Responsible consumption habits are a crucial component of sustainability—and one young retailer is making it her mission to train consumers accordingly.
Though online retailer Toward just launched in August last year, it’s setting a bold precedent that it hopes established retailers will follow: On Jan. 10, it put a cap on the number of orders a customer can place each year. By requiring customers to log in to make a purchase, the platform is able to ensure that no more than 12 orders in a year—which averages one order per month—will be placed by the same customer. By limiting orders, as opposed to items, Toward aims to help mitigate shipping’s environmental footprint.
“Our approach as a recently launched business might seem counterintuitive: Why might we, a growing business, want to limit sales?” said Ana Kannan, Toward founder. “But we want to be clear that our impact on the environment will always be our first consideration.”
It may come as no surprise that the founder encouraging fewer apparel and beauty sales is a member of the same generation that amplifies the importance of sustainability, promoting more responsible alternatives like secondhand fashion and pressuring government officials to take action on climate change.
After graduating from the University of Southern California in May 2020, Kannan developed the idea for Toward, a platform that would take the guesswork out of sustainable fashion. The retailer launched a year later, only working with brands it deems to be sustainable, including denim labels like Agolde, Closed and Citizens of Humanity. It ensures that its partner brands establish fair working conditions throughout their supply chains, respect workers’ human and labor rights, treat animals ethically and prove their operations have a minimal impact on the environment.
The site’s curation is a much-needed solution for consumers who, despite mostly having good intentions, might have a hard time finding truly responsible brands. A 2021 Zalando survey of 2,500 consumers showed that 60 percent of respondents consider transparency important, but just 20 percent actively seek out information from brands before purchasing. Further, 53 percent believe brands’ ethical labor policies are important, but only 23 percent investigate policies themselves.
Toward’s initiative to cap orders despite only working with sustainable brands follows the general concept that the most sustainable purchase is no purchase at all.
“We believe that, for the industry to make a real environmental change, it’s simply not enough to only produce responsible goods,” Kannan said. “Major changes in the production and consumption of fashion also need to be addressed. We want to ensure that we’re doing our part as a responsible retailer to encourage customers to shop with intent and combat overconsumption.”
This kind of bigger-picture thinking is exactly what one sustainable fashion professor considers essential to the future of business. Andrea Kennedy, assistant professor of sustainability and fashion merchandising at LIM College in New York City, addressed the need for “system thinkers” that seek to disrupt the traditional, environmentally taxing approach to fashion and replace it with one with greater shared benefits.
At the end of 2021, Kannan continued to buck tradition by launching a popup in San Francisco dedicated to countering greenwashing. The popup featured products from sustainable brands alongside screens with QR codes that shoppers could scan for information on its vetting process for sustainable partners. This year, she plans to make an even bigger splash with Toward.
“In 2022, we’re hoping to establish a more permanent physical presence—still dedicated to countering greenwashing—and to continue to engage in policies that allow our customers to think more critically about their own consumption,” she said.