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In this Q&A series, we catch up with the founder behind ethical and sustainable lingerie brand ColieCo.
We discuss the inspiration behind the brand, their mission, and their unique approach to ethical and sustainable production.
Hello! Can you tell us more about yourself and your brand?
Hi! I am Nicole Neaber, the founder of ColieCo Lingerie.
We ethically produce lingerie, underwear, and swimwear using sustainable and sustainably-sourced fabrics. Our mission is to widen the marketplace for conscious consumers by offering a real alternative to the drab, grey, and expensive lines making up the bulk of the sustainable underwear market.
Why did you start ColieCo? What inspired you?
ColieCo started as a part-time student project in my parents’ attic. Studying fashion design, it became clear that the fashion industry had serious working conditions and sustainability issues. Although more ethical brands already appeared in the lingerie domain, the options for ethical shoppers were still very slim, expensive, and overwhelmingly uninspiring.
ColieCo was born with a vow to prove that ethical and sustainable underwear could still be fun, adventurous, and affordable.
What were the main challenges and learnings you had when starting ColieCo?
Many of the challenges were – and remain – the same kind as small businesses see across industries: without huge capital investment, the odds are stacked firmly against SMEs in favor of established multinationals in so many respects.
Small business teams also have to juggle so many different roles. We all have to be technicians, creatives, social media experts, customer service providers, and web developers rolled into one! It’s a steep learning curve, but the upside is that you can build a really agile, flexible, innovative, close-knit, invested, and super collaborative team.
In short, I guess it has been a hugely rewarding and hugely educational rollercoaster ride.
Can you tell us more about the processes and materials you use to create your sustainable lingerie?
Last year we were proud to complete our transition to exclusively using fabrics that fall into one of three categories: either inherently sustainable and sustainably-processed natural fibers (these are the only true virgin fabrics we use), recycled fabrics, and reclaimed fabrics.
Where we use both virgin and recycled fabrics, I always want to look at new, even more sustainable textiles.
We’ll continue to work to ensure that we’re offering customers the very best options we can from an environmental perspective. It’s such a critical factor in terms of the carbon and ecological footprint of the business.
But we also want to look at the details in all of the product components we use.
That’s why we’re now working with an elastics manufacturer close to us here in Portugal with OEKO-TEX STeP certification (for environmentally friendly and socially responsible production) to try to localize component production and ensure that our partners are also meeting the highest standards from an environmental perspective.
I think we realized a long time ago that there’s always going to be more we’ll be able to do – we’ll always be able to be better. Sustainability is a process of continuous improvement rather than a list of boxes to check.
Can you tell us more about your in-house production processes?
All of our lingerie and swimwear is made to order in our own in-house studio in Sagres, Portugal. We don’t bulk produce stock, and we don’t outsource production to any third parties. These two factors are critically important to us, and I don’t think we’ll ever want to change either of them.
Regarding bulk production, roughly 35% of all fabric produced by the fashion and textiles-for-fashion industries is wasted before reaching anyone’s wardrobe or drawers. A large part of that waste comes from overproduction, unsold stock, and wasteful cutting processes.
By producing to order and using intelligent garment design and cutting processes, we’re able to reduce that proportion down to less than 10%.
Producing in-house also means that we have continuous oversight of cut-and-sew. We will always be able to absolutely guarantee our customers that every single garment with the ColieCo label has been made by technicians paid a full and fair living wage, working in safe and comfortable, discrimination-free conditions.
What inspires the designs behind your unique lingerie?
As we’re heavily focused on our fabrics, inspiration will often come from the discovery of a new material. So we’re considering the texture, weight and finish of the fabrics to provide us with direction. We’re also really interested in firstly, creating garments customers will get best use out of over time. That’s why we like to design for a high degree of adjustability and a robust end-product – and secondly, reach people who haven’t yet found their aesthetic represented by other ethical and sustainable underwear brands. So all of those factors offer us direction.
The ColieCo studio is also surrounded by nature. We’re actually situated in a national park full of pretty spectacular forest, fields, and coastline, which I think inspires the team inside and outside of work too.
How do you ensure diversity is celebrated by ColieCo?
This is an area in which we’ve done much better work in recent years, but if we’re honest with ourselves, still have more to do. We want to ensure that the brand represents and supports racial and ethnic, sexual, gender, and ability diversity.
We’ve always tried to do that in our messaging, and we’ve worked much harder to try to do it in the development of our identity in our collaboration, and in our support for campaign groups; particularly minority-led and championing organizations, and those working to provide a voice for people suffering with disabilities which impact their ability to find comfortable clothes to wear.
From the start, I’ve always wanted ColieCo to be able to offer solutions for people of all shapes and sizes, and we continue to offer custom sizing outside our standard size range across the entire ColieCo collection.
We also encourage requests for other kinds of customizations from customers who might need a different sort of adjustment to the shape or structure of a garment for any given reason.
How do you ensure your company stays true to your mission as you grow?
This is quite easy for me because I’ve never considered the growth of ColieCo to be remotely as important as our adherence to our principles.
We’ll keep doing what we’re doing in our own way, and if that resonates with people, they enjoy our collections, and the growth comes naturally, that’s fantastic.
But we won’t be making compromises to drive profits or secure outside investment. If we ever came close to doing that, I think it’d be time to wrap ColieCo up because it’d go against the very reason for the existence of the brand.
Have you tried a product from another sustainable brand that you reccommend?
Yes! We’re big fans of Swedish Stockings. Check them out!
What does the future look like for ColieCo?
We’re passionate about innovation, and we’re passionate about our message. I think we’ll continue to evolve, improving our network of suppliers and fabric roster in line with our core values of ethical production and sustainable production. In addition, we’ll work on trying to reach more conscious-curious consumers ready to be persuaded of the opportunities of ethical and sustainable fashion.
Wrapping Up: Q&A ColieCo
We give a big thanks to Nicole from ColieCo, for sharing insights into her brand. You can read more about ColieCo in our sustainable lingerie guide, and shop the brand on their website ColieColingerie.com.