Less than 7 percent of companies that apply meet the stringent sustainability and ethics requirements to become certified B Corps, denoting high performance in the areas of governance, workers, customers, community, and the environment. Even fewer of those entities are focused on tackling the complex conundrums of the retail supply chain.
But To the Market, a platform connecting hundreds of manufacturers and artisans from across the globe with potential clients, has earned its stripes. The firm provides a turnkey solution for brands and retailers, allowing them to tap into an international network of suppliers whose value chains have been assiduously vetted, according to founder and CEO Jane Mosbacher.
“Manufacturing is an industry that has a challenging record on labor, social safety, and on sustainability,” the executive told Sourcing Journal, noting that the failures of the sector at large often fall squarely on the shoulders of the women propping it up. “Our vision for the business was to leverage all of the extraordinary purchasing power that exists within retailers, brands and corporations, and help them channel that into factories, artists and group cooperatives.”
Mosbacher, a veteran of the U.S. Department of State, was influenced by her work with women facing labor exploitation in developing countries. Through the experience, she gained access to “a strong network of organizations that were providing dignified work to women all over the world.” She saw an opening to connect these skilled artisans and businesses with players in the private sector, who have become increasingly concerned with the pervasive issues, both environmental and social, that plague their value chains.
To the Market was incorporated in 2016, and Mosbacher set out to amass a collective of “non-traditional” suppliers who weren’t already working with large sourcing and manufacturing brokers. “I set out to build a relationship with them, and to get a sense for their ability to produce, the quality of their work, their production capacity,” she said.
“Our vendor matrix is a very compelling part of our intellectual property, because we have spent years not only discovering these suppliers, but we’ve also spent years working alongside them and understanding their business strengths and weaknesses.” This process is central to To the Market’s value proposition, she explained, because while brands and retailers might be able to seek out Global Organic Textile Standard-certified (GOTS) cotton manufacturers on their own, for example, “knowing the product categories that they actually sell and what are they like to work with is a different level of understanding.”
Many of the suppliers on the platform, who hail from more than 50 countries with a high concentration in Asia and Africa, hold an array of third-party certifications, from GOTS to Fair Trade Certified and Oeko-Tex. Bangladesh and India have become prominent hubs for sourcing, Mosbacher said, along with Kenya. The company does not do business in China, she added. “We feel like there are existing retail brokers that have that as their stronghold, and there’s so much value add for us to bring suppliers from different parts of the world to the U.S.,” she explained.
The platform’s members range from small cooperatives to large-scale factories. The scope of capabilities allows To the Market to serve a wider variety of clients, from national chains looking for thousands of units to small boutiques seeking low MOQs. “We fundamentally believe that there’s a role for suppliers of all sizes to participate in the global supply chain, especially if they’re ethical and sustainable,” Mosbacher said.
In recent years, Mosbacher has worked to sell the value of this syndicated supply chain to U.S.-based brands, a challenge made easier by the fact that many would-be clients have made their own commitments to sustainable development goals or social governance measures. “We’re certainly still growing as a business, but it’s been extraordinary to see the breadth of types of businesses that have responded,” from higher-end retailers like Bloomingdale’s and Farfetch to off-price players like Burlington and TJ Maxx, she added.
No matter the channel, today’s target consumer “votes with their wallet,” Mosbacher said. They care very much about who is making their product, how it’s being made, and whether it’s aligned with their values,” she noted—and that has become a standard truth across price points. To the Market clients are also interested in purchasing a variety of product across categories, from apparel and footwear to homewares.
Now that the group has achieved B Corp certification, joining the ranks of players like Eileen Fisher, Allbirds and Patagonia, To the Market is focused on staying vigilant, Cindy Jones-Nyland, the company’s chief marketing officer, added. “We’ve done so much work in vetting suppliers and building the supply chain and those relationships,” she said. “We’ve been keeping track of data and we’ve made investments in in hiring an impact team focused on our makers,” she added, noting that laying this groundwork helped the company achieve certification.
The process, which 60,000 applicants have attempted since 2006, took over a year, she added. “It was a big investment of time and attention,” she said, and the company is already looking at recertification. “We want to stay hyper focused on maintaining [B Corp status] and continue those practices moving forward,” she said.
“I think being one of the only Benefit Corporations focused on sourcing and manufacturing is an extraordinary competitive advantage for us,” Mosbacher added. “It’s just one more layer of validation that we have that allows us to go to market.”