners to meet strict criteria.

“We only carry products that make a positive impact in the making and manufacturing of the item,” Erin says. “We have sets of standards in two broad categories: environmental sustainability and workers' rights. Our standards are a blend of the many certifications that exist from Fair Trade to GOTS to B Corp and from our own expertise and studies of sustainable supply chains, community development, and social enterprise. One of our brands might be hyper-focused on improving their fabric sourcing for organic materials and non-toxic dyes while meeting some basic criteria on hours worked in factories, while another might be extremely focused on living wages and safe work environment but limited in their resources to trace their fabric origins. We try to take these various factors within self-reported data into account and plan to incentivize our brand partners as we grow to continue diversifying their impact. All this to say, wearwell does not carry products that only give back in a charitable donation manner. It's of the utmost importance for us to drive industry change at the root of the issues.”

4. They place carbon footprint front and center

wearwell doesn't ship products in a box to your door for a try-on period. Instead, they offer a membership that provides an online personalized selection each month, chosen just for you by a stylist. You browse the selection online, choose what you wish to purchase, and only then are the items shipped to you. “We changed our business model to minimize our carbon footprint,” explains Erin. “We actually began similar to a StitchFix or a Trunk Club, but quickly realized how misaligned that was with our values.”

In addition to only shipping items their customers intend to keep, wearwell works to minimize packaging waste, using materials that are 100% post-consumer recycled and recyclable whenever possible. They’re also exploring partnerships with other startups that are developing innovative, sustainable shipping materials.

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“We're firm believers that if you don't love an item, you shouldn't be buying it. Why buy a boxy sage green blouse if you love the bright floral fit-and-flare dress so much more?”

5. They aren’t just for minimalists

Erin, who just konmari'd her own closet, understands that while the minimalist aesthetic is great for some, it doesn't fit everyone's style. “We're firm believers that if you don't love an item, you shouldn't be buying it. Why buy a boxy sage green blouse if you love the bright floral fit-and-flare dress so much more? The more you love your clothes, the more you wear them, and the more you'll get out of them - ultimately reducing waste that we see rampant in fast-fashion culture.”

Beyond waste though, wearwell believes that every woman should feel confident and beautiful. “Why limit yourself to an aesthetic that isn't the fullest expression of yourself?” Erin says. “Purchasing ethically and sustainably made clothing doesn't need to be mutually exclusive from stylish. We want to give every woman the opportunity to live consciously and exercise her purchasing power for good, but that should never mean that she must sacrifice her strongest sense of self and confidence when she walks into the boardroom or the PTA meeting.”

6. They have awesome credentials

While you don’t need experience in international development to start an ethical fashion business, it certainly helps. And both Erin and Emily spent years working in the nonprofit and global development; Emily worked directly in communities in Cambodia, India, and beyond, and Erin worked for a media company that serves the global development community from entities like USAID to NGOs to social responsibility divisions of major corporations.

So when the Rana Plaza Factory collapsed in 2013 killing over 1,000 garment workers in Bangladesh and injuring over 2,000 more, they were primed to take action. “We both began to confront how challenging it was to live out our values while shopping for our clothing,” Erin says. They realized how time consuming it was to find items that fit their personal style, budget, and values, while simultaneously witnessing first-hand on their jobs just how complicated transparency, workers' rights, and sustainability challenges could be.

“We set out to build wearwell to make it easier for people to discover consciously-made clothing, while also opening up the possibility to drive real meaningful change within the industry.”

Ethical subscription box service wearwell

7. They value progress over perfection

I asked Erin how they ensure that they keep tabs on their partner brands to guard against greenwashing or “goodwashing.”

“I love this question,” Erin says, “because it underscores how far we've come in recent years with consumer expectations and workers' rights. We believe deeply in progress over perfection. No one is perfect when it comes to purchasing consciously-made items and, similarly, no brand is perfect. Because of this, we strive to develop relationships with the brands we source where we can understand not just the efforts that they use in external communication but also their deepest challenges. By having a trusting, open and honest dialogue with the brands we source from, we have a grasp on the positive impact they are accomplishing but also insights into where the industry needs to head next.”  

Disclosure: This post is not paid, but wearwell is providing me with a complimentary 3-month subscription, which I will review and share with you soon!

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