Abigail Thorpe is a 22 year-old, born and raised in Sudbury, Ontario. She is the founder of Ethical Brandz, an online platform positioning itself to be a global ethical marketplace. She feels she hopes to give Millenials and Gen Z’s more of an incentive to tap into the inherent power they have as consumers.
Make Muse: Tell us who you are in one-two sentences! What is your role with Ethical Brandz?
Abigail: I’m a three-time university dropout and the founder of Ethical Brandz, an online global ethical marketplace.
Make Muse: What propelled you to start Ethical Brandz? How has the platform evolved since you began it?
Abigail: When I was a teenager, I faced some mild health issues and as a result, I became very interested in how the commercialization of foods is having such a detrimental impact on our lives. I started to do a lot of research on sustainable food systems and what necessary measures we need to take to bring them into effect. I quickly learned that much of what shapes the projection of the food industry is dependent upon where we, the consumer, put our money. My teenage years were also the inception of my feminist ideals. And I realized how much of a hypocrite I was for buying clothes that were made by women in third-world countries, who aren’t given the tools or resources to create better lives for themselves. So essentially, this platform was born out of my own frustration. It’s a marketplace that I wish existed, but didn’t.
Make Muse: Describe the growth and interest Ethical Brandz has experienced since its inception. Have you had to build a team for the site to meet a demand?
Abigail: In a year and a half, our IG page has grown to over 20k followers. I’m pretty content with this, considering it grew without any associated website or platform. The response has been positive and we gain more traction everyday. It seems people are subscribing to ethical consumption more and more. Once you start to challenge the status quo of overconsumption and you start to support ethical brands, you hard go back. It gives you so much peace of mind.
For now, I mostly work alone. I do have help from family and friends with the number of emails I receive. I have a pretty solid network of business mentors when I need help as well. I hope that some day soon I’ll be able to hire and manage a small team, but we’ll see. This year really will be a make it or break it year. 1% of startups succeed. 1%!!!!
Make Muse: What makes you twitch and continue to fight for causes each day?
Abigail: I think I can speak for a lot of people and say that I’m pretty angry. You probably wouldn’t know it when you first met me, but I can get very heated about certain issues. It’s something I'm learning to embrace though as anger has a history of bringing about a lot of positive change. If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention. The more I learn, the angrier I seem to get. A lot of the issues we face today are easily preventable. The evidence and resources to fix them are there. But there seems to be both a power structure and a strong pool of people stuck in a very outdated, troublesome way of thinking that is preventing us from moving forward.
Make Muse: Ethical Brandz encompasses a lot of themes- environment, diversity, women, craftsmanship, animal welfare, fairness, and more. Do any of these themes have a special importance to you?
Abigail: Yes! All of these themes have a significant importance to the team and me. We really believe they work synergistically with each other. Ethical consumption isn’t exclusive to just a few issues; it touches on virtually all issues.
The primary focus of the Ethical Brandz project is sustainability, and there are four main pillars of sustainability. These are economic, social, cultural and environmental. Our intention was to come up with six themes that were relatable to the general public and were, at the same time, conducive to all four pillars.
Make Muse: How do you integrate all of these themes to feature products that include as many of these themes as possible?
Abigail: The brands we feature don’t need to abide to all the Ethical Brandz themes. It’s rare you’ll find one that encompasses all six themes to their full capacity. Essentially, when we’re selecting a brand to feature, we check to see if they have a higher sustainable value than what is found in the mainstream market. We can’t romanticize the ethical brands of today, because they’re not perfect, but it’s so important to support them. It sends such a powerful message.
Our goal with Ethical Brandz is to help raise the global demand for ethical business conduct. If companies see the market shift and demand more ethical products and sustainable supply-chains, they may actually take an incentive to be sustainable.
Make Muse: Can you touch on your theme of empowering women further? How have you and the Ethical Brandz team made efforts to do so?
Abigail: I was so excited to find out that ethical companies tend to run counter the broader business demographic, which is of course male-dominated. With social enterprises and artisans, that gender gap is much smaller. A lot of women have founded and run ethical businesses. What I’ve learnt is that ethical consumption doesn’t only run alongside the women’s rights movement, but it’s cohesive to it. You can’t have one without the other. This was a revelation to me. I not only want Ethical Brandz to be a hub where consumers can shop from businesses run by women, but a platform that’ll open a dialogue about the future of consumption and business, and how women will ultimately shape this trajectory.
Make Muse: Tell us about how women thrive worldwide with sustainable developments?
Abigail: One thing that frustrates me is when people dismiss gender equity with the baseless concept that it’s not a pressing or real world issue. The truth is, when you empower women globally, it has a ripple effect that can create long-lasting sustainable change around the world and in all areas of life.
If you take the topic of education, for example, women who are educated tend to marry later, have fewer children, earn higher-paying jobs and raise the next generation to be healthier and more prosperous. This course alone can end cycles of poverty and decrease the global child mortality rate (9.5% for every year a woman is in school, to be exact). When more women work, economies grow, young girls grow up to be less confined to what they can and cannot do and young men grow up to respect women. Women’s leadership in political decision-making improves societies. For example, research in India found that the number of drinking-water projects was 62 percent higher with women-led councils than with men-led councils. Must I go on?
The point is, when you exclude women, you shape a society that cannot be conducive to sustainability. Women are more vulnerable than men. Men aren’t women, so they cannot relate to these vulnerabilities. SO my question is this: How can you share a world that meets the needs of women if you don't have them at the table, deciding on policies, educational-curriculums, health programs, strategies to reduce sexual violence, etc.? You can't. Women are inherent activists. You cannot put them to the side.
Make Muse: What female-founded brands have you enjoyed working with most?
Abigail: All the female-founded brands I’ve worked with have sparked an excitement in me. I’m so moved and inspired when I see women building businesses that will ultimately become crucial players in our economy.
One brand that I would especially love to work with is Thinx. They make period-proof underwear and are ruthlessly trying to break the global taboo around menstruation. They use a portion of their profits to fund reusable pads for students in developing countries so they don’t miss school when they’re menstruating. This is why companies born from woman’s perspectives are so important. It brings a new perspective to the table. No one should ever have to give up school because they’re on their period. But this is a very real and very rampant global issue that we face today.
Make Muse: Is Ethical Brandz your day job. If so, what does day-to-day look like for you?
Abigail: Ethical Brandz isn’t only my day job, but my job 24/7. When I’m not actively working on it, it’s virtually all I think about. It can sometimes become a bit of an unhealthy obsession. I also work in a locally owned, vegan restaurant in the evenings and on weekends, which has helped fund this venture.
My day-to-day usually has me doing outreach, speaking with brands, collaborating and sharing ideas. I spend a lot of time with my developers, working on the website. I’m not in school, so I try to read as much as I can. As the platform grows, this is proving to be more and more difficult though. I'm so excited at the end of the day.
Make Muse: What does being a feminist mean to you in 2018?
Abigail: Last year was a crazy year for feminism. Feminism was the most searched word on Merriam-Webster.com. The #MeToo movement caught a lot of attention. The Women’s March was likely the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history. The outbreak of sexual assault allegations in Hollywood shed a light on the seemingly rampant issues women face everyday in the workplace and beyond. And so I think people are finally opening up to the word and it’s intention. It doesn’t carry as negative a connotation as it used to. But we can’t get ahead of ourselves. So much work still needs to be done. I hope that in 2018, we’ll see more people act on what they learnt about the state of women in 2017.
I was recently watching Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on a panel and she mentioned the concept of feminisms (with an ‘s’). This concept embodies the notion that feminism manifests itself differently for people of different backgrounds and who’ve had different experiences. I hope that in 2018, mainstream feminism will become more intersectional and we’ll hear stories from a more diverse array of women.
Needless to say, if you’re not a feminist in 2018, you don’t belong in the modern world.
Make Muse: When it comes to female societal standards- existent expectations and gender roles in society- how do you think brands should address this authentically in their advertising, photography, sizing, etc.
Abigail: This is such a controversial topic. It’s sad that we still don’t know how to define or properly represent nearly half the population in advertising, media and pop culture. One second, "real women” have curves. Others will rebuttal this and say skinny girls are real women too. What the answer ultimately boils down to is diversity in representation.
Women are so different from each other, and it’s so dangerous to come up with an umbrella definition or depiction of the “ultimate woman”. As humans are in general, women are complex and multi-dimensional. We have different interests, different instincts and different tastes. Some of us shave, some of us don’t. Some of us like makeup, others don’t. Some of us surf. Some of us like math and science, some like fashion, and shocker, we can like both. And who f*cking cares?! I think when we start to see all types of women represented in advertising we will have achieved a breakthrough.
If you own a brand and you want to take a more modern and progressive approach to female representation, show her doing things, not just looking a certain way. Show her surfing, running or reading. If you want her to look sexy, make sure it’s not in an exploitative way. Make her relatable, this will resonate more with your target demographic anyway
Make Muse: How can vendors get involved with your platform?
Abigail: As of April 15th, our marketplace has been open for vendor registration, which is so exciting. Vendors can head to www.ethicalbrandz.com, register, and open a shop!
We've been working so hard to build this platform over the past year and a half, penny-pinching and working with freelancers. I recently looked at the work stream with my head developer and found 673 back-and-forth messages. I was like Holy Sh*t.
Author: Maura Sheedy