Do you know the things you own like the back of your hand? Where they came from, what they’re made of, and if their makers were compensated for their labour? If you don’t, online retailer WOMB says it’s time to start asking questions.
In Hong Kong, where trends come and go in the blink of an eye, online retailer WOMB is a breath of fresh air. Founded to bring brands with ethical production methods and design to the market, the startup is all about conscious consumerism. Hailing from Poland, co-founders Kasia Galak and Maria Grzywacz bid farewell to their jobs in Beijing’s 798 Art District after a spontaneous encounter and a little stalking on LinkedIn, establishing WOMB in 2017 with the sole goal of educating buyers about making socially responsible purchases. For them, it’s as important that consumers check the manufacturing label on a pair of pants as they might the nutrition label on a bag of chips.
Essentially an incubator for ecological, ethical, and cruelty-free products, WOMB was started in Hong Kong after the co-founders played with a myriad of different ideas that might help turn their dual passion for sustainability into profitable full-time jobs. Their backgrounds in contemporary art had made them feel stuck in a system that created beautiful works with no functional purpose. “It doesn’t bring you a lot of satisfaction,” Kasia says, “because you see how vanity works and how you’re actually supporting a system that doesn’t do anything good and does a lot of bad at the same time.”
Thus, WOMB was conceived to serve as a platform for beautiful and functional things that bypassed the creation of more waste. They chose the name specifically to have a feminine flair immersed in their brand, as well as for its representation as a place for growth. Developing their business came with its challenges. First up, it wasn’t always easy to be as accountable as they were determined to be. With local Hong Kong production “close to zero,” many items they found had been outsourced to China, a place that lacks transparency in production. On top of that, WOMB’s consciously-made products often blended in with the plethora of readily available items in Hong Kong, a concrete jungle of mass consumerism.
To combat this, they focused on their concept and editorial, explaining their case as much as providing products that fit it. It’s a strategy that’s been fruitful, catching the eye of Hong Kong retailer Lane Crawford. “We have people reaching out to us wanting to collaborate because of what we stand for, representing who we are, and not necessarily wanting to show our products, which we think is very interesting and probably points out the fact that the market is just overly saturated with stuff,” says Maria.
Following on, the duo intends to engage with as many people as possible, not just through consumption, but with genuine conversation, too. The message of making conscious choices is a universal one, so they hope to expand WOMB to other locations, especially in Europe. “We want WOMB to be fluid, movable and universal,” Maria says. “Our five-year plan is to make WOMB stable enough to become an entity, a placeless entity, but still a universal one.”