Elise Vens, Emmet Lowry and Nathan Gaborieau are the young entrepreneurs behind Ecode, a QR code-based system aimed at making consumers and clothing brands more aware of sustainability.
The trio met while studying for a master’s in sustainability at Trinity College Dublin and were struck by the fact that although the majority of consumers said they want to buy less, and more responsibly, it was difficult to do so because the fashion industry was not able (or willing) to share its sustainability-related data easily.
“The fashion industry is the second-largest polluter globally and responsible for 20 per cent of industrial water pollution and 8 per cent of global carbon emissions,” says company co-founder Emmet Lowry.
“Today, an increasing number of people are aware of the destructive social and environmental elements connected to fashion, and studies show that almost 70 per cent of consumers want to see a change. However, they can’t easily access the information they need to play their part. Having identified this problem, we began thinking about how to give consumers greater transparency on social and environmental indicators. The result is Ecode, a reliable and easy-to-use means of getting information about the origin and impact of clothing bought in-store and online.”
Lowry says the need and desire to know more about the origins of the clothes we wear is being driven by several factors, including EU legislation, a paradigm shift in consumer behaviour, particularly among young people, and more interest in sustainable consumption patterns, including recycling, reselling and repairing items rather than discarding them – consumers in Europe currently throw away an average of 11kg of clothing a year.
Once a garment is fitted with its unique Ecode tag, this QR code stays with the item throughout its life. When a consumer chooses something to buy, they scan the code to discover its “digital passport”, which gives key information about its origins. When they no longer want the item, or it becomes damaged, scanning the code will tell them where they can repair, recycle or indeed sell on the garment with a simple single click linking them to an online second-hand clothing marketplace.
“From an industry perspective Ecode records every action taken after purchase and provides brands with data on the sustainability of their clothing, the proportion of sales recycled and the proportion of clothing recycled, making it an asset for better management of CSR and external communication,” says Lowry, who adds that the system also makes it possible for smaller brands that don’t have budgets for large-scale sustainability marketing initiatives to compete with the big companies that do.
Ecode is a fledgling start-up. It will have its official launch in stages starting in September, and its revenue model will be a tiered SaaS subscription. “We want to perfect our product before expanding our brand base, and we also need time to create an engaged community, which will be essential for promoting the app,” says Lowry. Investment in the project to date has been in time and shoe leather rather than money, with spending so far running at less than €10,000. Funding for the venture has come from winning Trinity College’s Launchbox programme for student entrepreneurs.
“The marketplace for circular fashion is set to grow exponentially by 2030, and Ecode will be selling to fashion brands that are sustainability conscious to begin with and to second-hand and vintage stores that require a constant inflow of clothes to sell,” says Lowry. “Our solution is international and aimed at local players and small businesses that want to create more of a connection with their clothes and consumers, such as designers and second-hand stores, but also at larger companies that can avail of our white-label solution, which is currently in development.”