Ethical fashion made easy with new COSH! platform


A new website developed in West Flanders is making is easier to find sustainable fashion in Flanders’ biggest shopping cities

Part of the solution

Your cute new jeans might look clean, but the sad fact is that the fashion industry is one of the dirtiest in the world, second only to oil. That and the knowledge that many workers face conditions that are at best poor and at worst life-threatening has prompted the launch of COSH! – Flanders’ new ethical fashion platform.

It’s the brainchild of Niki de Schryver, a fashion marketing expert in Bruges, who asked herself (and Google) why consumers were not acting accordingly in the face of growing evidence about pollution created by the industry. The UN says that the fashion industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions.

“So many people now say they buy organic food, but we don’t see the same numbers buying sustainable fashion,” says de Schryver (pictured). “I wanted to find out where the gap was coming from.”

So one evening in 2017 she started Googling. “I realised that we had to make it easier for people to find sustainable fashion.”

On-street search

With a plan in mind to develop a shopping platform, she went to a Hackathon event (a get-together of software and web developers) and found funding possibilities. By mid-2018 she had received €100,000 from Vlaanderen Circulair, a Flemish stakeholder association that supports the circular economy, to build the first tech platform for COSH!

For consumers, COSH! is essentially a website where you can set up a profile and search for clothing by brand, by ethical tags (vegan, plastic-free, upcycled) and also by budget. Fashion entrepreneurs can ask to be a member of COSH!, giving their durable lines increased exposure.

“If a consumer can’t find those brands, then the retailers have wasted their money,” says de Schryver.

The manufacture of one pair of jeans requires up to 15,000 litres of water, or one person’s drinking water for 40 years

- Niki de Schryver

The website, launched in August, is mobile-friendly so that shoppers can refer to it when they are on the high street. They can search for a product – say a vegan handbag or ethical jeans – and get a route planner.

This, says de Schryver, gives users a personalised shopping trip. It’s also made up of about 60% Belgian and Dutch brands, setting it apart from existing platforms that focus on global brands.

So far, the website has a full experience for Antwerp and is building on its platform in Ghent, Leuven and Brussels. By 2020, the plan is to include second-hand and vintage stores for the ultimate upcycled outfit.

After Brussels, de Schryver hopes to venture into the Netherlands from where she has already received requests from retailers to be included on the site. 

The question is how independent ethical shopping platforms can be. COSH! has navigated this path by refusing commissions from retailers for purchases made by shoppers using the site.

Instead, the site receives money from approved retailers for their membership. De Schryver visits all the stores to check out their claims. This, she says, makes it “very tempting” to break her personal pledge to limit herself to 20 clothing purchases per year.

Another question is whether such initiatives can appeal to the arguably larger consumer segment on a lower budget. “Most people thought ‘sustainable fashion is too expensive for my budget and style’. We can guide shoppers to more sustainable choices for their budget, and we have a solution for people who want to navigate away from fast fashion.”

And her last piece of advice: “We all have those perfect jeans that fit your ass just right. Try to find a sustainable pair because jeans are big polluters in terms of dyes and water consumption. The manufacture of one pair of jeans requires up to 15,000 litres of water; that’s one person’s drinking water for 40 years.”

Photo top: Jonathan Debeer