Have you ever struggled to find clothes brands that have ethics that match your own? Whether that’s a vegan handbag or jeans made in the UK. Trying to shop according to your values can involve time consuming research and at the moment is not your average find on the British high street. These issues led Abbie Morris and her partner James to create Compare Ethics. I sat down with Abbie to learn more about how she’s helping us change what goes into our wardrobes and what keeps her pushing forwards to bring about change.
Can you help summarise what Compare Ethics is and how it helps people?
Compare Ethics connects ethical brands to consumers. Our flagship tool is a comparison website. Through that tool customers can easily compare price, style, and ethics of products. They can then, in a few clicks, go on to buy the products.
What motivated you to take the leap and go ahead and do this? Lots of us have business ideas – there are a million ideas I’d like to launch but haven’t! What was the kick starter for you?
I was working internationally as a sustainability consultant with international, responsible brands. I found that there was a gap between the really great work that was going on at the UN Global Compact, or the World Economic Forum in comparison with the consumer conversations happening in the demand side markets like the UK. So, for me it was that gap and seeing an opportunity to collaborate with my partner James to build something that can shout about lots of really cool ethical brands in a way that is accessible and also easy for people to buy the products if they wish.
Did you have a background in tech beforehand or does this just happen to be a technical solution to an issue?
It was the latter. I didn’t have a tech background. I’ve a sustainability politics background. Policy was a really big aspect of my work and innovation policy was always something that I was interested in. However, now I can tell you how to connect an API whereas perhaps 18 months ago I had no idea. It’s quite interesting coming at it from a non-technical background and then really working as a team to take on challenging global problems in a tech way. We have a fabulous team. I always start the questions with “My non-technical brain thinks it’s this…” and they always help me through.
And is that the key to managing those conversations? I think that can be a real sticking point sometimes either actual or imagined. “How do I go in and have these conversations about something that I don’t understand the workings of?”
It’s a learning process and I definitely feel like I’m more up to speed now. But I think you’re completely right. It’s around getting to grips with it as much as you can and remaining sight of the reason why you’re doing it. That’s why you have a great team with you because they will help you guide that process. They will tell you what’s achievable and what’s not. So that’s how we work as a team and it just seems to work well.
Do you have a gut instinct about when to keep pushing if someone says no? And when to leave it and go “ok fine. I take that!”
Yes absolutely. I can give you an example of that. There are certain aspects that I’d like to be made more visible on the site. And there’s push back that we can’t achieve that just now which I can understand. However, there are areas like data where I’m pushing for us to make more of. And I’m still pushing despite the feedback that it’ll take too much time.
It’s also around prioritising. James is an agile, sprint project manager. He helps me prioritise; what are we doing in this sprint, what is the data telling us, and where to go next. Working in a really agile way has helped me prioritise what I’d like to have versus what we actually need.
How do you keep everyone motivated and on board with the big picture when they also have a really long to do list?
I think that comes down to our team environment. At the end of a project we come together as a team and look at what went well and what would we like to do next. Everyone is open to that. Having that environment where no matter which aspect you’re in charge of from head developer to client side. It’s about bringing it all together to get the best outcome based on what everyone thinks. I think that’s how we keep everyone motivated.
What’s your time frame? Where are you in the journey of Compare Ethics?
We just launched! We launched in August. We had a great pop-up and now we’ve done a beta version and iterating doing lots of different product sprints based on testing. So, we’ve launched our second iteration. That was a fun project. We now have what feels like more of a natural e-com page even though it’s not. It looks very familiar to people now whereas before I think it was perhaps harder to navigate. Going forward it’s very much around how do we get this to a point where we can start bringing in other types of influences and other types of ethical fashion. So lots more iterations in the run up to Christmas which will be fun.
Two cheesy questions coming up…What has been the biggest achievement so far and biggest hurdle so far?
Biggest achievement and possibly biggest hurdle has been launching! Quite simply because we launched the comparison website the same day as we launched the pop-up shop. We didn’t really sleep! I think we had about two hours and even then, it was a very light sleep as there was a very long to do list. That was probably our biggest challenge but we worked really well as a team and it worked really well.
I think one of the other biggest ongoing challenges is ensuring that we are continuing to be led by our data. It’s really easy to get passionate and do something that you think is the right thing to do. We need to make sure we stay in that data driven mindset: that was a challenge at the beginning for me.
That sounds exhausting – what do you do to switch off especially working with your other half. How do you relax?
We quite literally have to say “don’t talk about this now!” There are times where, say, on a Saturday night on the way to a party when I’ll start talking about work. And I’ll catch myself. And force myself to switch off. So we do a lot of hiking – from the Lake District to Costa Rica. And last weekend we did a Tough Mudder. We like getting outdoors, getting away from laptops and technology as a really nice way of making sure that when we come back we’re as productive as we can be.
And that’s something that we thread through the development process. For instance, we want to start putting in reminders if people have been on our site for a certain amount of time “Do you need to take a break? You’ve been on here for 45 minutes”. All of these things add up to a more ethical approach to technology for us and the people using it.
What’s your vision for the future? What’s the glittering thing on the horizon and how will you know when you’ve got there?
For me the glittering destination on the horizon is when ethical fashion has become mainstream. And what I mean by that is that ethical fashion has become the standard. People will choose clothes with the ethics that they want as a standard. It would have so many other ripple effects for people and planet across the world.
If you hadn’t built Compare Ethics what else would you be doing instead?
Definitely still involved in sustainability – consulting, policy, environment. Looking at policy as a way of getting change through. Working with the private sector to act more responsibly is something that I’ve really enjoyed before doing this. And I would happily do 20 or 30 more years.
To me, that policy level change is like a tanker that is slowly turning. How do you keep motivated to keep going with that slow pace of change in a world that’s increasingly driven by instant gratification?
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love a challenge and I think that’s what it comes down to! And that is one of the biggest challenges. How do we encourage business to be more responsible? And equally how do we make it easy? These are such big questions that have to be addresses in the next 10 or 15 years. If we don’t then we’ve all failed. At least I can look back and say I’ve really given it a go. I think for me the motivation is in the challenge itself.
Don’t we all need to be more like that. Do you have any magic trick or tool that gets you through the really tough days? The ones when it’s raining, and cold, and dark and it’s all unravelling around you?
Reading. Reading is part escapism but also inspiration. I have this great Japanese book at the moment. My other half and I always read philosophy. Or something that takes you out of the space that you’re in.
Sometimes though you just have to be true to yourself and say “this was a rubbish day. I’m going to try again tomorrow.” And that’s also ok. Sometimes, it’s easy to be really hard on yourself when there’s a growing to do list and you feel like you’ve never caught up.
Is this in-built resilience and love of challenges inherent or does it come from your family?
I suppose so. I grew up in a single parent family. I had a very unique, resilient childhood. I had a very different upbringing but that has made me more steadfast as I got older. I’ve realised that life is really short and I’ve looked at where I don’t want to go in my life and actually there is so much that needs to be done and this is where I do want to go. Also, there was a point when I was a teenager, where I really started looking at different civilisations and our fragility. I thought we need to make ourselves more resilient if we’re going to stand a chance. I think it comes back to a wider understanding of our planet and who we share it with. We’ve really damaged it and we need to do something about it.
Lastly, how if you had one ask for the people reading this what would it be?
We really want this to be a co-created platform. We really want people to get involved. We have a methodology page. We have forms on every page for people to give their feedback. So, I’d really love to let people know that we want to hear from them. Are there any ethical things we’re missing? Nearly week there’s new research or findings. Should we be including them in our site? Let us know!
If you want to learn more about how Compare Ethics can make it easier to shop for clothes that match what’s important to you, come along to our event on Wednesday 31st October. Find out more.