This week, WWD got the chance to catch up with Ali & Aisling, founders of Nu. The Dublin based group runs a host of events in the city aimed at educating shoppers on the harms of fast fashion, and creating awareness around the opportunities that lie in the success of more ethical shopping methods. And they don’t just impart fashion related wisdom, their events are always a buzz too!
First of all, thanks for taking the time to chat to us, how are you guys doing today?
Hey – thanks for getting in touch- we are big fans of When We Dip and are thrilled you enjoyed our swap-shop!
We know you guys are pals from college, but how did Nu. come about?
It’s been a pretty long journey actually! We’ve both always loved fashion but the more we learnt about the industry – the less we could justify our consumption habits. The idea for Nu. really started in 2013 when myself and Aisling travelled to India. The experience of meeting garment workers and seeing some of the environmental consequences of the fashion industry had a major impact on us and definitely inspired us to think about the way we consume.
However, in the face of such a truly global problem and a huge industry – it took us a really long time to work out where to start. We knew we were angry and passionate, but it took a while to get over that feeling of powerlessness and start channelling our frustration into something productive. We spent a lot of long days talking about different ways of tackling the issue, and many long nights doing research into different solutions.
Nu. as an idea has been an evolving process over the last year. We’ve had a lot of collaboration, we’ve grown the team and we’ve talked a lot to other individuals and organisations working in the ethical fashion world. We really wanted to understand the root of the problem and come up with a viable, all-encompassing solution – so it took a while before we worked out the direction we wanted to go in!
We popped into your last swap shop in Wigwam, at which shoppers can bring along their old threads and exchange them for some new goodies (we found a few gems ourselves), how has the response been? Is there a growing scene for this kind of fashion in Dublin?
The swap-shops have been growing every month since we’ve launched – as has the quality of the clothes people are bringing to swap. It’s really cool actually – we are getting a lot of returning customers who treat the swap-shops as a kind of lending wardrobe. A lot of people borrow clothes – wear them for a month and then swap them back in at the next swap! We really encourage this – it means our customers still have a constantly changing look – without creating loads of waste!
We really believe there is a space for more alternative shopping events in Dublin. People are becoming more environmentally conscious and more adventurous with their style. We did a lot of market research and what we’ve found is that many shoppers are getting tired of the typical shopping experience. There’s nothing fun or exciting about wandering around a soulless shopping centre whilst being bombarded by advertisements! People want their own individual style and they want an enjoyable experience. Most seem fed up with the fashion industry in general – we’re constantly being told to buy new things, the high street doesn’t really cater for different body shapes and fast-fashion garments fall apart. People feel like they are being duped.
Nu. really believes that we need to shift the conversation and dramatically change the way we shop. Fashion and shopping should be a fun and social experience! Our community events have good music, you can get a nice coffee or cocktail from Wigwam and you can sit and chat with friends. We usually run up-cycling tutorials so our members can learn how to rework and reshape their clothes, and you can chat to one of the Nu. volunteers about our ethical shopping list!
In terms of alternative shopping experiences, the vintage scene in Dublin is great, and definitely improving– but I think there is a gap for just swapping normal clothes, giving clothes a new lease of life and doing so in a fun laid back environment.
We know you guys are in the early stages of development, but we’re really excited to see where Nu. goes, so what’s next? Can we expect a Nu. pop up shop around town? Are there dreams of going beyond Dublin?
We have big plans to come! We run our monthly swap-shops in Wigwam, but the next step in the Nu. revolution is the development of the Nu. app.
The app will create an online sharing economy for our customers so they can get the full use out of their closet! The Nu. app will allow our users to create a public wardrobe by uploading their wardrobe. People can browse each other’s wardrobes, connect with other wardrobes, share and swap with friends, with people nearby and the wider Nu. community. We’ve nearly finished our trial app and will be rolling that out hopefully in the New year. So watch this space! We think that digitising the experience will open up a new shopping experience and will be a way of dramatically reducing our consumption, keeping clothes out of landfill and extending the life-cycle of clothes – whilst allowing people to enjoy a changing look.
We are also working on creating the “Ethical Library” – this will be a collection of the best ethical brands and sustainably made pieces. We believe in the circular economy and sustainable means of production – there are some amazing brands and designers working in this area. Our aim is to support these brands and make their designs easily accessible to everyone! Users will pay a membership subscription and will be able to swap these pieces in and out – just like a library but for sustainable fashion! We’re super excited about this and will be running a trial for this in the coming months too!
We picked up some tips on how to avoid fast fashion at the swap shop, but can you give our readers a few recommendations on how to shop more ethically? Are there any brands on your radar that are currently adopting these values?
First we generally recommend our customers to reduce their shopping and increase their sharing and repairing! We did a blog with a very simple ethical “shopping check list” which some of your readers may be interested in!
If you are investing in a new piece – there are some amazing brands out there! Using sustainable materials and who have a great ethos at the centre of their brand. In Ireland, there’s a growing ethical scene- check out WeAreIslanders, GROWN and FreshCuts. Outside of Ireland – I’d recommend People Tree (it’s very affordable), Zady or Birdsong (they are also trying to change image of the fashion industry). A personal favourite is also Reformation who use a “carbon scale” that shows you the environmental impact of each item.
Before I invest in a piece I usually check out the shop on Project Just– it has a “Wiki” for brands – they’ll give you the low down on the pros and cons, the transparency, labour conditions and environmental impact.
What do you guys perceive as the biggest challenge standing up against the success of ethical fashion? Shoppers might say that fairware or organic labels are too expensive. How do you respond to that?
There are two major challenges we have to overcome. First, shoppers love fast-fashion because it’s convenient, super cheap and easy to find. Shopping ethical is difficult and is perceived to be expensive. There is, of course, a certain amount of apathy. Really people should think harder about the purchases they make – but many feel they don’t really have the time. Nu.’s aim is to make it easier and more beneficial to choose ethical over fast-fashion.
Second, people don’t always have the right information – even the most conscious shoppers sometimes justify their fast-fashion purchases based on the CSR programmes they see on the website. Some brands are really cleaning up their act, and this should be encouraged – but there is a lot of greenwashing. ‘Greenwashing’ is the idea that a brand invests more time and money into making themselves appear “green” than actually improving its environmental impact. Because of this, even if you are motivated and want to change – its hard to know how to make the first step.
I think it’s unfair to say that Fairwear and Organic are too expensive. Fast-fashion isn’t cheap – it’s just the price is being paid further up the producer chain by the workers and the planet. The idea that ethical means unaffordable is quite simply false. There are reasonably priced brands (People tree for example is very reasonable). The more we invest in these brands and designers, the more affordable they can become as they scale. Fast-fashion may seem cheap if you look at the price tag of just one item, but fast fashion encourages you to buy things you don’t need – just because they are on sale. Fast-fashion customers buy lots of poor quality clothes that fall apart after just a few washes. If you are spending a little more, and investing in an ethically made item – you will likely value it more and look after it, it will be made to last and you will most likely end up spending less overall!
Obviously, Dublin’s vintage scene is thriving at the moment, but oftentimes it can still be quite expensive. Do you think Nu. could be the answer to our affordable second hand needs?
Yes, vintage can sometimes be over-priced. But I do think it’s important to weigh up the real cost when you buy a fast-fashion item in comparison. Our consumer choices are a signal to the industry – if we reject unfair and unsustainable practices -they will change. Whereas, if we continue to fund fast-fashion nothing will change – it’s that simple!
What Nu. is trying to do is to allow ethical and sustainable consumer choices compete with the convenience and affordability of the high-street. By sharing and swapping clothes – either through the swap-shops or the up-coming app – we allow our customers access to a vast publicly available wardrobe for a tiny price. Our “ethical library” will allow our members to rent the most beautiful pieces in and out – all with the peace of mind that the garments have been produced ethically and sustainably, and that your money will be going to innovative forward-thinking designers.
As you know we’re big into our music, and Wigwam was pretty buzzy with some classic tracks at your last event, can you give us your top five shopping tunes of the moment?
Our swap-shops are meant to be a fun communal experience – so we try to play lighthearted tunes that get people bopping and swapping. We sometimes pick a theme, either disco, funk or sometimes 50s Diner Classics – anything and everything really!
But if we have to pick specific tunes our top 5 tunes at the moment would be:
- Vulfpeck – Animal Spirits (the new album came out and negative emotions are now a thing of the past).
- AE Mak – “I can feel it in my bones” (Home grown and high-energy Irish talent)
- Christine and the Queens – “Tilted” (song of the summer – but we’re still playing it on repeat).
- Fight Like Apes – “Something Global” (since the band have announced they’re breaking up Nu. has been in mourning – they’ll definitely be getting a spin at the next swap-shop)
- Sylvan Esso “HSKT” (These guys have to bring out a new album soon – but until then this banger will remain at a central position on our playlist)
If our chat with Ali & Aisling has sparked your interest in the collective or you want to learn more about going ethical, make sure to check out Nu. here, and see how you can get involved!