The alternative to fast fashion.
Online clothes-sharing platform The Nu wardrobe provides users with a constantly changing wardrobe that’s convenient and inexpensive. They extend the lifecycle of clothes and significantly reduce waste.
The Nu Wardrobe was in our competition in 2017. As we like to stay up to speed with former participants, we recently had a chat with Aisling Byrne, co-founder of The Nu Wardrobe.
Tell us a bit more about your business, how did you get started?
“It all started over 2 years ago,” says Aisling. “With one of my friends in University I had been involved in a volunteer program in India. There, we saw the dark side of the fast fashion industry and realized there was a massive human rights and environmental impact that came along with it. When we got back, we started looking for alternatives. There are a few countries that have options for sustainable fashion, but Ireland definitely wasn’t one of them. As university students, we didn’t have a lot of purchasing power. Everywhere we looked our options were just to buy better or not buy at all. We couldn’t afford to buy better, while not buying at all just wasn’t any fun. A lot of people kept telling us they had lots of clothes at home that they really liked and not necessarily wanted to get them to a swap shop, as they’d probably end up in charity shops.
It is from those insights that we created our vision for a community that allows people to access fashion in a sustainable way, in a more cost effective way based on sharing. It’s become like a secondary market; we catch people at university level and give them this space to be able to share clothing pieces for every occasion. We created an online clothing platform with an offline community that promotes sharing clothes as an alternative to buying fast fashion.”
How big is the community now?
“We launched in September and in the meantime 1,500 people signed up. It takes a bit of time to get people to actively engage on the platform. We’re trying to get rid of any barriers that possibly stop people from sharing clothes. We are working on that and figuring out the right format and locations. By the end of the year we hope to scale it to a lot more universities in for example London and Dublin.”
Will you start targeting other groups besides students and graduates?
“Yes, we definitely want to go beyond that group. There are a couple of reasons why we started with universities: it is where we actually had the problem ourselves; but then as we got older we realized that this is still very much a problem. Universities are also a great starting point, because they are tightly formed communities where people all tend to attend the same events. It was a great way to test, to get feedback, to understand what people expect from the platform. With that knowledge we can to go to a secondary market. We have a bit of activity on the platform, worked out some of the issues already and we have enough pieces to actually launch new locations.”
“Although our vision remained the same, what the competition taught us is the process of how to get there.”
Was your start-up any different before joining ClimateLaunchpad? Did you make any changes after the competition?
“The reason we started Nu is that we wanted to offset all these carbon emissions, to change how the industry works. That didn’t seem to be a point of interest when we went to look for funding, which was really shocking to us. It made us feel alone or that maybe our idea wasn’t actually that good. The nice thing about joining ClimateLaunchpad was that our financial model was just as important as our environmental model and impact. In the process of validating, everyone else in the competition had ideas that were just ahead of their time and it was really exciting to understand that what you do will fit in the future. ClimateLaunchpad challenged a lot of our assumptions on how things would work. Although our vision remained the same, what the competition taught us is the process of how to get there.”
How are you funding your start-up?
“We first started on an Irish program called the New Frontiers Program with a € 15,000 grant. That got us through the first year, getting things built and trying things out. Then in December 2017, we won the London City Challenge with 10,000 euro in prize money. Recently we have started Stage 1 of the Climate KIC accelerator in Ireland, which brought us an additional € 10.000 funding and also we have just completed the Bethnal Green Ventures – tech for good Accelerator in London with a € 20,000 funding. Right now I can work on NU full time. We have a team of 5 part time people including our tech developer. We have brand ambassadors in universities and an extended team of about 4-7 people in each college. So the manpower is about 100 people working on The Nu Wardrobe.”
Is your business sustainable already, are you making revenue?
“No, it is not sustainable yet, but we did a small trial last year and in September we launched in 9 universities across Ireland and UK. We had 160 borrows and then 80 of them have been paid for. Currently we have a 5-year service charge and once we build up the wardrobe to be valuable enough, it will become a membership fee of 20 to 50 euro per month. Also now, we have just begun running a new trial where anyone in the world can sign up to our platform and request to create a group where together with their friends, they can start sharing. Collectively, as a community we could all save the money we would have spent shopping.”