Yesterday I took a trip to Many Studios in Glasgow where women accessories brand Nu Blvck is based to shoot some street style looks with photographer Holly May Wesley alongside Hannah Louise Baxter (the designer of Nu Blvck’s latest collection, Icon Revived) and famed Scottish fashion stylist Kirsty Halliday of I’ll Be Your Mirror. In the freezing cold Barrowlands we had an absolute ball taking pictures with the gorgeous bags and scarves, which of course ended up being a prosecco party back at the office. I can’t wait to see the results, but for now I thought I’d post a little bit of the conversation I had with Rebecca Flory and Andrew Vincent, founders of Nu Blvck, focussing on their sustainable business model, and their plans to change the fashion industry for good.
How does your business model differ from the standard way the fashion industry operates?
RF Our business model is completely different from any fashion brand we know, and thats what sets us apart. Constantly working with new designers means we’re always going to have something different for people. Its a seasonal cycle with regular new collections but with a slow fashion philosophy.
AV The traditional retail model would go from design to production in a very corporate, detached kind of way. The result of that is large stockpiles of clothing, made cheaply as each collection is a risk, so it can then be heavily discounted when it doesn’t sell. This produces masses of waste in the supply chain, with clothing ending up in landfill as it no longer holds any value. A lot of the cheap clothing that is being produced is encouraging people to buy more and more instead of buying better. Our model flips this on its head by not making anything until its purchased, a demand-based model which involves the customer in the design process to an extent, eliminating waste products.
How important is transparency in the supply chain, and is that something today’s customers demand?
AV Massively so, people are demanding transparency, throwing out the old model and bringing in the new. I guess every trend in nearly every market, even thing like banking, shows that people, particularly the millennial consumer, want to have information from around the world at their fingertips. In the information age people finally want to know the origins of their £2 Primark t-shirt. The internet has definitely helped to bring about that change in attitudes, the world will become much smaller. Becca and I have travelled to and seen the squalor where these fast fashion products are made, we know what goes in to making something, and documentaries and films like True Cost are helping to highlight that, which was really the inspiration to start Nu Blvck.
What’s your opinion on ‘greenwashing’? (brands jumping on the hype of being sustainable and making claims just to appeal to a new market, not considering the actual environmental and social impact, such as H&M promoting their organic cotton collection while still continuing to use sweatshop labour)and is sustainability being hijacked?
RF I think big brands are realising that there is a shift in consumer perception and are adapting their business to suit that, whereas smaller businesses like ours are just genuinely trying to do things differently and make things better in the world, knowing that the consumers will follow. It wouldn’t be possible for companies like H&M and Zara to grow so rapidly without compromising the environment, but we definitely have ambitions to be a big brand, growing in a more sustainable way. To get to that level we would have to fundamentally change the way we operate; its a business choice based on values.
The traditional fashion cycle, trickle-down trends and retail models have changed dramatically in recent years. Do you think that fashion weeks and the seasonal cycle still apply today?
RF Because fashion is so global now and people buy online from all around the world with different climates and cultures, so seasonal collections from big brands are not really relevant anymore. In terms of the see-now-buy-now thing, I actually had a twitter argument with Susie Bubble over this, because I didn’t think that Burberry’s new model was actually that revolutionary, it just makes more sense.
AV Every brand makes something, and then tries to sell us it instantly. Like, welcome to the 21st century! Fashion is very slow to innovate. What we are doing shouldn’t be unusual but it is. Going down to London fashion week, the elitism is just the oddest thing ever; 100 people sitting in a room deciding what the world wears, it shouldn’t be the case. What we’re doing is creating products in a collaborative way from the bottom up.
RF At the same time, trends are still relevant, and thats unlikely to change. Our current collection was completely conceptualised by Hannah (Baxter, the designer) but the colour palette and the stripes just happened to fit with current trends, so the products have been popular, especially the pastel pink leather grab bag. But trends aren’t the basis for the design, its quality. There is definitely a consumer trend at the moment of buying into ethical fashion, but this genuinely came from a place of wanting to recognise and celebrate independent, artisan craftsmanship. What does sustainability in fashion mean to you? AV We see ourselves as sustainable because we use only the highest possible quality of materials to produce products that people actually have demand for, made by skilled artisans who are paid a fair wage. Fast fashion in its current state is basically just enslaving working and killing craft, so we are trying to help bring it back to life, while building a community with connections between people in the industry, eventually worldwide. The world’s biggest resource is people at the end of the day, and I think thats lost a lot in other so-called sustainable brands. In Bangladesh the average garment worker is being paid about a quarter of a reasonable living wage, theres a real issue there. We want to operate as sustainably as we can but by creating collections that people want to buy, not because its sustainable but because of its great design; bridging that gap. Thats how you change the world!