Standing out isn’t always easy, especially in a fashion industry that’s dominated by big names, cheap prices, and quick production lines. And when you do the opposite, many companies find it difficult to meet their margins. Just ask Ruth True, founder of Nube9, who has been a member of the slow-fashion movement from the start.
“I don’t really believe that things should fly over oceans [to get to their consumers], they don’t really need to,” says True. Since the beginning of Nube9 in 2013, the goal has been to be not only a sustainable business, but to also raise awareness for the environmental effects of material purchases.
So for True, a Seattle native, it was a no-brainer to make clothes in the city she calls home and use US sourced material. And True didn’t just want to print some letters on cheap cotton shirts saying something along the lines of “Recycle, Re-use.” She wanted to make her garments out of single-use water bottles—you know, the kind you find filling the recycling bins. And that’s actually where the idea came to her (along with the fact that she couldn't find any US made jerseys for her kids). She started to notice just how much plastic consumers were throwing away at her kid’s basketball tournaments and that's what prompted her to really try and do something that would make a difference.
It sounds like something out of sci-fi novel but it can be done here, in present times (remember Emma Watson’s Met Gala dress?). The plastic water bottles are ground up at a factory in North Carolina, then melted down into little, round pellets. These pellets are then smashed down to create the fibers, which in turn becomes the garments. Simple right? Okay, the process is more expensive and labor intensive, but it’s literally made from trash; you can’t get more sustainable than that.
Even with True's great ambition to make a change, this wasn’t something she could do all by herself without any traditional education in fashion. With the help of cofounders Jonna Bell, Dominic Muren, Molly Van Nostrand, designer-developer Clinton Hughes, and the rest of the staff, her idea was really able to take off.
But being the first to do something always has its own hardships, or as Julie Liveris, CEO, puts it, “The problem with being a pioneer, is that you’re being a pioneer. A lot of what you do ends up leading the way for other people to come along and do it as well.” It’s uncharted territory, it’s risky, and the timing may be off. Even if it’s a good idea, it doesn’t mean the world is ready to embrace it. “But if somebody can do it bigger, better, and faster in your wake, you got to start that,” says Liveris. “A lot of the glory is that you created that path for somebody else.”
Given that their business is built on the foundation of sustainability, the crew at Nube9 hopes that one day, they will struggle to find material to make their garments and have to search for a new sustainable fabric. Or as Bell puts it, “The day we can’t find enough post-consumer plastic to make a shirt is the day that everyone has become way more mindful."