Aisling Byrne: Nu.Ethical and The Ideas Collective

We sat down with Aisling Byrne, who founded Nu.Ethical with Ali Kelly. Both Ali and Aisling are past participants of The Ideas Collective

Nu. is an ethical fashion community who believe in looking great without the environmental and social costs. Aisling and Ali began their journey with The Ideas Collective – a journey that has led Aisling to an Enterprise Ireland scholarship and a team of five now working on Nu.

What was the issue bugging you that brought you to The Ideas Collective?

I love fashion, but having seen first-hand the devastating effects that the fast-fashion industry has on people and the environment I felt it was an issue I could no longer ignore.

Everyone wants to look good and to do this we think we need the latest trends. When everyone in the world wants the same thing it becomes mass consumption. How we sustain this demand is through a cheap and often unethical supply chain. The by-product of which is over 200 million tonnes of garment waste a year. When we set up Nu. we did so because we felt there had to be a better way to consume and love fashion.

Do you think of yourself as an activist or a social entrepreneur? 

Ali and I have set up a business to provide alternative choices to the fast-fashion industry. Someday we hope the fashion industry will operate in a sustainable way because of what we are doing. We hope that labour rights will improve, that toxic chemicals will no longer pollute our environment and that sustainable jobs will be created. It is social entrepreneurship – but it is also just good business. We decided early on not to take the ‘activist’ root but instead to pioneer a business model that is better than the models we currently have.

Nu.Ethical, The Ideas Collective, Suas Educational Development

What’s the difference between someone who gets off their arse to act for change and someone who doesn’t?

When Ali and I applied for The Ideas Collective we told the panel we were going to change the global fast-fashion industry so that it would be sustainable and ethical. When asked how we would do it we said, ‘we haven’t figured that out yet, but that’s why we’re here – and don’t worry, because once we do then we’ll change the world!’

You don’t have to know how you’re going to do it. You might not have the skills, the knowledge, the experience, or even the concrete idea. It’s the people that care enough to just get up and start that get there in the end.

What was the hardest part of The Ideas Collective experience?

Actually coming up with an idea – global issues are daunting! But The Ideas Collective really puts things in perspective. We had to start with small steps – which is by far the best way forward. I’m very optimistic, so I had to come to terms with the fact were unlikely to have an enterprise ready to change the fashion industry by the end of the three months.

And the best?

Same again – actually coming up with an idea! Once you start it’s brilliant. We started by running small swap shops but over a year they have grown and grown and now we’re beginning to move online. I’m just so so happy that we filled out that application form late one night before our finals, we were so close to not bothering. If we didn’t apply we never would have started swap shops, and Nu. wouldn’t exist!

Were the other people sound?

Yeah! We’ve made some pretty amazing friends from The Ideas Collective and most of them still help us a lot with Nu. It’s so great having a support team!

What connections can you see between your project on The Ideas Collective and what you’re up to now?

So we stuck with Nu! Wooo! And I recently got on to an Enterprise Ireland scholarship so now I work on Nu. full time, we also have an all female team of five who work part-time. We run swap shops and fashion events in Dublin each month and are planning to expand these to other parts of Ireland. We’ve just begun our first online trial in Trinity, allowing students to share and borrow outfits for this year’s Trinity Ball!

If The Ideas Collective was a biscuit, which biscuit would it be and why?

An Oreo – firstly because I like Oreos and I also like The Ideas Collective very, very much! Secondly, and this is the real reason, on the outside you get a solid shell for your idea and then lots of emotional support on the inside (the mushy part)!

Could you have an idea as great as Nu. in you? Join The Ideas Collective and find out - applications are open!

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