In Ancient Greek, ēthikos means 'arising from habit' and 'morality’. For Abigail Tuscano (TCFS 2011), these concepts rang true and formed the cornerstone of her startup of the same name, as she seeks to encourage people to routinely choose ethical and sustainable fashion labels via a web platform, and rewards customers for shopping responsibly.
Abigail Tuscano discovered her passion for environmentalism in 2017 while doing cleanup scuba diving near her hometown in the Philippines. She understood the true cost of modern consumption when she saw thousands of fashion items underwater, covering corals and becoming shelters for fish. ‘This is a heartbreaking image, and it should not be a norm,’ she says. Local government seemed unconcerned about the environmental issues that fast fashion was creating, so Abigail decided to start by making changes herself, ultimately establishing the ethical fashion business ēthikos.
Though Abigail’s decision to adopt more environmentally sustainable lifestyle habits was made a number of years after she completed Foundation Studies, she sees her time at Trinity as an important cog that set the wheels in motion to start her business in 2020, as it opened her mind to new possibilities and people. She says that moving to Melbourne from a provincial Filipino town with a population of a thousand people changed her life as she immersed herself in different cultures and made lifelong friends. ‘Relationships – it’s not even friendships anymore – that I’ve built through Trinity were extremely valuable for me as a person,’ Abigail says.
The relationships she built at university also proved to be critical, as this is where she met her now business partner Ashwin Ramachandran.
Abigail returned to the Philippines for five years after university to work in her family’s logistics business. Overseeing ethical supply chain practices and enabling sustainability amongst local merchants in the ASEAN region, she was inspired to finally start her own journey in ethical entrepreneurship, drawing on her growing interest in environmentalism.
Abigail returned to Melbourne in 2018 to undertake a course in supply chain logistics, then joined forces with Ashwin to start ēthikos after winning the Entrepreneurial Ventures Bootcamp at the University of Melbourne in July 2020. Since then, her business team has participated in the Melbourne Accelerator Program’s Velocity 2020 cohort and Victoria University’s BETA planetary pre-accelerator.
Abigail and Ashwin are now growing ēthikos into a platform that supports and sells the wares of companies that share their values of ethicality, sustainability and transparency, and plant trees and support local communities when people buy through their website.
As a brand, ēthikos admits it is not perfect, and it is not trying to become so. ‘It's certainly hard to push for 100 per cent sustainability, especially since we acknowledge that consumption is an integral part of our lives’, the founders honestly mention on their website. But Abigail and Ashwin try to create the most impact they can, partnering with companies only after exploring their supply chain, ethicality and sustainability practices.
Currently ēthikos is focused on a Melbourne audience, but reaching the international market is one of Abigail’s goals for the coming years. ēthikos is on the right track: in less than a year the brand significantly increased its digital recognition via Australian influencers and publications in top world media like Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue Italy, Cosmopolitan and Glamour. However, it is the pedantry of how the founders choose brands to collaborate with that makes customers trust the platform.
Abigail and Ashwin consider themselves industry agnostics. Although their current primary focus is fashion, it is just a place to start and engage with partners. In the near future, when the ēthikos app is released, the company will enter other spheres like food and beverage, travel and the energy market, because ēthikos not only helps their partners get deeper insights about their customers, but also opens them up to a wider audience from different segments. ‘Sustainability is a journey; everyone is trying to take a step in the right direction, and I want to promote ethicality through positive messaging,’ says Abigail.
By Ivan Ilin