Ethical lingerie can be pretty, stylish but also be inclusive and promise durability and affordability. ColieCo is a brand that ticks all the boxes: stands out for its creative designs, uses sustainable and recycled materials, challenges waste in all areas possible; uses the latest technology combined with handmade techniques AND only delivers high quality.
We interview Nicole Neaber the founder of ColieCo, she reveals all the creativity behind the brand of ethical lingerie and contour, what she believes could be the future for textile printing in fashion and much more! Without further ado, we hope you enjoy this incredible interview!
What is your background and what made you start an eco-friendly lingerie brand?
I founded ColieCo Lingerie in 2011 after completing my degree in Fashion Design at Leeds Arts University.
I have always had particular interests in both lingerie and contour design and ethical manufacturing, so marrying the two was an obvious direction for me to go in. After graduation, I was lucky enough to get fantastic experience in both areas with a couple of companies with (deservedly) excellent reputations, which helped me greatly in taking ColieCo from a part-time hobby to a full-fledged business.
What does your brand stand for in the world of slow fashion?
We have three core values that we try to hang all of our business decisions off: respect for the environment, respect for people and respect for quality. We commonly refer to ColieCo as an eco-centric brand, but fair business practices in terms of the human impact of our operations and clothing and ensuring we deliver consistently top-quality garments and service are just as important to us.
Adhering to the last of the three – respect for quality – is actually the hardest work, because it tends to provide the greatest challenges. For example, for us, respect for quality means (amongst other things) uncompromising excellence in both garment construction and customer service: we have to deliver garments of the very highest standard in terms of the aesthetics, fit and durability; but we also have to deliver them at affordable prices and to expectant customers quickly.
But these are the kind of challenges we relish! And our customer feedback makes all the hard work worthwhile.
What kind of materials are the lingerie garments made out of and why are they sustainable?
At present we are using organic bamboo cotton jersey, recycled eco-leather, fast fashion line-end (industry waste) scuba jersey, and RPET (polyester made from recycled plastic), amongst others.
They are all low carbon and eco-friendly fabrics in different ways, but the last on the list is our favourite, because it ticks so many boxes: it is an excellent, durable use for plastic waste; low energy use in terms of its production (actually lower than virgin polyester); and digitally printed, which means water use and water waste is cut down to near zero when compared with industrially dyed fabrics.
RPET ticks so many boxes: a durable use for #plasticwaste; low energy use in the production (lower than virgin polyester); digitally printed, which means water use is cut down to near zero (compared with industrially dyed fabrics)… Click To Tweet
How does the creative process look like?
Like organised chaos!
The ColieCo studio is a creative place and we always seem to have more ideas than we can actually realise given the number of working hours in the day.
As a small, independent business, we have to carefully consider how we use our time when the year’s peaks come so that we deliver on time and to standard when the order book is looking daunting, but then make the very most of the precious hours during the quieter periods from a creative perspective.
The absolute beauty of it all is that every day is incredibly different. And our wonderfully creative customer base really helps with that too: we are always receiving fun and different requests for custom orders and seeing customer favourite designs paired with new fabric offerings.
Life is never boring at ColieCo HQ!
You mention on your website that your garments are digitally printed! Could you explain a bit more about how it works and why is it beneficial?
Digital fabric printing is the future for textile printing for fashion. There are several different ways it can work, but generally speaking, it involves using giant industrial inkjet-type printers to print patterns directly onto textiles.
Versus traditional dyeing techniques drastically less water is used and water waste created with digital printing, and versus transfer printing it eliminates paper waste (legacy transfer printing prints ink onto transfer paper, which once used to then transfer the design to fabric, goes to waste) and reduces energy use, as direct-to-fabric printing doesn’t require heat sealing to fix the ink.
Digital fabric printing is the future for textile printing for fashion. There are several different ways it can work, but generally speaking, it involves using giant industrial inkjet-type printers to print patterns directly onto… Click To Tweet
How do you manage the leftovers in your workshop to the point you create zero waste?
This is something we are always working on refining.
The starting point is working to ensure we create very few leftovers and that comes with careful pattern cutting and diligent fabric management. We also run our fabric scraps to the very last by offering garments requiring only smaller pieces of fabric at sale prices in our online stores to clear the run as fully as possible.
More recently, we have come up with an even more innovative way of using the very smallest scraps in our fun LEAF panties, which are constructed from tiny, multi-coloured leaves of offcut scuba jersey fabric.We work to ensure we create very few leftovers; that comes with careful pattern cutting & diligent fabric management. We also run our fabric scraps to the very last by offering garments requiring only smaller pieces of fabric at… Click To Tweet
What about the renewable energy that makes the workshop up and running?
This became a lot easier when we moved from the UK to Portugal, as to its great credit, the Portuguese government has invested very heavily in renewable energy over the last ten years or so. It has committed to reducing the country’s reliance on coal to generate energy to zero by 2030 and continues to invest in biomass, wind, solar and innovative wave power projects.
Although we currently buy all our energy in, we are going to be powering the ColieCo studio primarily with our own solar energy in the future, and most importantly, of course, we are always working to ensure that we minimise our energy use in the first place.
Who is behind the scenes making this beautiful lingerie by hand?
I am! Right now I am responsible for the construction of all of our lingerie, start to finish. When I need help during the busier periods, we still undertake all lingerie production in-house. This is something we’ll continue to do as the business grows.
We want to always be able to absolutely guarantee to our customers that they receive garments that have been ethically handmade in comfortable and safe working conditions, and we can only do that whilst all production stays in-house.
What sort of clients do you have and how do they appreciate your products?
We have a very wide range of customers with very diverse demographics. We have a strong base of wonderful repeat customers who we’ve come to know well over time, and there’s great diversity amongst them too.
I think this stems from the fact that we aim to be as inclusive as we possibly can be. Naturally, some of our more extravagant mesh designs will appeal to very different customers to our bamboo jersey basics, but we also aim to offer something for everyone by giving customers the option to send custom measurements in and select for many of our designs from a wide range of patterns, colours and fabrics.
The idea behind this approach is to encourage customers to really connect with the garments they order; to feel part of the process and that they have helped create something that is just right for them. This is at the heart of slow fashion: if you love your clothes, they suit you and they speak to you on a personal level.The idea behind @colie_co is to encourage customers to really connect with the garments they order; to feel part of the process and that they have helped create something that is just right for them. This is at the heart of… Click To Tweet
What makes ColieCo lingerie different from other brands?
We do things in the right way because we exist to do business the right way. Our core values aren’t a marketing gimmick; they run right through everything we do because we built the business for and on them.
We aren’t trying to change the world with spectacular growth or revolutionary aesthetics. We’re just trying to create fun and striking lingerie that is accessible to everyone but do it in the right way.
You are based in Portugal, how does a social entrepreneurial venture look like there? Do you feel there’s a change happening in the country?
It’s difficult to speak about life and trends in Portugal more widely, as we are based in a small village on the coast many miles away from the closest city, and our customers don’t let us get out much!
In seriousness, we love and we moved to Portugal in no small part because of the social and environmental awareness of the people here, particularly in our small part of the country.
People shop ethically, locally and with social concerns in mind, supporting independent businesses. There are still, even in the towns and cities, thriving markets, independent retailers, and respected craftspeople, all of which are disappearing or have already disappeared in the UK. Globalisation is yet to flood Portugal with McDonalds and Starbucks franchises.
And people of all ages protest and make their voices heard here, particularly when it comes to social care and support, and to the environment.
I believe this is a very socially aware country, and that it feels as a result like a safe and welcoming place to be.In Portugal people shop ethically, locally and with social concerns in mind, supporting independent businesses. Even in the towns and cities, there are still thriving markets, independent retailers, and respected craftspeople.… Click To Tweet
What has been the greatest success of the brand so far?
Of course, you have sales goals and it is nice to be praised in the fashion press and media. But more important for us is our exceptional customer feedback, which is what really inspires us to keep working harder.
Is there any advice you’d like to give to other businesses trying to make a difference for good?
I think you have to keep focussing back on what you are trying to achieve and why, particularly when you hit the more difficult times, which every business inevitably sees at some point.
There are easier routes to take when you come up against big challenges, and there are better and truer, but much more difficult routes. Accept the challenge and redouble your efforts! When you come out the other side, it’ll make your achievements feel so much more worthwhile.
If you could write a message on a big wall that the entire world could read, what would it say?
Stop throwing things away and be nice to animals.
Finally, where can we find you? Shops, online, worldwide…?
Is there any other similar brand you know or are curious about? Comment below, and we will make it happen!