5 June 2017

Style and Sustainability

Giving emerging fashion designers a platform to showcase their work, Nu Blvck turns the traditional fashion system on its head and breaks down the barriers between designers, artisans and customers.  Since its launch in August 2016, the crowdfunded brand has been selecting a new designer each season to create a limited run of made to order accessories with a transparent supply chain that produces lust-worthy pieces without compromising on quality or the sustainability of their system. I spoke to the brand's founders, Rebecca Flory and Andrew Vincent, about everything from making ethics the norm in fashion as opposed to the exception, to the fearless Scottish creatives who are getting the international recognition they deserve.

how did Nu Blvck come about?
Rebecca Flory: I started a business 6 or 7 years ago importing artisan-made accessories and homeware products from India and selling them online. There were so many supply chain challenges though and I “parked it” until I met Andrew in 2015, in Boston. We talked about the business and started to look at a different approach, that still meant we could stay true to what we love - amazing design and artisan craftsmanship - but in a way that we could scale a brand and business.

Andrew Vincent: At the same time, we’d been looking at the fashion industry and into what was happening - the impact that fast fashion is having on the people who make our clothes and on the planet. We looked to different sectors for inspiration and we came across Made.com - who were scaling a global brand on short run, made to order manufacture. This model seemed to fit well with the brand we wanted to create, limited, luxury with a real focus on design and making. So we set off to make it happen.

it’s a really interesting approach to streamline the supply chain the way you do and cut out the middle man, what do you think is the biggest benefit of this to your customer?
AV: First and foremost, we think it brings our customers closer to our brand and to the products they’re buying. People want to feel connected to a brand nowadays, the people behind the brand - the founders, the designers, the makers and the celebrities / influencers / models wearing the products. We also place great emphasis on the materials we use and we’re very focused on producing luxury quality accessories, which, because of our direct to consumer model we can sell at a more accessible price. Someone once said that “luxury is in the process” and we really believe that.

talk us through the process of crowdfunding the project, did you ever anticipate it would be as successful as it was?
AV: Crowdfunding our first accessories collection was a lot of hard work! We launched the brand on the same day as the campaign and I think quite a few people were sceptical as to whether or not we’d reach our target. But we’d prepared for a few months beforehand and we truly believed we’d reach it one way or another. Being a new brand with a really different approach helped us get our story out there too. And support from family and friends was invaluable.

how important was social media for you in growing the brand?
RF: Hugely important; for growing the brand but also for telling our brand story. We have a very small marketing budget so we really rely on social media to grow our designer, artisan and customer “communities”.

AV: As a young brand with no physical presence, social media is how people engage with our brand, it’s how we form a conversation with our customers which is vitally important. We have a focus on creating really engaging, beautiful content which we’re receiving a great response to already!

the demand for fast fashion is still high and although a more conscious approach is being adopted – mostly by people in the fashion industry who are aware of unethical production – do you think we’ll ever reach a point when the general public action on this too?
RF: I think people already are but it’ll be a while before it takes over from fast fashion. The good thing is that the longer we’re in the industry the more fashion start-ups we see popping up with ethics and sustainability at their heart - which is fantastic. Like Nu Blvck, they’re exciting, fashion forward, fun brands too which are appealing to younger consumers. That’s what the industry needs - for brands like these to become the norm not the exception. With that comes a whole education piece. It’s hard but we do believe that we’ll all get there. We have to.

with formerly being a lawyer and accountant respectively, how easy/difficult was it for you to not only transition into fashion, but create your own business from scratch?
RF: I think our backgrounds have been more of a help than a hindrance. Our business model also allows us to focus on what we’re good at - which is the business side of things. But we’ve also learnt from some hugely successful business people / entrepreneurs that a lot of the time they’re just winging it; so we don’t feel as alone.

AV: Our backgrounds in working in the business world have most certainly helped in the creation of a sound start-up. Rightly or wrongly so, our backgrounds gave us good credibility in the early days. We’re both fairly creative people and have really enjoyed shaping our business and growing a brand that embodies our values and passions in life. It’s also great fun. I think that with the right work ethic and passion anything is possible - regardless of your background. And as Becca says – most people are just winging it through life anyway!

there’s a bit of a buzz in Glasgow at the moment that gives it more of a creative prominence than anything that’s been felt in Scotland for a little while. Being based in the city, how (if at all) have the environment and people served as inspiration for you?
AV: There is a buzz, not just in Glasgow but across Scotland I think - Edinburgh and Dundee in particular too. It’s great to be part of. We have customers all over the world so it’s a great feeling to know that we’re helping to promote the creativity and talent here.

RF: We’re always inspired by our customer and our editorial campaigns are all based on briefs that we set. Then they just develop into what you see depending on who we’re working with and where they’re shot which is really exciting. The more talented creatives we work with, the more we discover along the way. It’s really exciting to see people getting recognition from world renowned magazines and the industry generally for their work. People seem unafraid here – they’re just going for it and I love that. Why not?!

you work with a lot of Scottish creatives and seem to champion homegrown talent. do you think there’s enough incentive in terms of opportunity and jobs for emerging creatives to stay in Scotland and not move elsewhere?
RF: I think it depends on the mindset of the creative. We’re based in Scotland but we don’t think we’re going to become a global brand by thinking only in terms of what Scotland has to offer us (or what we have to offer Scotland). From the outset we’ve wanted Nu Blvck to be global because we think our business can have a positive impact on people all over the world. I think other people have to think that way too...

AV: It’s a wider problem across all industries. The “brain drain” to London or Paris (for fashion) is a real problem - talented, young creatives will always go where the opportunity is and the whole industry in Scotland has to address that. We feel like we’re doing our bit to help!

what advice would you give to anyone looking to start their own fashion brand?
RF: I think you’ve got to be original because there’s so much competition. Be persistent and resilient. It’s hard starting a fashion brand - any business - and you’ve got to be prepared for that. Also, surround yourself with positive people.

AV: Be brave. Don’t try to conform. Always think commercially or if that’s not your bag, find a partner who does.

what can we expect from Nu Blvck in the near future?
RF: We’re working with a new designer on an accessories collection which will launch early August. The designer is really talented and has a different aesthetic to ours so we’re really excited to see the collaboration come to life. We’re also moving into categories we haven’t been in before, but that’s all we’re giving away at the moment … And another collection launch before Christmas and a few amazing events which we’re planning with Scottish creative support agencies. So lots of opportunity for the industry as well as our customers.

AV: Longer term, we’re planning to scour the globe for the best emerging designers and artisans to make our platform truly global. Exciting times!