Bright colours might be in, but fashion and glamour have a dark side, with textiles and accessories being a major contributor to environmental damage.
Today we speak with Aisling Byrne, co-founder of Nuw, a clothes-swapping app built on community ideals. We open the conversation by taking a look at Nuw’s inception, as Aisling details the characteristics of fast fashion and why it’s so important to adopt a new model of fashion.
Aisling then rips the sheet off and exposes a problem which hides in many of our cupboards. She goes on to explain the toxic creation process that goes into creating the 100 billion new pieces of fashion and glamour that are made every year, before touching on the broader impacts of this industry.
You’ll learn about the production methods behind cotton, silk and polyester, and how each has a consequence on water consumption as well as on chemical and plastic pollution.
We then look at the end of fashion and glamour’s lifecycle, as Aisling touches on landfills and supplies us with startling facts about donations and clothing charities. Yet, the future is bright, and it looks fabulous as well! Aisling shares simple solutions to this fashion crisis and forecasts what’s next for Nuw.
To hear more from Aisling, be sure to tune in with us today.
Aisling Byrne co-founded Nuw after travelling to India in 2013, where she experienced firsthand the devastating social and environmental impact of the fashion industry.
After stepping away from high street stores she created an accessible gateway to sustainable fashion; a social network designed to share the clothes in our wardrobes with people in your community.
She has expanded Nuw across the UK and Ireland, guest lectured at Trinity College Dublin and the National College of Art and Design and was listed as one of Ireland's 30 Under 30 in 2018.
“Nuw, is a social network that enables you to share and swap your clothes with members of a like-minded community.” — Aisling Byrne
Tune in to find out:
- Introducing today’s special guest, Aisling Byrne.
- A brief look at Aisling’s background and what inspired her to get into sustainable fashion.
- Aisling tells us the crux of her business and how it works.
- Hear about what triggered Aisling to create her app, Nuw.
- Take a look at the issues connected to the fashion industry.
- Get an understanding of fashion’s dark beginnings.
- Aisling tells us how her impact calculator works.
- The pros and cons associated with different fabrics.
- How sharing and/or swapping clothes can impact first-hand purchasing decisions.
- Aisling comments on fashion ending up in landfills and clothing donations.
- The challenges that come with clothing donations.
- What led to Aisling becoming an entrepreneur and the lessons she’s learned along the way.
- Why it has been so important for Aisling to take on as much feedback as possible.
- How Nuw operates as a clothes-swapping app and a community-building app.
- And much more!
“What’s difficult for so many people is that fashion is how we express ourselves. It’s hard to think that these beautiful pieces would have so many dark beginnings.” — Aisling Byrne
Links mentioned in this episode:
Read our follow up article:
Nuw: A sustainable, community-minded alternative to fast fashion
Update: Re the statement that “stat is that fashion is responsible for more carbon emissions each year than international flights and maritime shipping combined”. It has been pointed out to us that this may be an inaccurate comparison. This does not in anyway detract from the amazing work that Nuw are doing, or the importance of tacking the climate impact of the fashion industry. However, we thought it worth acknowledging that it is also important to get our data right. More on our thoughts on this here.
[0:00:05.6] BOK: Welcome back to Happy Porch Radio, this season as you know, we’re talking about the circular economy and all things digital. In this episode, we meet Aisling Byrne. Aisling co founded Nuw, after traveling to India in 2013 where she experienced first-hand, devastating social and environmental impact of the fashion industry. After stepping away from the high street store she created an accessible gateway to sustainable fashion, a social network designed to share the clothes and our wardrobes with people in our community, and she has now expanded Nuw across the UK and Ireland.
Aisling was also listed as one of Ireland’s 30 under 30 in 2018. That was one of my favourite stories of a start-up and how Aisling I think really articulated really well, the process and the right way to take an idea and her experience of taking an idea and how to solve the problem coming out.
[0:01:01.2] EMILY: Yeah, I loved her story of entrepreneurship, she seems to be approaching it in a really kind of community driven way which perhaps comes from the idea that she never really saw herself as an entrepreneur in the first place. But I think it works specifically so well with this solution because it is about community and it’s very local solution to a global problem, in a sense which is kind of bringing that in touch back home to all of us as individual consumers.
[0:01:33.8] BOK: Absolutely. Aisling talked for knowledge and be about some of the problems both at the start of the chain, linear chain of this post stash in the end and some of those, some of the dark and I think it really is dark and evil on both ends of those scales, I don’t think that’s too strong a term and it just fills me with anger and frustration and so it was really enjoyable then to hear somebody like Aisling who is talking about how she is working to solve that problem.
In the context of the digital sector, I think there’s so much, sort of so many hooks in that conversation to think about how we can fit in so there’s the entrepreneurial story of Aisling very clearly articulated and how to get involved in a positive way to solving some of our biggest problems. There’s also then the same mindset of both being part of now, she built a team and built the part of the team of others who are I guess, servicing and working with people who are solving the problem. There’s so many so much, but in her story, so much rest way that it’s just making it.
[0:02:43.0] EMILY: Yeah, as always, I could have talked to her for another hour and a half I think. Because there is so much in this, even though it seems like fundamentally a simple solution and something that she herself said she was already doing before she set up new, this was not a brand new idea that came to it, this is just building on practices that she was already doing with her friends and family and I think that usually, or often, I suppose, those are the best ideas to then building to bigger community-led businesses and then as we say so often, in this season, the technology becomes just a kind of tool to make that possible in the 21st century.
It’s really driven by the people who are involved in it and their values.
[0:03:33.1] BOK: Absolutely, yes. Without any further ado, let’s meet Aishling.
[0:03:43.3] AB: Hi, I am Aisling Byrne, I’m the founder of Nuw, it’s a social network to be able to share and swap your clothes with members of a like minded community, it’s an app and also a real life community, I guess when we’re outside of lockdowns and it was born out of our want and also need to really move away from the fast fashion industry and the buy ware and dispose culture. It’s all about giving new life to the pieces that already existed our wardrobes and making those sustainable solutions, accessible and affordable to all.
[0:04:16.9] BOK: Wonderful and welcome to Happy Porch radio.
[0:04:18.6] AB: Thank you for having me.
[0:04:20.0] BOK: There is a number of angles I’m really looking forward to exploring with you and on is, I think a fun place to start is, I guess the kind of story about how you’ve reached this point of trying to solve or contribute the solutions to that problem you just described with fast fashion. What led you up to that point?
[0:04:40.1] AB: I think the first real trigger for me was in 2013, I spent some time in India. It was on a program called the serious educational development program and I was, I think like 1920 at the time and it was the same year the Rana Plaza building disaster, this is when a garment factory in dock in Bangladesh had collapsed and so, I guess, the centre of world news was around what actually goes on behind fashion and for me, it was the first time that I had really talked about clothes as anything other than on the shop floor and when they were in my wardrobe, even though I loved fashion and most definitely one of those people who would buy things every week, buy things for every event that was coming up and just never really think of the consequences behind it.
The summer when I was in India, most definitely an awakening moment to kind of the people who are behind making our clothes and the real true cost that goes into the fashion industry both environmentally and socially and when I came home, I had kind of just – I don’t know, just had a bit of a crisis of conscience of thinking, I’ve been complacent in this but also at the same time, I really didn’t know what was happening behind the scenes and it took me about two years to really think about this or really do anything about this and I missed a friend in college who had also been, had the same experience, she had been in Deli and I was in Kolkata at the time.
We both just got talking and realized that it was something that had really affected us but I think the frustration really came from this idea that fashion wasn’t great and it had huge consequences to it. We were very much buying into that industry.
I felt that we can have an impact but so many sustainable solutions felt, it’s either by bushes or inaccessible to us or fast fashion really was the go to alternative for so many people around us and we started thinking of loads of different ideas of how we could change this or what we could do and ultimately, we realized that we were actually solving this problem amongst our family and friends by just sharing clothes and with that, we were able to step out of this environment of buying brand new all of the time and still getting that feeling of having something that’s new to you but knowing that you’re really making use of the clothes that were already in our wardrobes.
I think what was so liberating about this, realization was really, we could do that what we already have, we didn’t need to become other people, we didn’t need to buy our way into sustainability and we could access that kind of network and those clothes and it was really from there that the idea for a wider social network to allow people to do this on a far bigger and more global scale to really take people away from fast fashion and give them an easily accessible alternative, came about and then I think it was quite a while from that point on where this idea and this passion really turned into a business and I think that was really driven by the fact that if we want to build this as a real solution, it would be good as a business, we would need the kind of capital to be able to do that.
We would need to be able to have control over building it to be able to kind of sustain running something like this. I think being an entrepreneur was never something that I had ever taught what happened, I studied music in college, I was very much into art and I guess that’s where my love of fashion came from as well but that kind of naturally happens and my journey as an entrepreneur has been social learning curve for me, I really didn’t know anything, any of the skills that I have now, really didn’t have before I started the business. Maybe aside from some leadership and just pure passion.
And trying to get people onboard with an idea but it definitely came from a place of frustration and feeling that there was some injustice and fashion could be better and about the world would be a little more dual fashion didn’t exist so we really have a very small window to get this right.
[0:08:36.7] EMILY: I love that story, I like it because it’s really personal to you but also, that idea of kind of bringing sustainability from the things that people are already doing and just recognizing that actually, this way is better than the kind of the fast fashion way that it seems to be the only alternative and somehow turning that into a bigger picture, how can we all do this together collaborative platform.
In terms of the actual kind of environmental impact of the fashion industry, is that something that you were aware of? Did you have a lot of background in that and can you tell us a bit more about those impacts specifically?
[0:09:18.8] AB: Yeah, the Ellen Macarthur Foundation has done quite a lot of research on this and also wrap which is a waste recycling action plan in the UK so fashion itself is responsible for more carbon emissions each year than international flights and maritime shipping combined. It’s really massively polluting industry. It is just – I guess you’re kind of looking at the growth of crops to actually make the textiles, the dying process, the chemicals used, the water usage and making these pieces and just over production in general, just how many pieces of clothing this, over a hundred billion pieces of clothing made each year or should I say pieces of fashion because it would include accessories.
I really didn’t know the impact behind it. I think what’s really difficult for so many people is fashion’s façade is so beautiful and glamorous and it sells you this lifestyle and it is you know, art, it’s how we express ourselves, it’s our second skin and it really allows us to kind of speak to society when we don’t use our own voice and so it’s really hard to think that these beautiful pieces would have such a kind of dark beginning in so many ways.
I just think it’s very hard for people to get their head around, you know, it’s a really opaque global supply chain purposely so that people really are kind of far and removed but it’s just very confusing, you know? Like people see clothes and they think, how does this affect water or why would this fireman polluting and it’s really just because you know, all products are made from natural resources, they just come from the ground and they’re eventually made into different things and it’s just the fact that fashion has made on such a wide scale and there’s so many chemicals that kind of need to go into that process but when you’re looking at how you kind of reduce that environmental impact, we wrapped their reports in 2013, if you share or swap clothes, you offset a minimum of 25% of the resources that would have been used in the making of a new garment. Now, that would be estimated to closer to 60 or 100% now.
Just because fast fashion has got so fast but there hasn’t been a full industry report to kind of back this up yet. But it is kind of great to know I guess in one sense that we have enough clothes back there in circulation. We just really need to use them and I think people are made aware of the fact that fashion is so polluting.
It does take time to change those habits but I feel that when you do become aware of it, it’s kind of harder to look away as well, it’s just that fashion has become you know, it’s still always wants to keep this glamorous façade and so it’s quite difficult to have very honest conversations about w hat’s going on in the background.
[0:12:02.3] EMILY: Yeah, that thing of once you see it, you can never unsee it, can be quite powerful really and a strong incentive for people to change behaviour. I was going to ask you actually about the offsetting of 25% of resources. I read on your website.
Can you tell me a bit more what that means exactly? But how that’s calculated maybe or what’s the offsetting meaning in this sense?
[0:12:28.3] BOK: Yeah, we’ve done our own impact calculator with the London Waste Recycling Board as part of the advanced London program and our methodology behind that is a lot around the amount of carbon textiles and water. Use that goes into the production of each kilogram of fabric, depending on what kind of material it’s made from. It would be very different for the likes of making something out of silk, versus cotton, silk and cotton like they would use a lot of water in comparison to kind of polyester but polyester then again is a form of plastic and so it’s very difficult, it really doesn’t biodegrade.
I think it’s a big difficult because for just you know, people when they find out about all these materials because the likes of cotton is a more natural fibre and so in some ways, it’s better but the water use can be a lot higher so there’s pros and cons to so many different fabrics and then we essentially look at the materials mostly so – and then people’s buying habits as well. What you’re saying is that when someone borrows or swaps a piece, they’re actually less likely to buy that piece first-hand and they are about 25% less likely to buy. That can get quicker depending on how much people actually buy fast fashion so you could have people who might buy every single week and if they share or swap, they’re actually not going to buy all of that week or you can have people who would potentially swap and share, potentially also buy or the auction of actually using what’s already in their wardrobe.
Or they could be buying preloved. There’s a lot of different factors that come in between that. What we’d really like to build this is to also the potential air miles that pieces would have before they actually get to a store and then when they pass from member to member or how their life kind of continues on and on. I think what we’re mainly trying to get across, especially when we’re talking to our audience is that the idea is that you can borrow or share or swap instead of buying so really quitting away those first-hand purchases and if you do buy to go to kind of a more sustainable brand when you want to do something like that.
[0:14:32.2] AB: Yeah, you mentioned earlier the kind of dark beginnings of a lot of these beautiful pieces of clothing and accessories that we wear.
[0:14:41.9] EMILY: With regards to the circular economy, it’s also interesting to think about the dark endings that a lot of these comments have. I know that a lot of fashion ends up in landfill and oftentimes, even if you're donating items of clothing, it’s not saving its life as it were which I see this platform and this system as kind of really offsetting that as well.
[0:15:06.3] AB: Yeah, I can talk about that in kind of two different parts, landfill and donations. I think ultimately, the way we operate in our society is that when our products leave our ownership. We feel like we like to think that they just gone somewhere better. But actually, everything that we are in possession of could potentially be waste unless we take some sort of responsible action to try and change the narrative of that piece’s life.
It’s so sad, we’ve run so many swap shops and it’s so sad to see pieces that have never been worn and the tags are still on them and a lot of the origins of that is that it’s simply cheaper for brands to mass produce more than they will ever sell than it is for them to just make the quantity of pieces that they would actually want to do.
Then you have so many people who kind of impulse buy and it happens to all of us, it happens to the best of us. You're kind of very trend driven, you pickup something that you think is going to be nice and then you just – it doesn’t fit you, you just never end up wearing it. It kind of sits in your wardrobe for a while and it’s kind of ready, you’re ready to part with it at some point. Unfortunately, quite a few people still put those pieces in regular bins, they can then sometimes go to textile recycling centres where they’re turned into the likes of inside sofa cushions or car seats and on different things like that.
But ultimately, if a piece of clothing is leaving your wardrobe, and it is being worn, it’s very like that it’s going to end up in landfill and those clothes do become really toxic when they do end up in landfill as well. You also have a case of a lot of brands who just simply burn the overstock if they never get old and they’re kept in their warehouse, just really sad to think that there’s been so much work and resources putting to making those pieces and then they ultimately are very – end of a landfill.
The other thing is donations and just to be really clear, people should absolutely donate to charity shops and charity shops have a brilliant mission and purpose in our society and they bring so much good but it’s not – I guess, fair or okay to donate things to charity shops that are definitely not going to have a new life or are destroyed or are very unlikely to get sold on the shop floor. It’s just quite difficult for people to sort them out. But also, those can go on to have a more difficult life so often, you’ll get donations that are kind of put into these large sacks and shipped to developing countries and these are sold at a knocked down prices in big bundles.
A lot of the people who buy these pieces don’t actually know what they’re going to be able to buy, they’re taking a bit of a punt on the fact that some of these clothes will be nice and they’ll be able to resell them. Now, what this does is it really, I guess, impacts the local garment economy so you could have a lot of local designers and artisans who need to be paid their living wage, you make things in a really great way and then you have these market places that set up with a lot of these donated clothing coming from a lot of western countries and being sold on a knocked down price. This kind of competes with the local garment industry and it can just really ruin those economies.
I guess people needing to understand that these pieces don’t always go on and have rosy lives and you know, we essentially are putting our water on to someone else to deal with when we dispose of our clothing in any way. I think a lot of stopping that is just purchasing pieces that you really feel you’re the best person to own. I think a really lovely way that I heard this described was taking of the lives of any kind of product and object in the same way as we think about our own lives. We obviously hope to be made and born into love and that we kind of have a purpose to our lives that we fulfill about purpose and that we have a load of wonderful experiences that we feel fulfilled and we eventually die and go back into the ground.
Because so many of our products or all of our products really come from our natural resources, why should they not have the same life and as owners of those pieces, we are kind of the ones who have the responsibility to make sure that they have those lives and they fulfil, so that they’re made with love, they’re made with the right kind of materials, they go on to fulfill happy life with you, maybe several other people, they can be upcycled or downcycled to change into various different forms of you know, if they do actually go into be main, made into car seats or whatever, those textiles that needs work.
Eventually can go into the ground and biodegrade. It’s just I think, important if you’re going to buy something that you understand the life that that has and will have and that you know you’re the right person to give that piece of clothing the life that it deserves and that would be asking yourself the question of will I actually wear this piece 30 times or you know, if I wear it for whatever event I’m buying it for, do I feel like I could give to someone who I know will give it more of an extended life and I guess that’s where it really Nuw really fits in, just trying to ensure that everything that is in our wardrobe has this chance to find someone that is going to love it as much as you did at that time.
It’s a complicated journey but I think at the very end of it, really, what we have to ask ourselves is like you know, why are we making it, are we making this property form a design perspective? Then as a consumer, or a citizen, you know, why am I buying this and do I love it and then looking at the end of life where is this going to go and how can I make sure that it goes somewhere in the most responsible way possible.
[0:20:44.6] BOK: That’s a really positive narrative or story or a way to describe it, I really like that. Before that when we were talking about the dark side of where all these things come from and the actual, terrible evil lit inside the – is hidden behind the things that we own, and then on the other side where things go, really pain and anger inducing thought process but then what you're describing is there is a much more – the alternative is, I really – that was a really nice analogy of a story for that.
Just to change tac slightly then and go back to, you know, we’ve kind of touched on this on the importance and the motivation and the reasons for what you’re doing. When you said you weren’t – hadn’t intended, it wasn’t like you had set out to be an entrepreneur.
When you’re at a point, okay, you’re starting a business and you’re actually doing it, can you tell us a little bit about your journey there, you talked about both the in-person community and I think that’s where you started. And then, how are you then sort of progressed that and I’d like to talk a little bit about the challenges of you know, having a digital presence and community with the app and the way things work there as well?
[0:21:59.1] AB: Yeah, we had done this educational development program and then two years later, they started up a small incubator called the Ideas Collective and essentially, they had realized that so many people had come through this programs and had seen a lot of social justice issues that they wanted to change but really had no idea where to begin or start.
Myself and Ali who originally cofounded Nuw with me, we went on this program and we really had no idea what the solution to the fast fashion industry is going to be but this gave us I guess the space and time and the support to start thinking about it and so this is when we hit on the idea of sharing and swapping and how we would make this a bit bigger and from that, we had just graduated university. So we were able to go back to Trinity, our college, and go onto what they call The Launch Box Program.
And it is essentially an incubator for student entrepreneurs where you can spend the summer working on an idea and we did this more as bootstrap participants because we had graduated but we are running swap shops on the side because we really just wanted to foster that kind of community and told them whenever your base at the time and just see if people knew about sustainable fashion or what it was or the impacts of fashion, which is a lot more mainstream now.
But a few years ago you know a lot of people didn’t really know what was happening in the industry. I think when we did Launch Box that is when we started to discover that we should start a business around this and that if we did do this, it would give us the ability to really grow our idea to the scale that we wanted to reach and it was there that we got tools around pitching, how to put together a business plan, how to really test an idea and look at the lien start-up model.
And you know what you really need to test for and stand. You don’t need to go straight building an app if nobody actually wants to do your idea in the smallest form. So that was the beginnings of it but I started working in media and stayed there for a couple of years and was still thinking of a Nuw on the side and you know, fostering this community and telling more people about sustainable fashion and then I applied for a program in our end called The New Frontiers Program.
And it gives you a stipend for six months and a business program alongside that and that was the catalyst for me to be able to leave my job and start setting up Nuw full-time and at that time as well, Ally got offered a different master. So she went and headed over to the UK and I decided that I actually really wanted to see where Nuw could go and what we could do with it and so that’s when it really was like, “Okay, this is going to become a business.”
And we need to test this and we need to trial this and that support I guess woke me up to the fact that there is an idea here but bringing an idea to life is you know, it’s totally different coming up with it and dreaming of what it could be or thinking of all the different things that you could do. There is a lot of graph in it and learning the lien start-up methodology at the beginning was really helpful because first what it showed me and for anyone who is not familiar with this, it’s really a case of tests.
As small-scale as possible, as manually as possible, the idea is that you have before you start building anything and just understand that there is people who want to use it and how can you prove that you want to use it without really having to build a product or go the full way. The earliest example of trialling this was I went back to the university that I’ve been in and I went to run lecture holds and asked all of the girls if they could email me photos of dresses they had worn into last year’s ball.
And I would put them up on this Squarespace landing page and they would fill in a form if they wanted to borrow it and I’d set up WhatsApp groups with everyone who had requested to borrow each other pieces and so that was just done for three weeks and we had 350 students who signed up and 60 people borrowed for that event and within that we did a collection day where we talked all about the environmental impact of the share that they had done.
And I think what was quite is surprising to me is people were obviously really excited about wearing the dresses but were really intrigued that we were talking about environmental impact and you would have a lot of really wonderful conversations with community members and you watch them chatting about it in the WhatsApp group as well, just that they have learned about their environmental impact and rather see the light of the day and done something about it.
And that was real proof on a very small scale that something like this had legs and could really work and then it just become difficult to try and guess one thing to really start building the site in the way that we wanted to. So ultimately I ended up moving to London to take part in the back on agreeing ventures program where they support tech for good and social and environmental businesses and that was very much the space that we wanted to be in.
So impact driven really looking at both the environmental impact as well as the financial return side by side and this is really where we started taking off. So we built test websites and trial that and then we raised funding and started building a team and ultimately, build the app, which launched in January and then COVID happened. So I don’t know if that’s totally the topic of conversation. So maybe that’s I guess our journey so far.
But along the way, I think all of the skills that I have learned has been from setting up various different tests. I think I learned very early on that people can give you loads of advice. Some of it is advice that you really don’t need to take but ultimately where you’re going to learn is listening to your members or your users and just trying to test what they say as speed buck in the most manual way possible and from that, you’ll pick up skills and analytics and finance.
Like fundraising comes into it, you know business planning, like all of that comes into it but then just YouTube-ing videos of like how to use all of these different tools or you know, I think that’s like so much of becoming an entrepreneur is just like doing as many of the skills that should be fruitful to you as possible as one person and trying to keep things afloat.
[0:28:05.8] BOK: Yeah it is one of the great challenges and yeah, there is a whole world of those skillset. What I am really interested in is as somebody who works in digital and technology that is very often natural knee-jerk reaction for us to say, “Yes, we’re going to build an app” which is so opposite, which is exactly what you said of the problem and those real value and the beauty of that initial trial you did in Trinity literally asking, “Do you have a dress? Send me a photo on Squarespace” and then WhatsApp.
Putting it together to see what the interest was but the really smart thing that stood out there before you said is then also you were able to share the impact and see the discussion in fact because of that.
[0:28:53.8] AB: Yeah and I think one thing that – I mean we’ve learned so much from just running swap shops like that was the first thing that we realized and this will come into it later but actually this all came full circle when COVID happened because we started implementing features that we had learned about week two when we started running swap shops and those WhatsApp groups when we did the Trinity ball trial, I learned so much from about what would go wrong because I was in the WhatsApp groups.
And I think if there is an app and they were talking to each other, there would be so many barriers that you’d never think of that you wouldn’t see if you weren’t in that conversation and then you would start to realize, “Oh what are the conversations that people want to have and do people forget that they are supposed to meet someone and do they need a reminder of that?” Is this something that happens with the fish? How do you stop that from happening or is the case that like people tend to borrow?
Like we would have things happen where people would actually lend someone a dress but they lend them three or four more just in case to be like, “Oh just pick which one do you think?” and we’re like, “Oh this is actually great” and then you would often have someone borrow from someone that the other person would borrow back because they knew that they were meeting off and just loads of things that do you think if we –
I feel like if we had more funding or more money at the beginning we potentially could have built it wrong because we would have built exactly what we saw people would use rather than what they actually use and then often, the problems that you think are going to be problems at the beginning aren’t just off the problems and the things that are actually problems or barriers, you never would have thought off.
So one thing we’ve really learned is take as little barriers away and as little limitations away from the users just let them do what they naturally tend towards. People would say, “Do you limit the amount that people borrow? Limit the amount that people swap?” and we just said no because we wanted to see how people naturally use it and then we can start making plans about how we should change the product accordingly but it is great to learn.
It is great to have a very, very loose plan and it allows you to pivot really quickly and then to just authentically stick to what the user’s feedback to you on because at the beginning, one thing that I definitely learned overtime is at the beginning as an entrepreneur it is kind of hard to disassociate yourself as a person from the business and so when people are giving you loads of feedback, it can sometimes just be upsetting because you’re like, “I really thought that this is what people wanted” or “Why is this going wrong?”
And then you know our mindset like myself and even as our team is like it’s so great. There is so many members who have my personal WhatsApp number who are just giving feedback all the time and you just think, “Oh this is so great because this is a person who cares enough to come and WhatsApp me about all of the different things that they would like to see changed,” and we know that they are going to use that and we know that they are using it regardless of whether these changes are made.
And so, it just helps improve things all the time and you know if you just listened to your members, their feedback like at times can be really critical but is always the best implementations that come after that because you really think, “Okay, these are the people that we want to keep on board and they care about this product enough and our vision enough to actually feed into this and build this with us” and that just builds this really wonderful relationship with everyone who’s been involved in Nuw.
Because I guess in some instance, it’s built by our community. So if we really don’t have that open debate and discussion, we would end up building something that is supposed to be all that community but not actually build by our community. Yeah, it was a learning curve for me as an entrepreneur but it is something that I have always stated that even younger finders at the beginning like when you hear that kind of feedback it’s great. You should just ask for it all the time.
[0:32:40.9] EMILY: Yeah that’s really smart but also really difficult I imagine.
[0:32:46.1] AB: Yeah.
[0:32:46.9] EMILY: You know allowing the innovation to follow where the path is naturally going anyway that exactly as you were saying is definitely the right way to go because that is what the users want, that is what the users need and that’s what will eventually end up being the most sustainable solution really but to allow to give the control over to people who are running the business from the inside can be really difficult. It’s a bold move. It takes a lot of confidence.
[0:33:21.9] AB: I think there is a fine balance to strike as well because there is a lot of listening to what members are saying and trying to pick apart, are there ideas to solutions? Are the solutions are coming up with correct or is it just that we are finding a need that was there? I think Apple as an example is really good at this. They just said, “Okay, we’re just not going to put CD drives in anymore. We just think that there is a better solution for this.”
And everyone is like, “Oh so annoying” but you know we just move with them and they’re really innovative but I think ultimately, they actually just listened to what the need is coming out. So one of the best examples was people who kept asking us if we could add a calendar where they could say when things weren’t going to be available but actually the real problem that had come about was that people felt really bad as a member of the community if they were declining their request to borrow something.
So someone was asking them, “Oh can I borrow your dress” and they were actually on holidays, they just didn’t want to say no so they would leave it pending but then they’d say, “Oh can you let me strike it off in the calendar if I know I am going to be away” but we knew on our end that we trialled this really basically and it was way too much effort for people to just admin their wardrobe and put in a calendar and actually all they wanted was like a comment section.
Where they could chat to the requester before the borrow would take place just to say like, “Hey, I’m on holidays but I will be back in a week. Could I give it to you then?” and that was actually the solution to the problem but if we’ve got what our users are saying, we’d be building in like full calendars like an admin panel and then it would feel like a job and so kind of deciphering each time and I think just testing really lean like even if something is coming out.
It is weird trying to say, “Okay, we really feel like this problem is going on. Hey, can we just ultimately test that in a way that we don’t have to build technology?” and generally that’s just email. You know like testing something on email and retesting it on Squarespace before actually looking at bringing it into the app. So yeah, it is a fine balance as well because sometimes you need to as a team say, “We actually can’t build that” or like, “No, we can’t do that yet.”
[0:35:30.3] EMILY: Yeah that’s the skill really is listening and then analysing and figuring out what the bottom line is with all of that, which just seemed to be quite experienced in, which is great. You’ve mentioned a lot about this idea of it is a community building app really as much as it’s clothes swapping and sharing and it’s got an environmental focus. The community seems to be a really strong part of it as well. Can you talk a little bit about that and also maybe kind of other benefits or unforeseen impacts that have happened in terms of the building of this platform?
[0:36:09.9] AB: Yeah, I think the real need for a community came from this real feeling of I don’t know, just need tool frustration at the fashion industry maybe. I think especially when it comes to sustainability and even looking at affordability in fashion and this conversation around, “Okay, well you know fast fashion really is the only affordable alternative for so many people” and we need to be aware that we can’t just ask someone to pay for an alternative that they really can’t afford.
And decided that you are kind of asking them to not really partake in fashion. It was that frustration and then there was I guess a realization that okay well, if we are going to solve this problem, the only real way we can solve this problem unless we wait years for the fashion industry to change is to just do a community and it was this understanding that we all have so many clothes and if we want to get those clothes a real life and a really long life, it is just better to do this together.
And then as a community, you know especially for a lot of our members and this is what I really found in London, it is really hard to meet people who are like minded as you get kind of out of that school and university sphere. It’s like you have your kind of people in work but if you move to a new city, you really need to be putting yourself out there to try and just connect with like minded people and when I moved to London, I knew about three people and I did this basically just put in Instagram out of it what we are trying to set up with Nuw and asked if I could meet people for coffee.
And I met 70 people for coffee so it is a lot of probably saw me. I also forgot that for every person I met, I would not just buy them coffee but I would also buy myself coffee. So that was a big budget for me at the time when I was trying to do all of these market research but just ask them like, “Why did you meet me?” and we obviously talked about the idea of clothes sharing and sustainability and everything but so many of the answers were like, “I just thought it was really nice to meet someone in London for a coffee where you felt you could chat about something you’re both interested in.”
And so many of them said that if that wasn’t a part of it, I just never would have written back to the ad like I never write back to ads. It was an ad on Instagram like why on earth did I even connect with it? And one of the reasons was just that we made the ad really local and it just basically me just saying like, “Hey, I’d really like to connect with other women who believe that the fashion industry needs to change” and then just told them a little more about it when they went to the webpage.
But those are my really good friends, like all my friends in London are from Nuw and they’re all friends with each other and they share all the time and people from that network have started working on the Nuw team and it’s just been really amazing. I think so much of what people want is just to find meaning in the things that they put and spend their time or their money in or their emotional resources and what’s been just amazing about Nuw is there’s loads of people.
Saying like, “I felt this way too and I am so glad that there is other people who feel like this and I am so glad that I can connect with them” and then yeah, we share clothes and the technology that facilitates that and underpins that but above all else is people feeling like they have a voice within the fashion industry and they can in some way have agency over changing that, which I think doesn’t happen in fashion a lot and people can always feel like they’re on the sidelines.
But when you are a part of Nuw, you’re really just saying, “You know, even if I don’t do my eco queen stuff one day, there’s a whole community of people who are doing that” and together we are ultimately going to reach that goal. It is not just all on one individual and in the course of it, you’re making friends and you are feeling like you are a part of a local community, which I think can just be hard in big cities and especially when you have a pandemic like it’s been so lovely to just see everyone keep connecting through Nuw.
And just having see them in coffee mornings and just still discussing fashion and what we are going to do about it and that’s a really nice way to keep motivated when we all have this common goal.
[0:40:17.4] EMILY: Yeah that’s lovely. A very nice community feel, I appreciate that.
[0:40:22.8] BOK: There is so much there if you like both end and I got a lot more questions to ask but we haven’t really touched really on the story of this year and I know you’ve exactly like you have just described kind of using the app and spreading in terms of the digital reach of the app but maybe just to maybe finish on a couple of quick questions, one is what is the future like? What’s the long term vision? I know that at the moment there is crowd funding you’re going. I think we are actually going to go live after that’s closed but I am really interested what your vision is?
[0:40:53.9] AB: So ultimately, we want Nuw to be a global platform that facilitates clothes sharing and clothes swapping and really recirculates all of the items that are trapped in our wardrobes right now. So how we are really looking to build Nuw now is available in Ireland and the UK and we are really testing the mechanics of how people share and how to get it right and what’s our business model and how do we connect with people before they become members.
But we ultimately want the community to build this global network of sharers and to do that, we are looking to find people who really believe in our vision and mission, and can set Nuw up a community in any given location and the location that they are in themselves. So we are looking for Nuw to really travel like a social network. So if you live in New York or you live in Amsterdam that you can become part of the Nuw network and you can upload your pieces.
And you can get your friends to do that too and then there is a Nuw community in your city or in your town or in your country. It is always looking at, “Okay, well we’re a team and we have this vision” but we don’t want to have to move to every country to do this. We don’t want to have to dictate where this needs to go. We really want the community to be able to lead this and that is why we’ve very firmly staged as a community where it’s peer to peer.
And all of our pieces are kept in wardrobes. We don’t use a warehouse, they just go from person to person and member to member and so we are really looking to provide to a really accessible alternative to fast fashion where people no longer think of, “Oh I am going to go to a store and buy this brand new” but they can have something that’s new to you and that they’ll always look at borrowing first and then if you’re on it eye to eye, so you are seeing one of your friends pieces.
That you are asking, “Can I borrow that?” rather than, “Where did you buy that?” and so we are really just looking at changing the mindset of how we view fashion and how we view fashion in terms of you know what’s new. That is really why we chose the name as well to kind of play with our understanding of what is Nuw and why are we so obsessed with new things. So yeah, we really see this as a global network of sharers and that can operate it in the same way all over the world, which allows people to take this and build their Nuw vision as a wider community.
[0:43:13.2] BOK: Awesome and that’s a really clear call to action. Hopefully, somebody listening is kind of thinking as I am, I wonder if I would be sharing that with my family and friends to see if anybody else wants to get involved. So if anybody that is listening does want to find out more about that, want to find out more about your story or the app, where should they go?
[0:43:34.5] AB: www.thatnuwwardrobe.com or you could just Google Nuw on Google or the app store or the Google Play Store. So they can download the app on the website or just directly from the store is and kind of the best thing to do really as a user when you join the Nuw community is to just go straight in and upload your clothes and kind of encourage anyone who you think might be interested to do the same thing because that is really how we can build the community and make it a lot more fun and valuable for everyone who’s on there.
[0:44:09.1] BOK: Awesome. Thank you and as usual, we’d put the links to Nuw and to the app on happyporchradio.com and the Show Notes. Thank you so much Aisling, we really appreciated that. Thanks for sharing your story and your inspiration.
[0:44:21.4] AB: Great, thanks a million.
[0:44:22.8] EMILY: Thank you Aisling.
[0:44:24.0] AB: Thanks so much Emily.
[0:44:25.9] ANNOUNCER: You can find notes and links from this episode plus a full transcript at happyporchradio.com. If you are enjoying the show, please take a moment to give us a positive review on your favourite podcast app. Thanks for listening to Happy Porch Radio.