How Nisolo is Changing the Ethical Fashion Landscape
The fashion industry has had its fair share of backlash, and it’s significantly important to note that this is for the better. For brands that ignore the poor working conditions of where their clothing is being made, it’s an invisible slap on the face when things get complicated just because.
Remember the Rana Plaza incident where a total of 1134 workers were killed when a clothing factory collapsed in Bangladesh? Patrick Woodyard remembers it all too well, and he is on a mission since then.
Two years before the tragic incident, he founded Nisolo, a shoe brand that aims to improve the lives of workers in the developing world -- and the Bangladesh tragedy even more inspired the fashion startup. Woodyard explains, “The world was suddenly paying attention to how the things in their closet were being made.”
Horror stories of the Rana Plaza incident inspired Woodyard to take lead in advocating the fashion industry about the shameful practices of the industry, where many fast fashion companies still opting for clothing production in countries where minimum wage abounds.
However, cheap clothing is nothing short of risks for workers who work long hours and in unsafe, unsanitary environments. Woodyard shares, "I worry that it is so overwhelming that consumers and brands don’t know what to do to make things better. We realized that what the industry needs is success stories of brands that have been able to create products responsibly, so that customers know how their products are made, and who makes them.”
And with costs come irresponsibility for brands who simply pulled out of their Bangladesh resources and invested in other poor countries well -- it took away jobs from people who didn't have any other means of work.
In 2011, though, Nisolo was founded when Woodyard met a shoemaker’s wife. He shares, "I walked through their house, and her husband was sitting there making what looked like a pair of Italian dress shoes by hand." He further adds, “I listened to his story about how he struggled to provide for their four children, but I also saw so much talent and potential. What they lacked was an ability to get their product to a more established market, and suddenly all I wanted to do was find a way to help him scale.”
The idea of Nisolo was launched, and with no fashion experience to back him up, he tagged along co-founder Zoe Cleary who was already a fashion veteran with Aeropostale and Bergdorf Goodman under her belt. The two cofounders ensured that their e-commerce site would both be fashion savvy whilst helping poor workers elevate their life.
In order to kick start Nisolo, Woodyard built his own factory in Trujillo, a city in Peru, to ensure that his artisans were in a good place to hone their craft. “It wasn’t necessarily our intention from the start,” he says. “But we realized that the only way that we could feel confident about our ability to ensure not only the quality of the shoes, but also how the workers were treated, what they were paid, and what their work environment was like, was to start our own factory.”
Now, Nisolo operates globally with ethical factories as partners in countries such as Mexico and Kenya. And while it has been a constant challenge to be at par with their demand and supply, Woodyard is positive.
He explains, “Our business is all about recognizing that there is a better way to do fashion, Consumers have become so disconnected from where their products are made, who makes them, and under what conditions. We want consumers to feel really confident about where their goods are made, and feel like they are making a big impact with their purchase.” And we strongly agree.