Generation Z’s coming of age has been the source of many changes in fashion and beauty. Their affinity for technology fed the wild success and growth of social platforms like Instagram and TikTok. These shoppers gave “brand ethos” a deeper meaning, leaning into a more intentional approach to shopping (such as buying secondhand and prioritizing minority-owned businesses). They also sought to redefine the definition of “sexy,” by demanding more body-inclusive lingerie. Now zoomers are on to their next feat: holding brands accountable to their sustainability claims. Enter 23-year-old Ana Kannan, the founder of Toward — a cutting-edge retailer with a conscience.
Though Kannan was raised as a vegetarian and her parents instilled in her a “low-waste ethos,” it wasn’t until two years ago that she saw a providential opportunity to funnel those values into a game-changing business. “I saw there was a renewed focus on environmental and social responsibility as a result of people staying at home and seeing the impact of doing less, what moving around less had on the planet,” she tells TZR.
Upon graduating from the University of Southern California with a bachelor's degree in math and economics in 2020, Kannan, too, saw a gap in the market for a retail space that fostered entirely sustainable brands. That’s when she spawned the idea for Toward, a platform that provides consumers metrics for brands’ sustainability efforts, so that customers can make informed decisions about the products they’re purchasing. With a name that implies progress, the company has a mission to disruptively create a more responsible way to shop for luxury goods and satiate consumers’ growing desire to support ethical businesses.
“I wanted to marry the concepts of responsibility and buying things that I loved,” says Kannan, who noted her own mistrust with fashion and beauty’s sustainability claims as a consumer.
To vet brands on her own, she had a habit of scouring their websites for sustainability pledges and coming to her own conclusions about the environmental friendliness of certain materials despite claims and of the supply chain. To give an example, she raises a hypothetical brand that bills itself as sustainable for its use of natural materials, like cotton. However, mainstream cotton production often uses pesticides and excessive amounts of water. Alas, Kannan’s personal vetting process was taxing and ineffective. “A lot of brands weren’t really willing to give that information to just any shopper,” she shares.
In forming Toward, gathering that information as criteria for a label to become a part of the platform, Kannan was able to find a handful of brands that she and other conscious consumers could trust. “We get questions [from shoppers] all the time about manufacturing processes, about material mixes, etc. So, it feels really great to have concrete answers,” she says. Currently, there are just over 20 emerging and established labels one can shop on the site, including Anna October, Leset, Closed, and Vivienne Westwood.
The Toward team vets brands carefully, posing roughly 100 questions to prospective labels about their products and practices. The framework, which Kannan says she developed over the course of a year, is a means to guarantee consumers that the brands on Toward meet the highest standards of ethical, social, and environmental responsibility by precisely measuring where a brand stands and what it plans to do to expand its positive impact.
It outlines a wide spectrum of sustainable business practices, including workers’ rights legislation and the minutiae of manufacturing processes. The rubric is divided into a number of focus areas: transparency, emissions, materials, chemical waste, workers’ rights, biodiversity and forestry, and ethos (or how the brand may incentivize responsible consumption among their consumers). The rubric is then scored on a weighted scale, as the Toward team has deemed some issues more important than others. For example, they’ve given transparency a higher value than ethos because they feel that reducing emissions will have the biggest impact right now. If brands receive a score of 65 or higher, Kannan feels confident doing business with them.
The vetting process takes roughly one month. Toward requires brands to deliver specifics for every question they provide the answer “yes” to. For instance, if a brand says that they use organic or recycled materials, they must provide a percentage of products made with such material, as well as certification. “If a product uses EcoVero-certified viscose, we want to see that certification from that governing body,” says Kannan. “Sometimes we even get certifications from third parties, like international labor rights associations. Sometimes brands ask them to carry out the audits on their behalf.”
These procedures are also great ways to get to know what makes each brand unique. “One thing I really love about [Savannah Morrow The Label] is its use of peace silk,” she explains. “Previously, when silk items were made, the silkworms were boiled alive and perished in the process. But with peace silk, these silkworms are alive and well.” There’s also AGOLDE, a popular denim brand that recycles 90 percent of water that they use in the production process. It also uses recycled leather in its collections.
Even after Toward ushers a brand into its orbit, the evaluation process is ongoing, so as to hold it accountable. Plus, the rubric is continuously updated, so as to reflect a sharp and current understanding of fashion sustainability, Kannan assures. In addition to its e-commerce presence, Toward will also open its first brick-and-mortar store on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood later this month. If the LA store performs as they hope, Kannan says Toward will expand to other locations on the West Coast and then head east.
You can shop a few of TZR’s favorite pieces from Toward, ahead. Though, you should be aware, the Toward team has put in place a purchase cap of 12 orders per year in order to help consumers shop consciously.
We at TZR only include products that have been independently selected by our editors. We may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.