Avocado Store is an online platform for an environment-friendly lifestyle. Founded in 2010 by Philipp Gloeckler and Stephan Uhrenbacher, who both hail from Hamburg, the e-commerce firm now sells over 160,000 sustainable products by 700 distributors. Statista und Focus Business recently ranked the store a “Champion of Growth 2018“. Similar to a start-up, the Avocado Store beat 500 other companies and ranked 15th in the retail category (including mail order and e-commerce).
In terms of growth, Avocado now leads other formidable companies such as the Alnatura organic supermarket chain and Zalando, reports said. In late 2011, Mimi Sewalski, 37, took over operational management of the Avocado Store. Hamburg News spoke to her about sustainability requirements, stereotypes and sustainable growth.
Hamburg News: What makes the Avocado Store so special?
Mimi: We noticed a lot of everyday unclarity about sustainability. For this reason, the idea behind the Avocado Store is to create a point of contact for consumers. We present the product attractively and outline why it’s sustainable. If necessary, consumers can contact us for a talk. Regardless of fashion, furniture or cosmetics that have been produced without animal testing, vegan shoes and belts or innovative products, we want to be the the number one address for sustainable consumption. We act as both trendsetter and expert in that process. We want to take as many people as possible by the hand and show them how to make their consumer behaviour sustainable and without complications. My grandmother always said: “Those who buy cheap pay twice over.” And we notice that people are gradually changing their minds in favour of the good old things and are consuming more consciously.
Hamburg News: How did you start at the Avocado Store?
Mimi: I originally studied sociology and criminology and later gained experience at start-ups and in advertising and catering. As I had always taken a personal interest in sustainability, I quickly had a green” stamp” in terms of my career. Then in 2011, I met Philipp Gloeckler, one of Avocado Store’s founders at a fair in Hamburg focusing on sustainability. He was impressed by my network and hired me to generate products for his new online platform. After about six months, the founders turned to other projects and I found myself in the right time and place. In late 2011, I took over operative management and had a consultant by my side initially. I became Managing Director in 2013.
Hamburg News: How has the Avocado Store developed down through the years?
Mimi: Our growth has been very strong for a while now. At the same time, the market for sustainable products is growing enormously. We notice time and again more new and environment-friendly ideas. Both our range of products and the team is expanding. We now employ 29 people and sustainable personnel management is particularly important. Nearly all our employment contracts are open-ended and we are convinced that sustainability and growth can become compatible in the next two years. Many members of our team including the intern and management joined us because they wanted something other than work. We personify the philosophy of the environment-friendly market. Some wear fair trade fashion while others are involved in Greenpeace. I drive an electric scooter and grow my own vegetables in a field in Norderstedt.
Hamburg News: How important is Hamburg as Avocado Store’s hometown?
Mimi: I like the Hamburg network very much. There are all kinds of sustainable firms here such as Lemonaid, Viva con Agua, the Recolution fashion label as well as many smaller companies such as Lockengelöt upcycling or the Glore eco fashion store. Plus Hamburg’s sustainability scene is very pronounced as indicated by influencers who focus on a conscious lifestyle. And do not forget Hamburg’s proximity to Berlin. The sustainability scenes in both cities interact and benefit from each other.
Hamburg News: How do you ensure that the products live up to a sustainable approach?
Mimi: We have developed ten sustainability criteria, at least one of which must have been met, with experts and have handpicked all the products accordingly. The user can also filter products on our market according to these criteria e.g. recycled or recyclable, saves CO₂, fair and social or Made in Germany. The cradle-to-cradle principle is the supreme discipline and pays tribute to the vision of an economy free of waste. Products that have been awarded this quality mark are made of natural ingredients, which ideally are totally compostable. The reusable fresh towel, for instance, is made of hemp fibres, bio cotton and beeswax – an alternative to pollutants like plastc or aluminium cling film.
Yet, “sustainability“ remains a very vague concept. There is neither black nor white – no yes or no. The textile industry is guided by recognised seals such as GOTS or IVN. But there are exceptions and we add products by distributors without expensive seals, but that are often difficult to source, if they convince us.
Hamburg News: How does the Avocado Store deal with stereotypes and prejudice?
Mimi: We face two main stereotypes repeatedly. According to the first, we have only eco fashion and everything is expensive. Our webpage and social media presentations focus mainly on the cool factor of our products. Secondly, we send a message that the products are sustainable. That works far better than pointing a finger. Also, many products are not necessarily more expensive and are often more durable than cheap, conventional versions.
Hamburg News: What should the future bring?
Mimi: We hope that more people dare to try out sustainable products and those by small labels. I recommend everyday products like socks and lingerie. Everyday products show particularly well how eco fashion performs in terms of quality and materials. We hope that people become more open and ask: Where do the things that I consume come from? I believe Hamburg and the whole world would then be a step farther along. We would then perhaps relearn the value of things and shop more consciously.
Interview by Sarah Bischoff