Amid growing awareness about climate change and a consequent shift in consumer behavior, brands are increasingly selling more sustainable goods.
From vegan footwear to recycled denim and organic toothpaste, the offer to consumers is growing — but such items are often more expensive than their non-sustainable equivalents.
“As a fair trade business and the only retailer to be certified by the World Fair Trade Organization, it is important to us that we know the true cost of the product so that the people making the goods are paid a fair price and a ‘living’ wage,” Melanie Traub, managing director at online retailer People Tree, told CNBC via email.
“We try to educate our customer to understand this process. We are not trying to compete. We are providing beautiful clothes in sustainable fabrics at a fair price.”
People Tree, which was established more than 20 years ago and is based in Tokyo and London, developed the first integrated supply chain for organic cotton. It has also sought to reduce its environmental impact, including ensuring that all its clothing is free of azo dyes, and thereby not containing any synthetic dyestuffs based on nitrogen that can have carcinogenic and allergic effects on some people.
Traub is confident that consumers understand that a guarantee of organic cotton and sustainability carries a price.
“Anyone can say they are selling organic cotton, but we can prove that we do. This comes at a cost, but the customer then knows they are paying for the genuine thing,” she said.
People Tree products are sold in different countries, including in Japan, the U.K., Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Traub said the company plans to expand into the U.S. and France. “We are seeing a large increase in traffic from the USA and realize it’s time to make the product available there too,” she said.
Having a business with an environment purpose is also what defines Mind the Trash, an online retailer that aims to reduce the use of plastic.
“When I moved to London three years ago… I was horrified by the level of plastic, it was much worse than in Portugal,” Catarina Matos, CEO of Mind the Trash and originally from Lisbon, told CNBC over the phone.
Matos, long an advocate for minimizing plastic usage, researched ways to avoid using plastic in her daily life, including buying bamboo toothbrushes and reusable cotton rounds. That research paid-off and when she decided to return to her home country, Matos opened a business that would sell such items to fill a gap for plastic-free products in Portugal.
“(My) main clients are based in Portugal… but we have strong demand from Brazil, France, Spain and Denmark too,” she said.
Stainless straws and organic toothpaste are Mind the Trash’s best sellers, but when browsing the website, it is clear that natural deodorant and bottle brushes are also in demand. Cocktail bars are a typical bulk client, Matos said, mainly as a result of regulation taking a more environmentally-friendly approach.
In the U.K., for instance, the government has proposed to ban plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton swabs to reduce plastic waste. This is to a great extent due to the longevity of plastic and that it ends up polluting seas and oceans. Data has shown that a third of U.K.-caught fish contained plastic. This can lead to plastic ingestion in humans too.
“There’s still so much to do… there should be more awareness and political action (for more environmentally-friendly options),” Matos said.
She plans to take her business a notch further and open a zero-waste physical store. But when asked if she would consider a buyout option, Matos said: “We are not for sale.”