After working as a buyer for green luxury e-commerce company Lux & Eco, Kristen Drapesa founded EcoHabitude a peer-to-peer marketplace of eco-friendly and socially responsible products.
The online platform connect consumers directly with suppliers and makers around the world and works with emerging sustainable brands and socially conscious entrepreneurs focused on making both an environmental and social impact through their business and practices. In this interview, Kristen shares how she launched her online platform, the importance of transparency and how to make real changes with our dollars.
How did you come up with the idea for Ecohabitude?
I was working for Lux and Eco, and would spend hours searching for luxury green products, and quickly found out how difficult it was. When I would attend trade shows, I was really inspired by the brands I would meet with but, at the same time, felt quite disappointed that I (as well as other consumers) couldn’t easily purchase from them. I was also disappointed that their stories weren’t being curated as well as big brands. That’s how I saw the need for a peer to peer site that offered the ability to easily discover socially responsible and eco-conscious products in one space. The inspiring stories behind each brand and product inspired me to build a space within the site where brands could share their stories. Consumers are starting to care more about the behind the scenes of brands and their consciousness so I felt it was really important to share the stories behind each product and focus on transparency.
How long did it take to launch the company from the moment you had the idea?
It took us a year and a half. We built the back end peer-to-peer commerce platform from the ground up, which absorbed a lot of that time. From there, we then worked closely with 23 brands in closed beta for 7 months to build out features according to their feedback as well as testing the site for errors. Our official launch date was August 2014.
“We built the back end peer-to-peer commerce platform from the ground up, which absorbed a lot of that time. From there, we then worked closely with 23 brands in closed beta for 7 months to build out features according to their feedback as well as testing the site for errors.”
What are the Eco-Tags? And how did you come up with this idea and how are they attributed to the sellers?
The Eco tags were the best way we could focus on transparency as well as being able to “police” per se, the brands and products on the site. The eco tags essentially are a way to trace a product footprint and so you are able to vote with your dollars and learn more about the products and people behind them. A product must have a minimum of two eco tags or ways it is socially conscious; which ranges from things being fair trade, profit shared, organic, sweatshop free or even wild harvested.
“Real change is when we start to vote with our dollars.”
There’s 16 tags going on 19. You are even able to search for products based on what’s most important to you, so it really makes the shopping part more efficient as well. It’s constantly evolving and we’re always discussing ways to make it better. But our main goal with the eco-tags is to really focus on product transparency and hopefully to provoke thought to consumers on why they should be asking those questions when making purchasing decisions. That’s really the way we’re all going to improve and see that real change is when we start to vote with our dollars, so bringing this to the forefront of our site was crucial.
How was you company founded? Was was your the initial budget?
I started the company with my own funding and a series seed investors which I did via a friends and family round. My initial budget was 250K which helped to build the platform, beta test, get us a small co-working space in midtown manhattan and pay for one employee. I then did a second seed round right before our launch in August 2014 for an additional 200K. We’ve now grown to 7 employees and have just opened our series A round — we’re definitely growing rapidly and organically (no pun intended) so it’s now time for another expansion to keep that momentum.
“My initial budget was 250K which helped to build the platform, beta test, get us a small co-working space in midtown manhattan and pay for one employee. I then did a second seed round right before our launch in August 2014 for an additional 200K.”
What is Ecohabitude business model?
We’re a peer to peer commerce site, similar to a StorEnvy or an Amazon but rather with a focus only on green & socially conscious brands. So you are buying directly from the brands and makers of the products. We essentially are the site you can come to to find hundreds of brands in one place. We curate them, we also have a large growing social following so we really try to market and promote them on our blog and social, as well as curating our landing page with products and stories that change every week. We take a percentage of the sales that happen at checkout, which is done via Stripe.
What would your advice be for an entrepreneurs looking to create ethical, eco-friendly product? What are the main difficulties and mistakes to avoid?
What other ethical entrepreneurs inspire you and why?
One of the first brands that ever inspired me was this brand called Sustainable Threads — a husband and wife team who was passionate about rural development and social justice — they worked with several artisans in india, some of them who helped to take women out of abusive situations and teach them skills and education into the workforce. They would make these gorgeous high-end handmade textiles, scarves and table runners, all while bettering the lives and communities of others, and maintained a small and very successful business. I just thought to myself, why can’t everyone do this? It was truly inspiring. In addition, I really admire Jennifer Sharpe who produced the documentary Traceable — which really focuses on the connection to the communities impacted by the products we consume and shedding light on the Rana Plaza tragedy which is just one of these de facto shadow factories.