One of the most forward-thinking brands in ethical fashion shared insight with ReWork into how their team is working to move the fashion industry towards a more ethical and sustainable model, while not compromising consumer experience and quality.
SOKO produces ethically made, modern jewelry handcrafted from sustainable materials by artisans in the developing world. Their pieces are beautiful. Though you don’t have to be in the market for a new necklace to appreciate (and learn from) what truly makes them unique — the innovative business model and culture they’ve engineered behind the scenes.
Why ReWork Is Watching SOKO
The artisan craft industry is the 2nd largest employer in the developing world, supporting the livelihoods of millions. These artisans remain trapped in their local communities, boxed out of large supply chain systems, and so left behind by the global fashion economy.
SOKO’s model is simple, but revolutionary. To address this problem, they’ve created an inclusive supply chain system — a ‘Virtual Factory’ — that leverages mobile technology to provide artisans with the knowledge, resources, and access required to give them the competitive edge they need to compete in the global market.
Having served 10,000’s of customers online and many more through 400 international retailers — including Nordstrom, Anthropologie, and Fossil — SOKO is not only scaling business, they’re scaling their impact.
SOKO’s approach reduces waste, timelines and cost as compared to traditional supply chain models, allowing them to connect with and coordinate over 1,800 artisans, lowering the cost to the customer and increasing the revenue retained by artisans 25%-35%.
Founded by three women — Gwendolyn Floyd, Catherine Mahugu, and Ella Peinovich — SOKO is a values-led organization that is focused on building a successful business on ethics that inform their internal operations, as much as their external vision.
Straight from the Source: An Interview with Co-Founder Gwendolyn Floyd
ReWork: As a venture-backed serial social entrepreneur, you’ve had a lot of experience starting and leading social impact organizations.From a professional standpoint, when the opportunity to co-found SOKO presented itself, what aspects made it clear that this was the best next step for you personally?
Gwendolyn Floyd: I began my first business at 20, when I took time off from university to found an industrial design business focusing on behavior change for social and environmental good. After that I ran two consultancies that focused on technology, design, and social impact. I worked across the public and private sector focusing on leveraging technology and design to achieve development goals in emerging economies. Soko was then my fourth venture and the culmination and combination of everything i’d ever done professionally, which made it incredibly clear at the time that it was the right thing to do. In addition, having the opportunity to co-found Soko with two incredible women, Ella Peinovich and Catherine Mahugu, made it that much more compelling. Their brilliance and experience made me incredibly confident that we were the right team to achieve the ambitious goals we wanted to achieve with Soko.
R: SOKO is pushing the edge of the ethical fashion industry by marrying social impact, design, technology, and international artisanship. What other companies are doing it right?
GF: The companies I admire exist in very different parts of the fashion and retail landscape.
Patagonia is a constant inspiration as a vertically integrated brand whose commitments to innovation and sustainability are palpably authentic. Their values are their DNA and their success has served the fashion community as proof that ethical production can be profitable.
The Reformation, based in LA, has done the ethical fashion industry a great service by rebranding their version of ethical style as sexy and chic and smart. (versus the industry norm of a little crunchy).
On the opposite end of the spectrum are companies like Zara. Although aspects of their company are deeply unethical, the way they are leveraging supply chain innovation to minimize waste through demand responsive, just in time manufacturing is a huge inspiration to the ethical fashion space that in order to scale, we need to not just improve the industry from a materials input and human labor perspective, but from a systems level design and planning perspective as well!
R: What do you see as the biggest opportunity on the horizon for ethical fashion that companies, like SOKO, have to get right to make it mainstream?
GF: The current landscape provides two choices, fast fashion or slow fashion. I believe this is a false dichotomy that is holding the industry back from creating production systems where all stakeholders can benefit — consumers that want trendy product, retailers and brand that want to provide these goods affordably, and the humans and natural resources that produce them.
At Soko, we want you to have it both ways — fast and ethical. Through our innovative business model, we are redirecting existing consumer dynamics towards products which are less costly on human lives and the environment without sacrificing style and affordability.
Ethical Fast Fashion is our way of producing stylish and affordable, AND ethical goods with the fastest speed to market. In this model, consumers can shop consciously by default, never having to make sacrifices in style and affordability.
R: ReWork exists to fuel the most socially innovative talent and organizations working to make a positive impact. As a serial social entrepreneur What skills are you currently pushing your edge on and why does pursuing that development feel relevant now?
GF: Recruiting and management! We are growing quickly. Globally we are a team of over 50 and our US operations will double in the next 6 months. Attracting, retaining, and motivating the best talent we can find is the most impactful thing I can do for Soko right now.
R: As a company leader, what do you think is required to foster and maintain a healthy and thriving workplace environment, and what aspect of SOKO’s culture are you most proud of?
GF: The entire organization is driven by our commitment to doing things differently while wielding kindness, thoughtfulness, and empathy as powerful tools to most successfully execute our innovative vision. I know I am biased, but I am SO proud of Soko’s culture. It has enabled us to attract and retain the most incredibly creative, brilliant, and dedicated team and to be uncompromising in our dedication to the end-to-end transformation of the traditional fashion supply chain. I would say our cultural pillars of warmth, boldness, and innovation have allowed us to be both human centered and ethical as it relates to the people engaged in our supply chain from the artisans to the individuals and organizations that purchase our product and unapologetic about the need and opportunity we see in the industry for disruptive innovation.