We talked to Noor Veenhoven of Project Cece, the website which combines the supply of all ethical brands and shops in one place, and this is what she said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Noor Veenhoven: We are all doing fine. My parents had the virus in the first wave, but they didn’t experience anything more serious than a very intense flu, and they don’t have lasting symptoms. My grandparents managed not to get it, and they just got their first vaccination, so hopefully, they’ll be out of danger soon.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Project Cece.
Noor Veenhoven: Project Cece was founded by Marcella and Melissa Wijngaarden (sisters) and myself (Noor Veenhoven). We founded the company when we were still students. We were frustrated by how difficult it was to buy fair and sustainable fashion. When Marcella (my housemate and study friend at the time) thought of the idea to combine the products of all fair and sustainable brands and webshops on one website so it would be easier to shop sustainable, Melissa and I were immediately enthusiastic. We decided to build this website, where the supply of all ethical brands and shops is combined in one place, with all the information you need to make a conscious decision. Project Conscious Clothing took off and later turned into our company: Project Cece.
How does Project Cece innovate?
Noor Veenhoven: We built a website that combines the webshops of sustainable brands and retailers on one website to create an enormous supply of ethical fashion. We’ve built the platform in such a way that we can onboard any brand with a webshop. So we can collaborate with large brands but also with small brands that only sell two products. We built our own affiliate marketing program so that we don’t need to partner up with third-party affiliate programs, which makes our service very affordable to smaller brands. Also, we developed our own data collection tools to keep the products and information on our website up to date without the need for webshops to deliver us a data feed and keeping that up to date.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Noor Veenhoven: It has affected many of the partners we work with, especially those that have physical stores are having a very tough time. We’ve also seen many brands that have problems with getting their new collections in time due to the COVID regulations in the countries where they produce. In this time, we’ve seen many brands that were forced to quit or that went bankrupt.
On the other hand, online sales have been doing very well, and since we are only online, we’ve been doing quite well. Our whole team can work from home without much trouble, so we are also very lucky in that aspect.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Noor Veenhoven: We didn’t have to make really difficult choices, fortunately. From the start of the crisis, we decided to take everything just a week at a time. It was impossible to make good predictions for what would happen in the future, so we decided not to plan too far ahead. For our content and marketing strategy, this definitely was a good decision as COVID stirred up a lot in the fashion industry, where we saw big brands transferring the heaviest financial burden upon garment factories and their workers by cancelling orders that were already made.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Noor Veenhoven: We were already communicating online a lot, so we were really prepared to switch online completely. We use Mattermost (a self-hosted version of Slack) for our day-to-day communication with our whole team. For meetings and Friday drinks, we use Zoom or Skype, and we use GitLab for all our tasks.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Noor Veenhoven: Platforms such as Renoon and Shop Like You Give A Damn, but we think we are still ahead of them. Our platform is really accessible for every ethical brand/store, and we have a very scalable tech and high sustainability standards. We are planning to launch in other countries in Europe this year, and we are working on further improving our user-friendliness.
Your final thoughts?
Noor Veenhoven: The COVID-19 crisis has hit the fashion industry unbelievably hard, but we’ve also seen that more people started to care about sustainable and fair clothing. We think that even though the crisis is absolutely horrible, it might also be the starting point for more ethical shopping behaviour.
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