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Nico's Designer On Why Being Sustainable And Transparent Is Important

by: Courtney Sanders | 4 years ago | Features

Nico's Time capsule collection is in store now.

We wear underwear everyday, and we wear it everyday directly against our biggest organ, our skin (which is a weird thing to comprehend). It’s probably quite important, then, that out of all the clothing we buy, we make sure that our underwear is free from the nasty chemicals which are rife in so many fabrics these days.

Enter Brisbane lingerie label, Nico. Nico’s founder and designer, Lis Harvey, started Nico because she saw a gap in the market between fancy lingerie (read: one night per month lingerie which is uncomfortable as all hell) and basics. She never intended to make her label ethical, but when she started to construct her supply chain, she realised the ethics which are personally important to her would have to be in play throughout the production process of her products, too.

Which leads us to what Nico does so well today: the label produces refined, comfy lingerie, which is made from organic cotton and Lenzing Modal, both of which are as soft on the environment as they are on your skin. Good feels all round, basically.

Courtney Sanders: Nico is pretty established now, but for those who haven't heard of it before, can you tell us a little bit about your journey to starting your own underwear range?
Lis Harvey: Sure! Nico has been going for about four years now. It really started out of a desire to fill the gap between the over-the-top lacy, sexy kind of underwear and and the really boring everyday stuff. I felt like there really was room for a brand that aimed for something in-between; underwear and basics that are made from beautiful materials with really nice cuts.

My background is in photography, so I spent a couple of years prior to launching skilling up in various parts of the business and now here we are.

Courtney: For a long time, women's lingerie has been generic, creating 'sexy' underwear for women with the male gaze, rather than female comfort, in mind. Nico really flies in the face of this tradition. What motivated you to do that?
Lis: Again I really felt like there was that gap in the industry, and that there were a bunch of women (myself included) whose needs and desires in the lingerie world weren't really being addressed. Certainly we all have some kind of motivation to be sexy or attractive, but our definition of what that means and looks like varies so much from woman to woman.

The core of this in the Nico world is comfort. Comfort leads to confidence. Confidence is sexy. It's less about the male gaze and more about being yourself and loving that.

Courtney: It seems there are a few lingerie designers today who are rejecting the traditional confines of lingerie in favour of creating women's underwear which focusses on the comfort and pleasure of women over anything else, which also seems to be a reflection of social and political change. What are your thoughts on this? I’m fascinated by the fact that what we wear is so closely linked to the political climate of the day.
Lis: For sure. I think looking at underwear gives you a really interesting perspective on society and particularly women's issues.

If we go back 100 years, underwear was very much about shaping; corsets and the like were used to create a ‘feminine figure’ and were actually really restrictive and unhealthy. As time went on, and women took on a greater role in the workplace, and gained more control over their lives, underwear shifted to be more practical.

I think as we move closer towards gender equality, it makes sense that lingerie and underwear will follow suit, and that designers will move towards addressing what women really want to wear, and comfort is a big part of that.

Courtney: Nico has had a strong ethical ethos from the beginning. Why is this important to you?
Lis: I actually didn't start Nico with the intention of being an ethical brand or having that as a focus. But as the ball got rolling and I started to set up our supply chain, I realised that I just wasn't comfortable doing business any other way. It was my personal ethics that shaped the way Nico developed and continues to grow. Life's too short to live with the guilt of an unethical business, right!

Courtney: You use impressively sustainable fibres for Nico. Can you walk us through the different kind of sustainable fibres, why you've chosen to use each, and why they're preferable to non-sustainable fibres?
Lis: We mostly work with a really lovely Modal fibre. We have it custom knitted for us in Melbourne using certified Lenzing fibres. Lenzing are an awesome company who have some really amazing cutting edge technology which they use to create lovely fabrics that have an environmental focus.

Modal starts as Beechwood trees, which Lenzing sources from sustainable forestry plantations. The wood goes through a closed loop process to be turned into the fibre, which all happens at the same site, which means it goes easy on resources and energy usage. Plus, it's just super soft and lovely to wear and therefore perfectly suited to underwear.

I love working with Lenzing fibres because they are of a really high quality and it's easy to trace the entire supply chain from raw material through to finished fabrics.

Courtney: What do you think are the major ethical problems in the fashion industry at the moment?
Lis: The greatest issue in my mind is the general lack of transparency, and the fact that this is the norm. To be open about supply chains and to be able to answer questions about where things come from should be the standard.

Courtney: Are there any technological or social innovations you're particularly excited about which might make the fashion industry better?
Lis: I love following companies like Lenzing who are doing such amazing things with fibre technology and finding ways to be kinder to the environment without compromising on quality or comfort.

The days of eco-fashion being exclusively scratchy hemp fisherman pants are over!

Courtney: Shoppers can do little things to make the fashion industry a better place. How would you suggest we update our shopping habits for the better?
Lis: I think it's really as simple as choosing to buy from brands which are open and transparent about how they manufacture. The more this happens, the more all companies will be forced to make changes for the better. The power lies with the consumer.

Courtney: If I'm a shopper and I'm in a store thinking about buying a product, what are two questions I should ask the retail assistant to feel comfortable I'm shopping responsibly?
Lis: Firstly, you can ask if the brand offers any kind of information about how the garments are made or if they have any relevant accreditations that offer a guarantee. Secondly, it's good to know what it's made from and again if there are any kind of accreditations.

Courtney: Your new collection is called In The Clouds. Can you walk us through the inspiration behind it?
Lis: It's very much a range inspired by summer vibes – daydreaming, tropical thunderstorms (very much a part of summer here in Brisbane!), and a carefree kind of feeling that summer holidays bring.

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