In a fast-fashion world, the concept of “seasonless,” enduring apparel is a breath of fresh air. And for sustainable fashion brands such as Nicholas K, designed by Arizona-born brother-sister duo Nicholas Kunz and Chris Kunz, longevity is the cornerstone of its company ethos.
True to form, its brick-and-mortar store in New York’s SoHo is light, breezy and brimming with viridescent foliage. Fully aligned with its “urban nomad” aesthetic, the store contrasts the city environment around it with a “green entry” and series of hanging plants that cascade between suspended clothing racks. Billowy vintage white silken parachutes hang from the ceilings to form dressing rooms, and charcoal Shou Sugi Ban Live Edge slab tables and benches — built by Nicholas herself — are spread throughout the store atop whitewashed floors and furnishings. Nicholas K’s ultracool, luxe and edgy collection is outfitted in sustainable fibers and materials such as Alpaca, organic cotton, linen, Tencel and silk.
Here, Nicholas Kunz and Chris Kunz talk to WWD about its “conscious design” philosophy, product longevity and sustainable business model.
WWD: How would you describe “conscious design?” How is Nicholas K’s design process differentiated in the market?
Chris Kunz: Conscious design is simply about longevity. Longevity in the supply chain, physical characteristics and most importantly the function and aesthetics. The convergence of these elements should be well beyond what fast fashion is doing. On the supply-chain side, we have to use practices that ensure the long-term prosperity of the environment, people and their communities. The garment fabric choice and construction should provide years of service. This approach also creates products that have long-term visual relevance.
Nicholas Kunz: No matter how long it lasts it must also ultimately be desirable to wear. Our end goal is to see our customers looking amazing years ahead.
WWD: What is the sourcing process Nicholas K employs for procuring sustainable materials? What are some of your favorite sustainable materials, and why?
C.K.: Since we started it was always part of our process to visit all of our factories. Over the last few years sourcing for materials has been easier due to technology and an interest from the industry. We love undyed alpaca as a resource. Overall the Alpaca has a limited impact on the environment and produces a luxury fiber in a range of natural colors.
N.K.: We love the idea of not having to dye products and unnecessarily overprocess the fibers. The fewer chemicals used the better. We also focus on using undyed cashmere, Global Organic Textile Standard certified cottons, silk, Tencel and linen, all of which are low-impact and circular.
WWD: Nicholas K is devoted to the preservation of artisanal craft. Would you elaborate on the ways Nicholas K helps preserve artisan crafts and cultures?
N.K.: Every season we run a handloom ikat program from India. This traditional technique passed on from generations is one of the main sources of employment in rural villages. This labor-intensive technique is a beautiful art form. Although lead times can be long, we feel handloom products are stunning and provide support to rural areas. [With] having a store, we are able to educate customers on this special product and understand that is all made by hand.
WWD: Which sustainable practices are you most proud of?
C.K.: We are really most proud of the undyed black Alpaca product, which is arriving this month. It’s a limited-edition knitwear product made entirely of undyed superfine black Alpaca and has taken two-and-a-half years to develop. The black is natural, so it is dimensional and beautifully uneven. This fiber is soft, light and with no chemical impact to the environment. When we placed a production order for naturally colored alpaca yarn two years ago, they told us there was only a limited supply. As we investigated further, we discovered the predominantly white herd was a direct effect of the cyclic color demands of our industry. With our partners Inca Tops in Peru, we are hoping to reverse this trend.
WWD: “No one can afford cheap things” is a mantra stated by Nicholas K. Would you expand on what that means for the brand?
N.K.: The basic tenant of this statement simply means that this idea of immediate product obsolescence is destroying us and our environment. Producing, buying, wearing and discarding cheap product ultimately costs everyone.
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