Words By Alana Harris
There’s never a simple, safe or stress-free time to launch a new business, but if there were to be one, it certainly wouldn’t be during a global pandemic, one week before a nationwide lockdown, and simultaneous with your final year University exams.
Matthew Denford, one part of the three-person team who established Ethicul, confirmed that given the circumstances, the first few months establishing the business “definitely weren’t a walk in the park”. Yet, despite the challenges facing them, the team were not deterred or disheartened. Instead, the pandemic presented them with even more motivation and made the ethos and mission of the company clearer and more important than ever before.
Ethicul is an online storefront which currently hosts over 40 independent and sustainable businesses and their products. Once you sign up, you gain Ethicul tokens each time you shop with one of their retailers, which can then be redeemed for rewards across the storefront, aiming to bridge a gap between ethical businesses and consumers.
The Brighton based start-up was created by Matthew Denford, Charlie Jordan and Ryan Hudson, three Business Management graduates from the University of Brighton. The initial inspiration behind the business came from seeing the profound number of ethical and sustainable businesses in Brighton. The trio were impressed, but confused, they acknowledged the presence of the Brighton independents, yet still couldn’t seem to stop themselves from doing their weekly food shop with supermarket powerhouses, or ordering from online giants from the comfort of their student house sofa. The ease, familiarity and convenience of the big businesses undermined smaller sustainable ones, and made shopping independently seem inaccessible and intimidating. On top of this, the trio recognised the continual difficulty in identifying what brands and businesses are genuinely ethical and sustainable due to the opportunity for companies to utilise greenwashing.
What the team did know however, is that they felt a creeping sense of guilt every time they purchased with big brands, and were continually disturbed by troubling statistics surrounding the environment and worker exploitation. They became determined to construct a solution which encouraged consumers to shop consciously, with the planet and their community in mind, and made it easy and convenient to do so. Ryan explained how, through Ethicul, “You can get rewarded with lots of different independents which we saw as a way of bringing independents together to create a community as a collective, to create a circular ecosystem of ethical shopping and I think that’s what captured some of the businesses interest more than just commercial gain, for some of them it was not just about seeing more sales, it was about how we can be together, acting as a big group and really supporting each other in the best way possible”.
It’s the people behind the businesses hosted on their platform that Ethicul want to celebrate most, the individuals who have chosen not to cut corners so as to develop a brand without compromising on ethicality or the environment. Sadly, due to Covid-19 and its enforced lockdowns, it was these exact persons who were hit the hardest by the pandemic. However, as the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining, Ryan said “I think the pandemic helped us in a way in terms of the business support, I think that a lot of businesses saw the urgency of what we were doing.”
At the start of the first UK lockdown, Ethicul began to contact businesses they wished to partner with and simply tried to sell their passion, “I think people listened to us more because it was this huge uncertain phase, so I think us offering a bit of a lifeline and being perfectly honest saying we’re new to this but we just want to find a way to help and we think we can do something really special really resonated with people.” commented Matthew. Now, thanks to the support and positive response they received, Ethicul has been able to help independents by bringing them new customers and increasing their customer loyalty. Matthew described “we know that every single penny that’s spent with Ethicul and with our businesses is a penny that goes towards supporting the sustainability of our planet, it goes straight back into our local community and it also supports the social wellbeing of the people.”
Despite the gruelling time the pandemic has presented small business owners, the empahsis to shop local, independent and sustainable has potentially been louder than ever before, something the team at Ethicul are thankful for. They recognise that the pandemic has brought consciousness to the forefront of consumers’ minds, and hope that even if individuals haven’t yet taken the plunge to switch to sustainable shopping, it’s something they’re at least aware of. Ryan recounted “When places had to close and people couldn’t get everything that they needed, they found themselves shopping at maybe the local shop down the road and other places that they might have never been before, rather than Sainsbury’s, because they couldn’t get toilet roll.”
This positive change in consumer awareness is something Ethicul want to push forward and encourage to be a lasting change that remains even when the pandemic and its toilet roll drought doesn’t. “We want to be able to empower people so that every single purchase they make on a daily basis is a positive one” said Matthew. In fact, the future is an ambitious one for Ethicul, with the trio setting themselves a goal of facilitating 1,000,000 transactions by 2025. They hope to achieve this through the development of the Ethicul app, which will aim to make sustainable shopping seamless “you’ll just download an app on your phone and you’ll link your payment card so it means that whenever you transact with any of our retailers that are on the platform you’ll generate your own Ethicul tokens in real-time and then you can redeem your rewards all in the app.” Matthew discussed.
With modern consumers wanting businesses to pave the way and help them achieve a more sustainable lifestyle, platforms like Ethicul may be the exact kind of innovative business needed to reconnect us with what we’re buying and who we’re buying from.
Find them at https://www.ethicul.co.uk/