In a world full of noise where we’re urged to consume left and right and we’re inclined to give values a secondary role, it’s always refreshing to find inspiring young entrepreneurs working to make a positive change.
And you’ll find very few as inspiring and experienced as Sunny Wu, founder of ourCommonplace, a sustainable marketplace that curates fashion, decor and beauty products, and that stands out not only for the values it endorses but also for how incredibly aesthetically pleasing its selection is. I first came into contact with ourCommonplace through social media and once I started reading about it I knew I needed to have a chat with Sunny and tell you her story.
She has created a wonderful company focused on doing social good and she’s letting her values shine through in what she does. So much so that in ourCommonplace you can literally shop your values by browsing through their selections of BIPOC-owned, ethical, sustainable, woman-owned, toxic-free and ethical brands and products.
I’m all in for this approach. Carefully curating products and brands according to the principles they stand for makes shopping sustainably easy and stress-free not only for consumers that are already deep into the world of sustainability but also for those who are just embarking on it and may find it daunting.
Can you start by telling us how got into the fashion industry?
I got into the fashion and beauty industry right out of college working for a travel retailer that’s a subsidiary of LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Henessy). While I was working there, I helped manage their fashion and beauty brands such as Burberry, Bottega Veneta, and Lancome.
This was my dream job coming out of college and couldn’t be happier when I received the official offer. I actually got the gig by cold LinkedIn messaging someone who worked for the company. I ultimately got on a preliminary phone call with him and he ended up passing me along to the HR manager for a round of interviews.
I love this story because I always encourage new grads to be proactive in their job search process if you have your heart set on a specific career path.
What aspects of sustainability do you prioritize in your personal life? Do you apply them to your business?
Given that the transportation and agriculture industry are leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions, I switched over to an electric vehicle and cut down on my consumption of meat, especially red meat. In terms of purchases, I’ve come to be more conscious of my purchases, and truly thinking about whether the purchases are necessary before taking the plunge.
As for clothing, beauty, and home purchases, I’ve started only purchasing brands that adhere to ourCommonplace’s values, even if that means that they aren’t a partner of ours.
Some of my top brand picks that are not part of ourCommonplace include Saye, Foundationals, and Knickey, and some of my ourCommonplace favorites include ESSEN, Deluna, and Art of Simplicity.
What do you think is the biggest challenge sustainable fashion brands have to face currently in such a competitive market?
For any brand to thrive, it would have to find ways to cut through the noise, especially during a time like this where there are niche brands being started left and right. In order for sustainable brands to be able to stay competitive in this space alongside other brands, they would need to make sure that they understand the customer that they’re looking to serve and that there’s sufficient demand for the supply that they’re creating.
In addition, it’s crucial to start with a product-first approach so that conscious founders are not only tapping into conscious consumers but also consumers who aren’t necessarily aware of the sustainability factor, so that sustainability translates as a bonus or delight after it’s discovered.
I love the fact that ourCommonplace supports BIPOC businesses and I hope more companies follow your example. What is the best thing a business can do to empower BIPOC creators?
As consumers who are able to vote with their dollars for the world that they want to live in, we should go an extra step in ensuring that we’re supporting them by noting that businesses are BIPOC-owned. This way conscious consumers are made aware and given the chance to vote with their dollars appropriately.
I’m always shocked to find that many people don’t see the link between racial justice and gender equality, and sustainability. What’s your take on this topic?
You’ll find that “sustainability” has become a word that’s all-encompassing and is constantly evolving depending on who you’re talking to. However, my take is that, in order for us to achieve sustainability at full scale, we need to protect the environment and populations that are historically more vulnerable as these issues are interlinked.
Similar to what had happened with the Flint Water Crisis, we need to be cognisant of the impact of events such as these have on vulnerable communities, and advocate for those being exposed to the aftereffects of environmental degradation the most.
In addition, as a company that was founded with the mission of taking us closer towards UN’s sustainable development goals, gender equality is also a huge focus of ours.
On ourCommonplace’s site, you’ll be able to filter by women-owned businesses and identify women-owned businesses through the icon that we’ve created. All in all, women are considered a population that’s vulnerable to unsustainable practices when it comes to income, voting, and land rights especially in 3rd world countries. It’s crucial for us to take notable action to combat gender inequality so that we’re able to leave this planet better for us, and for future generations to come.
What does sustainability mean for you?
Sustainability means that we’re dedicated to meeting our current needs without compromising the need of future generations and their resources. Ideally, we’re taking action towards meeting UN’s Sustainable Development goals and utilizing the triple bottom line, where we’re measuring profit, people, and planet as a metric.
What are some of your favorite products or brands currently featured on ourCommonplace?
Some of my favorites currently fall under the ethical & affordable category on our site. You’ll find below brands and their respective categories listed:
1. Fashion: Button Apparel & Beatrice Bayliss
2. Jewelry: Deluna & Maris Pearl Co
3. Beauty: Klei