Out with the old and in with the Neu Nomads. Founder and designer Karen Wood shares what inspired her to create her brand and challenge the industry she dedicated years to.
What inspired you to launch Neu Nomads?
After decades in the fashion industry, we asked ourselves how we might do things differently. That question inspires everything we do from fabrics, to dyes, to manufacturing. From a sustainability perspective, the philosophy of living a life of minimalism is an overarching theme for our brand – timeless essentials that are easy on the environment. This mindset is more relevant now than ever as society moves into a sustainable and circular economy. We always consider how to create something beautiful with the lowest possible impact on the world.
From a design perspective, I am greatly inspired by the idea of a modern traveller – a modern nomad – a woman who lives her life outside the bounds. Someone who is connected to her community but is free to explore the world around her while leaving the planet in better condition than how how she found it. This woman counts down the days until her next journey – she has a plan in mind but always leaves some things left to chance. She carries with her the essentials – feminine pieces that can be layered, easily packed and worn to explore new destinations. With the considerations of this modern muse in mind, our silhouettes are versatile and effortless and offer a counterpoint to the embellished and extravagant. We often say the collection is easy to wear and hard to take off. We’ve created an evergreen collection that strikes a balance between minimalism and sensual femininity.
What are your sustainable priorities for the business?
Continuous use of plant-based fabrics and non-toxic dyes; launching a recycled fabric capsule collection; partnering and collaborating with other like-minded brands across various industries including beauty, wellness and lifestyle.
How has your eco strategy developed as you have grown?
We are constantly striving to improve our supply chain as we grow the company. To that end, we are continuously evaluating our materials and suppliers. We are researching new ways to incorporate a circular model.
How challenging has it been to maintain your eco principles?
We stand at the intersection of an industry that is based on consumption while trying to incorporate sustainability. This is the single greatest challenge in my view for our industry. In conceptualising Neu Nomads it was important to me to try and answer the question: how do we live life AND share the planet with other people? We hope to achieve this by creating beautiful essentials that are easy on the environment.
What have been your biggest milestones and triumphs until now?
Finding a dye house! We struggled for months to find a low-impact dye house and very serendipitously came across an industrial park in Rajasthan that is sponsored by the EU, the UN and Swiss government. We were passionate about finding a partner that met our requirements of water management and low-impact dying.
What have been the main prohibitors to your progress in building a sustainable business?
Every step of our supply chain takes immense resources in terms of time and investment and the most difficult part in staying true to our ethos is finding trusted sourcing partners. Unfortunately, in this era of greenwashing there are many dubious suppliers that claim to be “eco-friendly” but once we scratch the surface we’ve found they are are using “green” as a marketing strategy and are not as ecologically-focused as they claim to be.
Do you feel pressure from your customers to be more eco?
If anything we feel supported and encouraged by our customers. The fashion industry has been very slow to adopt principles of sustainability and in many ways we are introducing our clients to the concept of minimalism and low impact choices for the first time. It’s a bit of an education – I like to think we are encouraging them to make eco-friendly choices not only in their clothing purchases but also in their daily life by raising awareness.
What advice would you give to anyone hoping to launch a sustainable business?
Realise that nothing happens overnight and finding the right partners takes time. We’ve spent years researching and testing with various suppliers and manufacturers
Which other sustainable businesses have inspired you?
I grew up working in retail and became fascinated with technical fabrics from Patagonia – they set the bar for social and corporate responsibility and are an incredible example of being a true sustainable fashion brand. Outside of the fashion industry there are incredible companies like the Package Free Shop in Brooklyn who offer lifestyle products that are eco-friendly and plastic-free. We also source from amazing partners like Eco-Enclose for our shipping mailers which are 100% recycled poly and The Better Packaging Co which supplies our biodegradable alternative to poly plastic bags.