With her unique fashion brand, ColieCo, Nicole Coates is breaking the mould in the fashion industry by using unwanted garments and surplus stock to create innovative and trendy new products. All the materials are sourced locally and produced in the UK. Quality products and unique garments are ensured for any ColieCo shopper as they are all hand-made and hand-finished. I spoke to Nicole about the origins of ColieCo and its niche in the fashion industry.
Where did the idea for ColieCo originate?
I started up ColieCo whilst studying for my degree in Fashion Design at Leeds College of Art. The College encourages students to start up businesses early on whilst they can call upon the help and support of
the tutors. My tutor, Angie, was particularly encouraging and was working on a start-up business of her own which ran vintage style events. She often let me sell ColieCo clothes at these events and even put me in contact with likeminded businesspeople who offered me work experience. ColieCo evolved through this period to become
an ethical fashion brand as I learnt more about the subject and realized how important it is in the fashion industry.
How did you begin to transform this idea for ColieCo into a reality?
Whilst I was at university ColieCo was more of a passionate hobby. It wasn’t until I was making choices about my career once I had finished at university that I began to take things further. I have freelanced for several clients since graduating, but I have always made time for ColieCo. I set up my website in April 2012 and since then the brand has seen continually growing interest.
What challenges did you face setting up Colieco?
A big challenge for ColieCo is the lack of continuity in the range. People will see a product, it will sell, and often it was a one-off or limited run made from vintage fabrics. Some people see this as an annoyance, but many others like the fact that what they have bought is a one-off and won’t see someone else wearing it.
What would you say to students who are seeking to set up their own fashion brand?
Start early, take all the advice you can from other people, and learn from your mistakes. Make as many contacts as possible and talk about your brand: word of mouth is great advertising! Be as professional as possible when dealing with clients and be as open and honest about your work as possible.
What kind of textiles are more frequently used than others in your clothing?
The most popular fabrics used in ColieCo clothing are vintage printed cottons, factory waste wools and leathers, and vintage buttons.
Where do the materials used in your items come from?
A lot of my fabrics are ‘factory waste.’ Sometimes this means I will get a few scraps with massive holes in them which I have to work around; these are often good for lingerie that only need smaller pieces. Occasionally I will be lucky enough to get a full roll of something that may have a colour fault or damaged sections. These fabrics would
otherwise be deemed useless and simply thrown away.
I am particularly proud of my use of scrap leather. I see it as an awful shame for any leather to go to waste; the animal has died for us to have the luxury to wear its skin. So to me, the whole skin should be used up, leaving no waste at all.
Why is ethical fashion important?
You only have to look at the major news stories from the past year to see that something needs to be done about the way that we manufacture clothing. It is not an ethical choice to buy clothing that you acknowledge has been made by a worker who is made to suffer exploitation because they have no other choice.
Manufacturers in Bangladesh are actually screaming out for transparency in the global supply chains, especially after the devastation of the factory fires earlier this year, which exposed the human cost of clothing manufacture. The larger companies using these factories are, of course, at the other end of the spectrum to ColieCo in terms of scale, but I think that if more people continue the positive trend of buying from local, ethical sources then at least they are moving in the right direction.
My hope is that this subculture of people shopping ethically continues to grow and grow, eventually forcing big retailers to take notice and act upon the trend.
Is there a lot of competition within the ethical fashion industry?
I think many people who work in the ethical fashion industry don’t see competition. To me, there isn’t a great sense of rivalry as everyone is working towards the same goal. In my experience, there is much more of a culture of collaboration in the industry than competition!