Collectively: Shopping guilt is on its last legs. A smart new browser plug-in called Balu (soon to become an app) has teamed up with a host of ethical brands whose tees, jeans and dresses it recommends. Holly Royce catches up with its founder, 31-year-old Londoner Brian Spurling

Hi Brian. I want shop more ethically. How does Balu make this easier?

Balu aims to complement whatever platform you are running on. It will integrate with your normal shopping and search process. When you do a Google search, an Amazon search, an ASOS search, a Balu plug-in will pop up on top of the search results. You can then browse the ethical alternatives with minimal effort.

What makes the brands Balu suggests different?

Think tiny start-up that has just been set up and is making shoes from sustainable materials. It employs people who have overcome serious hardship. Maybe the company provides scholarships for their children. So to answer your question, some examples are Birdsong and Brothers We Stand. Balu already has more than 70 cool brands on board and we’re adding every day.

Making a point: Publicity shot for Brothers We Stand

Making a point: Publicity shot for Brothers We Stand

And Balu’s done the research.

Yeah, that’s exactly it. My background is data analytics and consultancy. I quit about a year and a half ago.  When I was looking at the various ethical apps, online sites and magazines… they were all knowledge-based and kind of static.

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You have to do your research before you use the app to buy the right product. And that for me, really misses the point which is: the ethical consumer’s dilemma.

My thinking is the main two barriers to ethical shopping are price and ease-of-access availability, you know, busy lives…

Will the alternatives look as good as big brands?

Fashion is really stamped by that problem. I have personally have seen some great ethical fashion brands but a lot of people worry about how their ethical fashion looks compared to the rest of it. I don’t think it should be a problem. I think that price is going to be more of a problem than how it looks. But you know, it’s something that I hope the ethical fashion industry is changing. I see myself  as a small part of that change by making those brands more accessible to people.

Women's undergarments: By Balu partner Lula Huva

Women’s undergarments from Lula Huva: recommended by Balu

What about the problem that ethical alternatives are more expensive.

I am convinced that’s not the case, it’s just a preconceived notion. Buy a good quality product less often and you save money overall.

Obviously people enjoy shopping. They enjoy the frequency with which their wardrobes recycle themselves. So that isn’t just a question of changing what you buy, it’s a whole “change your mindset and you can change the attitude of the fashion industry” thing.

How do we shop ethically?

You can’t ever really rely on one organisation whether it’s Balu, Ethical Consumer, or Google to tell you who is the best brand. We are still responsible for our own decisions when we buy.

Ethical Consumer, for example, does its very best to give an answer to which is the best brand to buy in any particular industry. I think they are doing a fantastic job. It’s a very, very difficult task. But I don’t want Balu to go that way.

So how can we muck in with Balu?

Very easy answer to that. Download it. Get it installed. Anybody who thinks the idea is good and would like to see it work, even if they already shop ethically as they possibly can; just download the plug-in and see how it behaves as they surf the internet. And just get in touch with me and let me know how it works with them, I couldn’t ask much more than that.

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