Nuw: giving clothes a new lease of life and saving the environment

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WeWhoDo sat down with Aisling Byrne, Founder and CEO, to chat Nuw- a social network for women to share their much-loved, but rarely-worn, outfits with members of their local community.

Aisling has also been listed as one of Ireland’s 30 under 30, grown the Nuw community across the UK and Ireland, and launched the Nuw app for iOS and Android. 

Where did the idea for Nuw come from? 

Aisling: When I was growing up, I was really into fast fashion. I’d always buy the latest looks from the likes of H&M or Topshop and never really thought about the wider impact it was having. Even when I was considering fashion design and going to art school, I’d never really thought beyond the designer and consumer relationship! 

It wasn’t until I was volunteering in India in 2013 (the same year as the Rana Plaza disaster) that I started to see the devastating social and environmental impacts. I felt angry and frustrated that I had been so complicit in an industry that caused so much harm, and I was heartbroken because I didn’t feel I could enjoy fashion without contributing to the problem.

My friend Ali had a similar experience and we had loads of conversations about it. It felt good to know I wasn’t the only one freaking out about the state of the world and my role in it. We wanted to change our habits, but we didn’t have much money and most sustainable alternatives felt like a luxury we couldn’t afford. So, we went in search of an accessible and affordable solution…

It didn’t take long for us to realise we were already solving the problem in our own way with the wardrobes we already had. Any time we had an event coming up we’d borrow from friends. Dresses, tops and entire outfits got shared around, and by consequence, those dresses had a pretty vibrant social life! We expanded this into ‘Swap Shops’ and realised there was a real power in it.

It was this realisation that led us to create Nuw. Finally, we could distance ourselves from an industry that we didn’t feel represented us! Creating our own network and ecosystem in which we could enjoy fashion on our own terms. Nuw acts as a solution and bridges the gap between the affordable and sustainable (which is 100% necessary if we are going to bring about real change!)

So, how does Nuw work? 

Aisling: So, we’ve grown a community across the UK and Ireland, and launched the Nuw app for iOS and Android. Nuw users will upload the items they want to swap on their profile and it will be given a ‘silver’ or ‘gold’ ranking, depending on whether it’s a high-street or branded piece. This will then allow them to swap their clothes for clothes in other people’s wardrobes. 

For every share, you find a new outfit, and this offsets a significant amount of CO2, water and waste in the process. For every item that is swapped, the user is told how much water and carbon saved. It also outlines the savings made on the type of fabric. 

And, it’s all focussed on sharing rather than renting – once you become a member you can borrow clothes for free. It’s basically the same as sharing with friends – but the whole city is your friend! 

We see ourselves as the curators of fashion and we want to make sure all clothes get a new lease of life. We know there are enough clothes out there in the world, and it is just about unlocking people’s wardrobes and sharing the potential.

How has Nuw adapted throughout 2020?

Aisling: Throughout the first lockdown, we paired with UPS and Parcel Motel to ensure our Nuw members could deposit and collect their shared pieces. But it also made us increasingly aware of the consumption of fast fashion: even in a global pandemic, people were still buying and consuming fast fashion at the same level, just for different reasons.

We have shifted back to our original ‘Swap Shop’ model, and felt that this was the best way to fit our users’ needs. (Bootstrapping makes you creative and it’s really funny that something that Ali and I had done years ago is now a key part of our business model!)

Luckily, over the past few years we’ve been able to get to know our users really well and understand their buying habits more deeply. This started as an Whatsapp group where we could really understand the consumer, and we are super proud of the app we’ve built and constantly developing. 

Where do you see the company in 10 years time?

Aisling: We see Nuw as a global solution. We’ll be located all around the world, with Nuw brand ambassadors, sharing location-specific styles and brands. 

Globally we have that desire to want new clothes and new styles, and we would love to be a solution to that desire, without people having to resort to buying new clothes every time.

Why are sustainable clothing platforms so important?

Aisling: It’s shocking that the fastest buyers of fast fashion are teenagers and yet they are the ones who are most environmentally aware and conscious. At Nuw, we want to help translate this awareness into active consumer decisions- but also do this in an accessible and affordable way. 

For me, sustainable fashion needs a diverse set of solutions. It needs to be collaborative, rather than one sustainable brand against the other. We aren’t pitted against each other, but all part of the same wider goal. There is a lot of space to succeed in this area and whilst Nuw is one solution, other platforms are another. It is all about access over ownership, and our aim is to scale out our product and ultimately recognise that things need to change.

This article has been posted as part of the Sustainable Start-up Series run by WeWhoDo: building a community of world-leading experts to help sustainable businesses thrive. For more information about Nuw, check out their site here:

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