PHOTOS FROM NICOUNDERWEAR.COM
Meet Lis Harvey, the founder of Australian-based NICO
and Little Elinor
— the former being a luxurious and clean line of eco-friendly basics and underwear, and the latter being a minimalist selection of children's clothing made of plant-dyed organic cotton. As two of our latest brand additions, we invited Lis to chat with us and tell NICO and Little Elinor's story, how the slow fashion movement shaped the two brands, what barriers she has run into as a small, socially-conscious business, and "Who Makes Our Clothes?".
Who is Lis Harvey? My background is in photography actually, but I had been craving a project that gave me a bit more creative control and the chance to build something from scratch which is what led me to retrain and start NICO. I’m also a mother and like most working mums am juggling that work/life balance! It can be hard when you also love your work but prioritizing family time is always front of mind. Can you tell us about NICO’s beginnings and how the brand has since evolved? We started slowly and stayed very small for some time while I learned the ropes and evolved our concept. When NICO started in 2012 it was a real time of change in the world of ethical/sustainable fashion. It was a concept that was just starting to be thrown around and I was lucky to experience this and be able to learn so much and embed it in to our brand DNA in the early days. Over time the brand has really honed our aesthetic to be a celebration of elegant minimalism. What is NICO’s fashion philosophy? We believe less is more and comfort is key. When it comes to intimates we focus on premium fabrics with great sustainability credentials and minimalist cuts. It’s thoughtful design that has been perfected to support without restricting. Your favourite go-to NICO pieces? Our Full Cup Wirefree Bra is a bit of a revelation and it’s the bra I’m reaching for everyday. It’s that perfect balance of both comfort and support and looks pretty cute in our plant dyed colours too.
What does the slow fashion movement mean to you? How does the movement shape NICO as a brand and business?
When I first had the idea to start NICO the idea of slow fashion was not at all on my radar. We just wanted to make beautiful things! But as we started to grow and to involve more elements like supply chains I became hyper aware of the poor practice that was rampant in the fashion industry and the responsibility to do better. We were never really conscious of being part of a movement for a long time, and I definitely didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon for the sake of it. But as the movement started to grow in momentum, NICO started to gain attention in the space and through that we discovered a really supportive community who have helped us to grow.
If you could pick one person you’d like to see wearing NICO, who would that be?
I’ve actually never considered this before - honestly, any person we see wearing NICO is always a thrill!
What are life’s small pleasures for you right now?
Rare moments of quiet in the house.
What do you imagine the future of fashion to look like?
I really hope to see a shift away from the era of the mega-brand and an industry dominated by large companies and instead a shift towards the creativity and accountability that comes from smaller, independent brands.
What encouraged you to create Little Elinor, NICO’s children’s label?
My daughter Elinor was born around the time that we released our range of plant dyed organic cotton intimates. I was so in love with the product and the story behind the fabrics and production being completely chemical free and it occured to me that I would love for Elinor to be wearing those fabrics too. Plus I really found it hard to find nice kids stuff that was just really minimalist and simple and didn’t have bows or sequins attached!
One book and/or documentary everyone should watch and why?
Have recently finished Clementine Ford's ‘How We Love’ which is a beautiful journey through the nuances of experiencing love. It’s so revelatory but at the same time familiar and left me feeling all warm and fuzzy.
What are some of the barriers you’ve encountered while running a socially-conscious business?
It can be really frustrating when you have so much knowledge about production processes and what it truly means to prioritise sustainability in a business and to then see competitors really blantantly green-washing and getting away with it. I think as a society we’ve come a long way in really understanding these issues but we are still being fooled a lot of the time with clever marketing. There is still a great need for education.
What are your favourite fabrics to use for NICO and Little Elinor and why?
The two main fabrics we use are GOTS certified Organic Cotton and Tencel Modal. We love them both for their softness, their suitabiliity to the product and their high quality which means that they will last. We also love that both can be easily traced all the way back to their raw ingredients and that we can be sure they are made by responsible producers.
Every year during Fashion Revolution week, people around the world are encouraged to ask brands "Who made my clothes?” and hold them accountable for their social and environmental impacts. In regards to NICO and Little Elinor, who are the people behind the garments? Can you tell us a bit about them?
We have been working with our production manager Rajesh in India for about 3 years now. He is a genius and aligns with our thinking on producing as sustainably as possible and treating people with respect. About 1 year ago, with the support of NICO, Rajesh was able to open his own factory (which he named Little Elinor!). It’s a small team of aorund 12 workers who are super skilled and contribute so much to our products. This was a really huge step for us both and allows us even more control and transparency in the production of our garments. At the end of 2021 the factory passed Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) certification which gives our audience an independent guarantee that our factory is upholding the strict enivronmental and social standards outlined by GOTS.
What makes you excited about your work with NICO and Little Elinor?
Honestly, I’m just grateful to be able to work on something that I believe in. I’m aware of what a privilege that is.
Something that recently challenged you?
LIke a lot of businesses we’re now working with some parts of the team remotely. We are a small team and it’s so important to keep our relationships strong so we can collectively work towards the same goals. We’ve had to really focus on staying in touch and communicating really effectively when we can’t all be in the same room.
In the near future, what are you looking forward to most?
Even after all these years I still always really look forward to the creative exploration that comes with each new collection. It’s so much fun.
What is the legacy you hope to leave on this world? What are you out to accomplish?
I just hope that we can be a small part of a collective indutry shift towards more responsible practice that is not purely profit driven.
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