An ethical revolution is well and truly underway. The last 12 months, in particular, has seen growing numbers of consumers being awakened to the impact that their spending habits can have on the wider world - and choosing to shop differently.
The #covid crisis not only underscored that we are all connected to, and reliant on, one another, but also that each and every one of us has the power to make choices that directly impact our planet.
In the midst of these unsettling times, consumers have increasingly gravitated towards ethically-minded businesses: the UK's organic market has seen its highest year-on-year growth in 15 years according to the Soil Association, while the latest Ethical Markets Report shows UK Faitrade purchases jumped by almost 15% in 2020.
Sustainable retail is also on the rise, with Gen Z leading this powerful movement for change. This new generation, now entering the workforce, is even more likely than their millennial predecessors to shop ethically - and willing to pay a premium to do the right thing for people and the planet.
Every decision that we make as consumers, big or small, has the power to change the world. Whether it's choosing to shop local, eschew fast fashion in favour of second-hand clothing, reduce the use of single-use plastic or considering alternative, eco-friendly modes of transport, we all can play a role in turning the tide in the battle against climate change, injustice and poverty.
But with so many great, purpose-driven brands out there in the marketplace, where to begin? To help you on your journey, we've rounded up five great #ethical businesses that we love - and why.
#1. WHO GIVES A CRAP
Let's begin this list at the bottom.
Why? Because this is not your average toilet paper. Launched in 2012 by three Australians following a successful crowdfunding campaign, the B Corp certified company donates 50% of its profits to help build toilets in some of the world's most underserved areas, believing that "access to a safe, dignified loo is a basic human right."
And perhaps even better than its #purpose is the quality of its products: while a shade pricier than supermarket alternatives (as you would rightly expect from a firm with a pay-it-forward business model), its rolls are devoid of plastic packaging, made from either 100% bamboo, recycled or forest friendly materials - and are highly aesthetically pleasing to boot. What's more, WGAC offers a handy direct-to-consumer subscription service (based on average household useage), so you'll never be caught short again. Because nobody wants that.
Working closely alongside impact partners and NGOs such as WaterAid, the cheeky company - which certainly doesn't shy away from toilet humour - has now donated over £4.5 million to help provide proper sanitation for the 2 billion people in need.
As co-founder and CEO Simon Griffiths explained to The Challenger Project, WGAC's irreverence is absolutely vital to tackle an industry that is both boring and taboo:
"We decided to make this boring product and this serious issue part of a fun conversation that was actually easy to talk to other people about for the first time ... when you’ve got the mission piece coming into your product offering, it really gives a strong backbone to the brand which allows you to be irreverent."
#2. LOST SHAPES
Lost Shapes is a Wiltshire-based ethical clothing manufacturer, producing hand-printed bold original designs on sustainable, fair-wear certified fabrics.
The business, which launched in 2012, was born out of a love of making. Its founder, Anna Brindle, creates each and every design with a hand-drawn, hand-cut stencil, and all garments are individually screen printed in the Lost Shapes studio in Devizes.
Sustainable fabrics that are grown without harmful pesticides are purposefully chosen for use, with fairtrade certified organic cotton also adopted wherever possible.
Lost Shapes' striking and positive designs (Another Nice Day is a favourite of ours, worn proudly as a rallying cry to appreciate the moment in the face of current tough times) are sold not only at a number of independent and designer-maker markets in the UK, but also worldwide via the brand's website and social media channels.
Ethical business practice is central to Lost Shapes, as Anna explains:
"If you run a business selling clothes you are faced with a simple choice: cheaper prices at the expense of the earth and its people; or paying more to ensure you are being fair and sustainable ... For me it's about making every business decision thoughtfully, and making every effort possible to avoid harming other people or the environment."
All Lost Shapes tops are sourced from manufacturers that are held to account by the independent Fair Wear Foundation.
#3. tony's chocolonely
Tony’s Chocolonely has one mission: to make“100% slave free” chocolate.
The Dutch B Corp certified brand, founded in 2005 by former broadcast journalist Teun van de Keuken, works in Ghana and Ivory Coast to tackle modern slavery "where the worst problems are." In short, it's a brand that's not afraid to take the more difficult route.
And its mission is undoubtedly resonating: a whopping 46,233,862 bars were sold last year alone, all made using traceable slave-free cocoa with farmers paid not only the Fairtrade premium, but also a "Tony's premium" on top.
We've been huge fans of Tony's ever since discovering their ethical array of delicious chocolate delights in Amsterdam many moons ago. Yet our love affair with the brand reached new heights in early 2021 when the brand garnered national headlines for a cheeky stunt with a purpose: Tony's launched four limited edition 'lookalike' bars - bearing more than a passing resemblance to some well-known favourites - to raise awareness about illegal child labour within the chcolate industry.
Being disruptive is hard-wired into the brand's DNA; it's nothing new for Tony's, which loudly shouts about its ethical credentials and #socialimpact on its colourful, fun packaging.
The brand openly invites chocolate makers from around the world to be part of Tony's Open Chain, its sustainability-focused supply chain platform, "set up to structurally change the industry with chocolate companies themselves in the driver’s seats." As the brand's Head of Impact, Paul Schoenmaker, explains: "we’ve made it as easy as possible for all chocolate brands to ... assume responsibility for human rights and sustainability issues such as deforestation in their cocoa supply chain."
#4. stand 4 socks
What if socks could change the world?
This simple - but rather unexpected - question was the impetus for Stand 4 Socks, a Manchester-based social enterprise transforming socks from one of life's dull necessities into a #purpose driven and joyous offering that helps to tackle a real societal problem: homelessness.
The online retailer operates on a simple 'buy one, give one' business model: for every pair of socks sold, a pair is donated to a homeless person. Its antibacterial socks, made of bamboo, are manufactured in Sedex Audited factories for high ethical standards of employee rights and wellbeing, while yarns are Oeto-Tex certified for harmful substances in production.
Company founder Josh Turner explained the motivation behind Stand 4 Socks to Manchester Evening News, shortly after the business appeared on BBC2's Dragons Dens:
"Socks are one of the most requested items by homeless shelters however they are rarely donated ... if you don't have the luxury of fresh socks you can fall victim to a number of very serious foot health issues."
Since then, the business has gone from strength to strength, and has recently garnered celebrity support aplenty, thanks in large part to its series of 'famous feet' limited edition socks featuring the likenesses of Louis Theroux, Chris Evans, Ed Sheeran, Stephen Fry and David Attenborough, to name but a few. With all products shipped to customers direct in 100% home compostable mail bags too, Stand 4 Socks is definitely taking a step in the right direction.
Bookshop is a socially-conscious alternative to Amazon: does more need saying?
In a year that saw lockdown after lockdown leading to the nation rediscovering its love (and time) for literature - record book sales were recorded by UK readers in 2020 - Bookshop.org launched in Britain, as part of the boom in websites supporting local UK shops during the pandemic.
There are no winners in the battle between the high street and online sellers; rather, true victory comes with perfectly blending these two worlds. Bookshop is a comprehensive web offering that allows books to be purchased online while still supporting local bookshops.
Bookshop's mission is to “benefit the public good by contributing to the welfare of the independent literary community,” while the Chicago Tribune goes one (galactic) step further, stating that "Bookshop.org hopes to play Rebel Alliance to Amazon’s Empire."
Since its launch mere months ago, almost £1 million has been raised for UK bookshops, with 10% commission paid on every sale and a matching 10% given to independent bookshops as part of its affiliate programme. Bookshop claims that over 75% of its profit margin goes to to stores, publications, authors and others involved in the book industry: now that's a business model that we can readily get behind.
Ben Veal is the Founder & MD of Second Mountain Comms, a specialist communications consultancy that helps purpose-driven companies and ethical businesses and charities reach new heights with meaningful content, PR and marketing strategy services.