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The Rise of Conscious Brands Around the World

Sustainable brands are becoming easier to find. Here are some examples that are inspiring change worldwide.

Written by
Trista Bridges

There’s a global revolution brewing in the world of conscious consumer brands. A slew of great new brands from around the world are rising for conscious consumers to support. The stories of these brands are inspiring and prove that it is possible for what we wear, eat, use, etc. to be well-designed and responsible.

In fact, these brands are elevating their sectors and, in some cases, are catalyzers of the conscious consumer movement in their home markets. There are many examples that I could highlight, but here are some that I find particularly inspiring.

Ricci Everyday: African Inspired Japanese Handbags

Chizu Nakamoto, the founder of Ricci Everyday, not only wanted to make a beautiful, sustainably made brand, but she also aspired to transform the lives of women in marginalized communities. While working with an NGO in Uganda, she happened upon and was immediately drawn to the color and beauty of African fabrics—styles that were rare in her home country of Japan.

As a result, her love for these vibrant fabrics sparked her idea to launch a well-made, high-end handbag line. When interviewing her for my book Leading Sustainably, Nakamoto noted that when she set out to identify local seamstresses and tailors in Uganda to create her bags, she realized that while there was an abundance of talent, these workers were almost always underpaid. 

What’s more is that they were often single mothers or even child soldiers, usually working in precarious conditions. Ricci Everyday set out to change that. She paid her employees well beyond the minimum wage, offered them good working conditions, and provided them with a pension. She also covered their lunch transportation expenses. Nakamoto’s bags are not only ethically produced but also ethically sourced.

To ensure she would be able to work with the most sustainable fabric of the highest quality possible, she decided to source her fabrics from West Africa, specifically Ghana. To tackle the harmful environmental effects often associated with the fabric production (e.g. chemical run-off from dyes, etc.), Ricci avoids mass-produced African fabrics, opting to only work with suppliers that use eco-friendly processes and materials. Their next goal is to eliminate plastics from their products and process via their "No More Plastic Please" campaign.

With a new flagship store in Tokyo’s trend-setting epicenter, Daikanyama, and new accessories and clothing lines, Ricci Everyday is a hit in its home country of Japan. However, Nakamoto’s ambitions aren’t limited to Japan. She hopes to soon take her unique bags to new markets, including Australia, Singapore, China, and the US.

OTH: The Circular Shoe Brand

Based in Paris, OTH makes a beautifully designed and crafted line of sneakers best known for its tire soles. Using tires as a design material helps address a significant problem for the environment. Tire waste accounts for anywhere from an estimated 10% to up to 28% of ocean microplastics—an alarming statistic that may shock many. However, OTH’s tire sole isn’t the only aspect of the shoe that makes it sustainable. OTH founder Arnaud Barboteau ultimately wanted to make a classic, timeless shoe that would never go out of fashion. He wanted to make it fully circular and durable. 

After two long, tireless years of work, Barboteau achieved his vision. Whereas most circular designs only have certain circular parts, Barboteau envisioned a fully circular shoe and laid out a detailed roadmap to get there—soles, uppers, laces, and more; the circularity of each component of the shoe was carefully considered. In collaboration with circular leather leader FRBG, OTH is now fashioning the uppers on one of their models from recycled leather—an approach that will eventually be extended across the OTH range.

In addition, they are currently working on incorporating threading and linings crafted from ocean plastics and BANANATEX®, an innovative textile made of banana tree fibers. And, of course, their shoes are also made responsibly. They are produced in Portugal where fair wages and strong social protections are required. As OTH continues to expand internationally, Barboteau ultimately wants to produce in the region where his shoes are purchased, aiming to reduce OTH’s carbon footprint and provide local, stable, fair jobs.

OmniPork: The Pork Alternative That Shook The Market

Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have taken the alternative protein market by storm, convincing even the most die-hard meat fans to give them a try. However, while much of the focus has been on beef, there’s another huge, sustainability-challenged protein that is ripe for a more ethical, eco-friendly solution—pork. And it's not exactly a small opportunity, particularly in Asia, home to 4 of the top 10 pork consumption markets. At the moment, there is one brand that is above the rest—Hong Kong-based OmniPork, a part of the rebranded Omnifoods product range. Part of the social venture platform Green Monday Holdings (who recently closed a $70 million funding round), OmniPork launched in 2018 and has become an unbridled success across the region and in Canada. 

Not only have they made a pork substitute, but they have aimed to create one that balances both eco and health concerns. This makes a range of products as “clean” as possible—a growing concern in the alternative protein market. And one thing that is part of their identity is the variety of products they offer. One of their biggest successes to date has been their dumplings—a whopping 1 million dumplings per week were sold in Taiwan alone in the weeks following their January launch, and they are selling out in Shanghai.

Perhaps even more exciting, they just rolled out vegan spam in retail outlets this past September, a product that holds much nostalgia for folks across the region. OmniPork and Green Monday’s founder David Yeung has been on a mission to reduce meat consumption in Asia. Yeung’s concerns about the rise of meat consumption in Asia are not unwarranted. In fact, meat consumption across Asia dwarfs that of many other markets—a trend that is projected to continue over the next 10 years. Yeung’s mission is not only a noble one but one imperative to addressing this pressing problem. 

Nodoka Tea: Real Organic Green Tea

As our health awareness and concerns grow, so does the world’s appetite for green tea, which is known for its various health benefits, particularly its high level of antioxidants. The green tea market has grown remarkably in recent years—a trend which is expected to continue over the next several years. However, all green tea is not equal. Much of the green tea that floods the markets is not produced ethically and responsibly. This poses particular problems for the tea sector which organizations like the Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade International have tried to address. But Japan-based Nodoka Tea, founded by Hong Sil, delivers on the values and practices encouraged by these organizations by recreating what green tea is meant to be. 

Working in conjunction with top local producers across Japan, Nodoka makes truly organic teas, or, as they put it, tea that’s “safe enough to eat.” All of the tea leaves they source from their various partner growers across Japan are certified organic, receiving both the JAS (Japan) and USDA certifications. This type of certification for tea is actually very unique in Japan, wherein in 2015, only around 3% of teas were certified organic (JAS). Working with local producers in Japan also ensures that their teas are produced in fair working conditions.

In turn, this gives more opportunity to local growers who can often lose out to larger, overseas producers. Something that is also unique in their approach is that their teas are only produced in powder form. This is a more traditional format that is less familiar internationally but has a vibrant taste which better preserves the nutritional benefits provided by the tea leaves. Widely available in Japan, Nodoka teas are also available at select outlets in New York City and can be shipped internationally.

Mater: An Artisan Replacement to Fast Furniture

Disposable furniture has simply wreaked havoc on our environment. In the US alone, 9 million tons of furniture end up in landfills every year, with the vast majority of that not being recycled. Consumers are beginning to wake up to the ills of fast furniture, so much so that many big players, such as IKEA, have doubled down on sustainability as a central tenant of their strategy.

However, we’re also starting to see a resurgence of interest in vintage furniture as well as an appreciation for well-crafted, timeless furniture by skilled artisans. Danish furniture designer Mater, founded by Henrik Marstrand, is the epitome of this trend, seeking to merge sustainability and sleek, Scandinavian design. As they put it, they “explore materials and production methods that are friendly towards Mother Earth without compromising aesthetics.” Sustainability is essentially baked into every one of the pieces they produce. This, of course, starts with the materials they use. 

Sustainable harvesting is the core tenant of their approach. They opt to use mango tree wood from trees that can no longer bear fruit and can be easily replanted or leverage wood that was previously burnt or left to break down. Another example is that for aluminum components, they look to waste and scrap materials, including partially recycled aluminum scrap, such as old bicycle wheels or car components.

For their leathers, they’re sourced locally, ensuring that they comply with EU regulations, (which are much more stringent with respect to social and environmental factors). And, of course, being a signatory to the UN Global Compact requires them to continually “walk the talk” on sustainability. This is greatly helped by the FSC certificationTM, which they have received for the majority of their collection. Most importantly, though, Mater’s furniture is truly built to last—an important value that will hopefully become the standard in this industry once again.