This post was originally published on Start My Venture, Jul 2018
Inspiration can come in different forms. For one young entrepreneur, a movie is all it took to set on to a path of changing the way the fashion industry functions. Here’s more on Darshana Gajare, the Founder of Fairtrunk as she talks about Sustainable fashion, her journey and her quest to make the fashion industry Ethical, accessible and affordable for everyone.
For Darshana, the constant desire to build something of her own and to be an entrepreneur led to developing Fairtrunk. She is often found saying, “All the credit of starting Fairtrunk goes to the documentary ‘The True Cost,’ it gave me a new perspective towards fashion as we see it and know it. The Slow fashion movement has been going on around the world for sometime and I would like to play an important role in taking it forward in India.”
With the vision of being the go-to place for anything related to sustainable fashion and lifestyle, Fairtrunk aspires to be the platform where one could learn more about Sustainable Fashion, discover conscious brands, collaborate with makers, designers, students and even consumers to create change. They aim to create a lifestyle experience through offline events and are also working on an incubation program to handhold budding brands and designers develop an ethical fashion brand.
Formation & Evolution of Fairtrunk
Formed in 2016, Fairtrunk started off as a mere blog on Sustainable fashion and then moved on to becoming an online marketplace by curating brands on it’s platform. Today, not only does it curate brands but also organises full fledged events like a sustainability fest where they have talks & panel discussions by industry experts, hands-on workshops and also a curated pop-up. “There is just so much of information that is shared, that everyone goes back with an eye-opening experience. Such events and interactions help break so many myths and leaves one thinking.” says Darshana.
As of today, Fairtrunk has over 30 brands on the platform and another 25-30 in the pipeline.
The Differentiating Factor – Fairtrunk vs other Fashion E-commerce Platforms
When asked on how Fairtrunk is different from the other fashion e-commerce platforms, Darshana had a very simple answer – “We cater to a niche that’s mindful of their choices. We offer only ethically made products and that’s the basic differentiating. There are other players offering similar products and capitalising on Indie brands & designers. We’re different from them as we go deeper understanding and explaining what ethical fashion really is. You won’t see too many cotton products on Fairtrunk, because contrary to popular belief, cotton is not the most sustainable choice of fabric. So, we try to educate the customer about the same, tell the brands’ stories to help them make an informed purchase.”
We asked, if we had to compare Fairtrunk with a giant such as Myntra for example, “it won’t be very difficult for them to enter this space, as they already have deep pockets for marketing and educating their consumers. However, there’s will always be a deal-driven consumer base, while ours will be value-driven. In any case, I strongly believe that Fairtrunk needs to have other avenues to support & enrich the niche and that’s where Fairtrunk Offline plays an important role in humanising the shopping experience.”
While Sustainability seems to be a ‘trend’ across industries, Darshana mentions that they are very careful while curating brands, to avoid promoting any sort of green washing. She added that in spite of being a small team, they try and vet the brands as far as possible for their authenticity. She goes on to explain how these brands don’t necessarily have a certification for say organic cotton or Fair-trade but do have products that are sourced from ethical factories. This happens because the certification process can be a bit confusing and often involves an additional cost and higher quantity of production, that may not always be feasible for smaller brands. In situations like these, Fairtrunk tries to find a middle way by verifying the factories’ certifications and some official documents that state the brand has sourced from those factories.
“In our little ways, we try to vet the brands before we curate them. We try to get as much information possible, like who’s making them, what fabrics are being used, how is it packaged and so on. We want to ensure we’re offering the most honest brands in the country.” she adds.
Future Plans – Fairtrunk’s way to the top
“There is a lot that’s happening and sky is literally the limit, who knows maybe Fairtrunk will be an eco-mall! We do want to start a private label someday, like People Tree maybe and set an example in the Indian context. I think what’s most important is to actually go out there and stand next to conventional fashion brands. If we keep doing our thing in our own little circle, we will never reach the kind of audience we would like to. Also, we need to design our communication in a way that makes Sustainable fashion cool & sexy. At Fairtrunk, we drive this tagline: ‘Its Cool To Care.’ Slow fashion is a movement and also an ideology, it will not happen overnight and hence we’ll have to be at it. We’re asking people to make mindful choices, to do things they’ve never done before, like looking at the fabric tags and seeing what your tee is made from, to choose consciously and not be impulsive. There are multiple ways to engage with the audience on an emotional level through communication and marketing. We’ve been lucky to have an investor since the concept stage but in order to realise our goals, we’re definitely looking for some financial backing. ” says Darshana.
“I think we’re facing the typical start-up challenges, one of them being manpower. As a two-member team we’re constantly wearing multiple hats and trying our best to get a lot done. But I think it’ll be great to have some people on the team with the same passion. Also, talking of challenges on a broader perspective, we’ve been working on making our platform more robust. Currently there is a lot of manual work for every brand we onboard, there is also an inventory update process that happens once a week which is also manual. Such tasks take up a lot of our time and hence we’re building a feature, sort of an automation that can ease out the on-boarding process and also help us get a close to real-time inventory feed. We are working on building a backend dashboard for the brands where they can view and manage their own inventory and orders.
Another on-going challenge is the way we communicate to our customers. It’s a unique challenge to our space! As I mentioned before, Sustainable fashion has to do with an ideology, hence the words we choose become very important. Compared to a conventional fashion marketplace, we refrain from using marketing quotes like ‘Shop right now’, ‘get it before it’s gone’ or even ‘nothing haunts you like the things you didn’t buy.’ Our communication is mostly inclined to show the value in a product and not push the user to shop mindlessly. Some say it’s anti-consumerism, I’ll say I’ll save my comments for some other time. In any case, this is a nice challenge to have,” closes Darshana with a wide smile.
Going Green is Going Expensive – Beating the General Perception
“We’re so used to seeing the fast fashion pricing that we’ve started to believe that it’s the only right pricing. Hence, when we compare any other products to these, it always seems expensive. The first step to breaking this myth of green products being expensive, is understanding the true cost of making our garments, even if it’s a fast fashion garment. These brands are so busy competing with each other, they’ve gone to ridiculous levels to cut costs and make cheaper products. Most brands do not consider the cost of natural resources, living or fair wages to garment factory workers, they don’t consider the life cycle of the products. It’s a linear economy that just makes, consumes & discards. It’s high time we considered all these factors in our costs and then have a fair pricing for a product. I’m not saying that sustainable fashion necessarily needs to be expensive. At Fairtrunk, we have a lot of brands that are organic cotton and Fair-trade certified and range between Rs.800-Rs.3,500 which is pretty much at par with what you might spend at Zara. My personal triumph is to make sustainable fashion accessible and affordable and it will happen with time. It’s just a matter of demand and supply. As the demand goes up, the supply goes up and the prices come down. It’s basic economics. I think once we reach that scale, we are going to reach that point as well. Having said that, there are many sustainable brands that require a certain level of workmanship or involves working with rare or recycled materials that’s tedious and time consuming. And such products surely deserve a premium, just like all the luxury fashion brands we’ve known for decades.
In the end, what’s most important is transparency. Brands should be able to open up their supply chains without any hesitation and tell the consumers exactly where their product has come from. It’s all about striking a balance and it is absolutely possible to make sustainable clothing mainstream; it’s only a matter of time.”