Deciding what to wear for a night out or event and staring at your wardrobe with little inspiration is a feeling we have probably all felt. It’s the society in which we live.
You can’t wear the same thing twice, and you have to stay on top of the latest trends. It’s an unsustainable industry, with £140 million worth of clothing heading to landfill each year .
But there are alternatives some of which we wrote about recently in our post titled ‘Sustainable Fashion: 5 Easy Steps Towards An Eco Friendly Wardrobe‘.
Swapping and sharing clothes is so common among friends and family members. Why should this not be extended further to give life to our old and unwanted clothes, while preventing the need to buy new? Enter sustainable fashion platform Nuw.
As many workspaces are still confined front rooms, this month, I had a Zoom call with Alex Farley-Wood. Alex is the communications manager of Nuw – a sustainable fashion platform who are doing precisely that, providing a “big shared wardrobe for everybody!”
Developed in 2017, Nuw is a sustainable fashion alternative designed around borrowing and swapping clothes. Today, they have grown into a nationwide app allowing a completely open relationship with your wardrobe!
As Alex explains, this means that “you can borrow and have a nice fling with an item. You can lend things out that you love but with which you aren’t spending much quality time. Or, swap, where you consciously uncouple and part ways with your clothes…”
So, how did Nuw come about as a sustainable fashion platform?
It started when our founders – Aisling Byrne and Ali Kelly – went on a volunteering trip to India and experienced first-hand the devastating things happening on that side of the world to do with the fashion industry.
I think many people can relate to it, they love fashion and go to Topshop, buy a random top, and have no thought about it. But, it was seeing the back story behind that, the human rights violations and the environmental impact of the fashion industry that was just shocking.
When they came back to the UK, they thought and realised they both enjoy fashion but didn’t know what to do now.
How can they enjoy it knowing all of this is going on? – there is no easy solution. There are sustainable fashion brands that are doing amazing things but can be very expensive.
And as students, who had just finished University, they realised this was not available for them. So, they went back to the old school way of borrowing from a friend and thought about bringing this onto a more massive scale.
It kicked off with a trial at Trinity College Dublin where they did that exact thing. If someone had a ball dress they were not going to use or wear this year, then list it on Nuw and see who wants to borrow and swap, and it was very successful – it proved that the idea worked and it’s just grown since then!”
How big is it today?
Well, it’s grown! …When you want to make an accessible platform, it’s easy to manage when it’s small. But to make it accessible to everyone, you’ve got to reach as many places as possible and be available to as many people as possible.
We did the trial in Dublin. Then we launched an App, which was available across three University cities – London Dublin and Cambridge. Then at the beginning of July, we went nationwide. So, things got big, really quick!”
It’s such a good idea, so many times when I’ve been on a night out I’ve gone to my friends to see if they have a top I can borrow!
Even if it’s not to save money or because you are worried about the environment, it is just something we’ve all naturally done.
You borrow from your big sister or your Mum’s old jacket. There’s always been that option. Nuw is just making that bigger.”
Exactly! And this is enforced through your new Swap feature that launched in July, tell me about that.
Yes! That is going back to the old roots of Nuw. It originally started as a swap shop where you would get a token for every item you bring in to exchange for something on the way out – and it is just that but in an app.
You upload pieces; they go through an approval process where we grade it silver or gold. And you are given a token that reflects that, which you can spend on the app.
This way, it’s a lot more flexible, and it is inspiring to see a lot of people getting on board.”
Do you think it’s opened people’s eyes to how bad fast fashion is?
Yes, we want to be a brutally honest best friend – this stuff is happening. It’s not great, but this is what we’re going to do about it.
I think the pay up campaign that has happened as a result of COVID-19 has shocked a lot of people, and it is a horrible shame it is happening, but it is essential that people realize what is going on. We’ve always put education as a crucial part of Nuw.
So, I think being able to share and educate people about this but know that it is not the end of the world. There are things we can do that are manageable to make things a little bit better in our own way and still enjoy fashion without it costing people or the planet as much as it is.”
So, to launch the app at the beginning of this year was perfect timing because everyone was stuck home, and not going into shops has meant more time to invest in fashion. Did you see this helped with Nuw?
It was definitely interesting because we ultimately began as a borrowing platform for events and parties.
Of course, when the Corona Virus came around, nobody was going to events, and things got cancelled. So, we did come to a bit of a standstill. But, we used this time to change things and grow behind the scenes to come out of this strong.
In that time, we developed partnerships with UPS and Parcel Motel. Which means that people can now drop off things between access points; it doesn’t have to be meeting up in person. We can still share in a low carbon way across the country.
We developed the swap feature. Depop saw a 90% increase between March and April of users just selling on their site.
People had the time to go through what they already had. People were turning away from fashion a bit more because of all the pay up campaign issues.
With that, we realized people weren’t borrowing anymore as there was no need, so the swap feature came around. Now people are swapping because it’s such a long time to sit staring at your wardrobe, realizing you don’t like anything anymore.”
It’s no wonder, with sorting through your wardrobe being one of the top suggestions when looking for things to fill your time with during lockdown. Resulting in Brits discarding “67 million items of clothing as part of their lockdown clearouts”  – many of which could have been rehomed via a sustainable fashion platform.
On the topic of sustainability – do you think the fashion industry will ever fully be sustainable, or will there always be a downside?
I think the unfortunate thing about the fashion industry is that it has fallen into a buy, wear dispose of mentality.
We see it so often with so many things. But the good thing is that you have documentaries like True Cost and movements like the Fashion Revolution.
They are pedalling so much and trying to educate people about exactly what is happening and what we can do to make a change. Of which so many people are unaware.
I think it’s a slow and steady shift towards more a sustainable fashion industry. I know there is a good level of greenwashing still going on within the industry, but it is reassurance that they are trying, even if it’s not quite there.
This time has been a good opportunity for everyone to slow down and reflect. It’s nice to see so many more sustainable fashion initiatives coming through and taking centre stage.
I think we are all extremely hopeful. It’s slow to change, but the ideal situation would be that sustainable fashion is the norm, and we don’t have to worry about working conditions or the environmental impact.”
What is next for Nuw?
It has been a hectic few months. Coming up, we have started talking with UPS and Parcel Motel so that everything will be a lot smoother for sharing.
We’ve also just partnered with Lost Stock, who are taking abandoned stock and selling it on to support a garment worker for a week.
So, what we’re doing is because you can’t return these things, we are saving them from landfills. This isn’t a get out of jail free card; this is us fighting to give garment workers the recognition they deserve and the pay they are owed.”
Sustainable fashion platform roundup
Today, as they continue to grow, the Nuw team is scattered across the nation, from Dublin to London. They are working hard to show us that our relationship with fashion can change. By sharing what is already out there and letting our clothes have as much use as they deserve.
Download the Nuw app on the link below or follow their Instagram for all their latest updates.
Android devices – click here
Apple devices – click here
Interview by Rosie Clack-Walsh