Dismal working conditions have long plagued the global fashion industry, with women who make the clothes that other women wear suffering from low (or no) wages, long hours, and even physical and sexual abuse, for major brands like H&M and Zara.
Amsterdam-based Project Cece is setting out to make ethical fashion more accessible to consumers. Founded in 2017, Project Cece uses an online aggregator to collect products from sustainable clothing brands, big and small, to help shoppers make fair choices easily.
“The market for fair fashion is characterized by small, relatively unknown brands and shoppers that are struggling to find them,” said Project Cece co-founder Noor Veenhoven.
The startup is active in Netherlands and Germany, and has just raised a funding round from ASIF Ventures, a student-run VC that invests in young and student entrepreneurs. With the new funding, Project Cece is now gearing up to launch in the United Kingdom.
Noor Veenhoven co-founded Project Cece along with sisters Melissa and Marcella Wijngaarden while they were studying, with one co-founder still wrapping up her PhD. Until now, the team has bootstrapped the company. Surviving off of sales commissions and part-time jobs, they built the backend technology and a wide network of brands. Two years later, Project Cece now features over 529 brands and more than 20,000 items, offering shoppers the largest selection of sustainable fair fashion available online.
“It’s not every day you see a company like Project Cece,” said Saskia Verstege, Director of ASIF Ventures. “This marks the second ever investment from ASIF Ventures, the student-run venture capital fund. Run by students and funded by both public and private parties, namely the University of Amsterdam, Vrije Universiteit and various angel investors, ASIF invests exclusively in student and recent graduate startups.”
“This is what student entrepreneurship is all about,” added Verstege, “starting from nothing but a problem and the motivation to solve it. With no resources and limited know-how, the founders fought each step of the way to get here. We are excited to provide the first funding for Project Cece and help them grow even further.”
Project Cece is stepping into the fashion market at a time when consumer behavior is shifting.
“What we’re seeing across the board is that consumers are not as strictly driven by price,” said Veenhoven. “Increasingly, shoppers are putting their money where their values are. Price is out, impact is in.”
Consumers are becoming more conscious; considerations such as sustainability are increasingly critical factors in decision making. The shift towards value driven consumption will likely have a particularly large impact on the fashion industry, where the biggest brands are associated with “fast fashion.” A term first used to describe quickly moving designs from the runway to the mass market distribution, fast fashion is now connected to practices such as overconsumption and environmental waste. Giant brands like H&M or Primark sell cheap, often low-quality clothing items to the consumer, while leveraging scale, outsourced production, and global supply chains to keep costs as low as possible. These fashion giants, like brands in other sectors, are struggling to keep up with consumer demands for fair and sustainable products.
“Project Cece is solving the right problem at the right time,” said Verstege. “They make shopping according to your values efficient, easy, and enjoyable.”