24 Jan 2018
Tel Aviv, Israel
Sustainable Textiles & Clothing

A few years ago, Daniella Zakon tried to do some online shopping. She was not hunting for bargains on big brand websites — the 20-something was searching for sustainable fashion. Unfortunately, she was disappointed by a lack of variety and options. “I found blogs and forums on the topic, but no retailers or brands,” Zakon says. “Then I realized there are millions of people looking for the same thing.”

An American marine biology graduate studying for her master’s in environmental studies and business in Tel Aviv, Zakon had spent her entire life close to marine life and nature. During her degree, she researched how various industries affect the ocean. That is when she discovered the fashion industry’s dirty secret: it accounts for an estimated one-fifth of all industrial water pollution. The clothes on her back were killing the ocean life she loved.

“Before that, I thought I was really sustainable,” Zakon recalls. “I studied the environment, biked to school, and bought organic. It never dawned on me to think about my clothing. The second I learned about the pollution, I was converted and convinced.”

Introducing Marrakesh:

Zakon’s new e-commerce platform, Marrakesh, is the antidote to that discovery.

Named after the Marrakesh Agreement of 1994, in which 124 nations agreed to achieve greater transparency in global trade, the online shopping platform is similar to other e-marketplaces such as Etsy.

Sustainable brands creating clothing, accessories, and home decor can market and sell their creations through the platform, which, in turn, becomes a one-stop shop for sustainable consumers. “You have customers who want to vote with their wallets and buy more sustainable products,” Zakon says of the platform. “That is how Marrakesh really began.”

In January 2017, Zakon brought on Co-founder Richard Rubenstein. Originally from South Africa, Rubenstein brought the business know-how of launching and consulting dozens of startups. Interested in learning more about sustainable fashion, he had seen the impact of surplus clothing — much of which ends up dumped in markets across the African content.

The two co-founders have spent much of the past year recruiting sustainable brands to be part of the Marrakesh community. The platform launched in beta at the start of 2018, and 500 brands are expected to be onboarded in the next six months. So far, most are American and Israeli designers, but Zakon says they are actively pursuing creatives from around the Mediterranean and the world.

Products already on Marrakesh include sunglasses made from wood and bamboo, colorful bow ties sewn by a women’s cooperative in Kenya, and various bags and clutches crafted from all-natural merino wool.

Each of Marrakesh’s brands must meet certain ethical and sustainability requirements — details outlined on the site’s Eco-Benefits page. “They enter information about their materials, supply chains, employee treatment, and more,” Zakon explains. “We then have an algorithm that awards products an overall environmental impact score.”

The initial target market is American millennials, but Zakon acknowledges their shoppers will likely come from a broader background. More than 850 people have already signed up to shop on the platform.

Creating ease of use for small brands:

Selling online is a big step for small- and medium-sized brands. Lack of time and already small profit margins are two of the major limitations in taking the e-commerce step.

To address the latter, joining Marrakesh is fee-free, and the platform makes money through a 5% sales commission — less than other e-commerce platforms. Eventually, the Marrakesh team plans to offer a subscription package of business-to-business services for its brands, including help getting eco-certifications, storytelling, and other areas.

To save brands time, the Marrakesh team created a one-click integration feature, where entrepreneurs can take the full inventory of another online shopping site and load it onto the platform with a single click. “Brands are already spending so much money and resources on putting together an ethical, sustainable supply chain. We want to save them headaches in any way possible,” Zakon explains.

Another brand-centric feature of Marrakesh is its unique model, where brands earn ownership of the platform when they reach certain milestones, such as onboarding existing customers, or sharing the site on social media. “We want this to reduce competition between brands,” Rubenstein says. “It’s like a digital cooperative, where we’re not the only ones benefiting,” Zakon adds. The equity model is still being discussed by Marrakesh’s lawyers, and is something the company plans to launch in March.

Unlike e-commerce companies like Amazon that buy and ship inventory from giant warehouses worldwide, Marrakesh is solely a platform for purchase. Customers go online, select and buy a product, and each individual brand is responsible for managing shipping and fulfillment. So far, Marrakesh accepts PayPal payments, but plans to expand its options in the future for companies and customers in countries that cannot access the service.

Incubation within Israel:

Despite its startup status, Marrakesh is already gaining recognition in Israel. The platform was incubated at TheHive in Tel Aviv, where it won first prize in its 2017 accelerator competition.

“We’re testing all the time, and have already pivoted our model twice,” Rubenstein says of Marrakesh’s startup process. “We are growing fast, but don’t want to go too quickly and dilute the brands that are already on our platform.”

During that growth period, Zakon wants to emphasize that things will not always be perfect, and that they are learning as they go. “We’re doing this so everyone in the community can benefit, and so we can prove that sustainability can be a good business model,” she says. “If we come together on one platform, our values really can be amplified.”

 

Find Marrakesh through their website, their Facebook, or by following them on Instagram.

Images: Courtesy of Marrakesh. Cover photo courtesy of Talale’s Jeweley.

Hilary is a journalist, photographer, and maker of things. She loves working with entrepreneurs to share their stories and has done so around the world.Hilary Duff
New e-commerce platform, Marrakesh, is the Etsy of sustainable shopping | The Switchers
Marrakesh Sustainable Textiles & Clothing
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