by Lucy Siddall

The existence of something, anything for one year, is special. Still, when that thing is a creative endeavour you have poured every ounce of your heart into, it’s even more wonderful and worthy of celebration.

Editor Lucy Siddall speaks to NARU founder Natalie Smith about her first year in business.

As a young designer, Founder Natalie Smith had bold ambitions. When leaving university, she set her sights on creating “a luxury accessories brand with sustainable principles at its core”. However, at that time, ‘sustainability’ lived on the fringes of the fashion industry. Few designers were working to create genuinely planet-saving ways of working, and customers weren’t demanding change. So she collected meaningful experiences at brands ranging from luxury fashion houses to high street retailers. Taking note of practices and carefully storing ideas and positive ways of working that would support her long-term goals of founding a brand.

As Natalie approached the ten-year mark of her career, she realised her role as a designer, despite being varied and rich with opportunity, involved a lot of talk but little action. Unfortunately, many brands are “talented at hiding the truth of their supply chains, and this, intentionally or unintentionally, can lead to greenwashing”. Natalie knew she was not “fulfilling her vision of creating a sustainable company that valued the planet and people over profit”. It was time to stand up on her own and take up space in the sustainable fashion industry under a brand of her own making.

It was time to stand up on her own and take up space in the sustainable fashion industry under a brand of her own making.

In May 2020, after much hard work, commitment, and dedication, NARU launched, and according to Natalie has been the most exciting and rewarding thing she has ever achieved. Naturally, the launch of a new business comes with its challenges. To ensure the market understood the values of the brand and, therefore, the significance of shopping sustainably, the founder knew she would need to “provide clarity” for the customer “around different types of leather and the importance of, instead of ignoring the existing supply chain, changing it for the better”. The brand’s biggest challenge has been breaking into the existing luxury market and competing with established companies. Yet, Natalie has met the challenge head-on and prides herself on her consistent approach to a supply chain she genuinely believes in. As a brand, NARU is honest about every step of its production and strives to “educate its community on its journey and the sustainable fashion industry as a whole”.

When talking to Natalie about NARU’s first anniversary, she explains her proudest moment is the launch of the rental element of the platform. With an undeniable pride, she describes how the company is “the first luxury accessories manufacturer in the UK to offer a rental service directly from our flagship website”—an incredible achievement for a fledgling brand so new to the market. Renting and reusing our fashion and accessories significantly reduces the damage the fashion industry inflicts on the planet, and the speed at which NARU introduced the feature to their site indicates the genuine importance with which Natalie views sustainability.

NARU prides itself on creative collaboration. It is something that means a great deal to Natalie and has been her most important lesson from the past year. “Some incredible individuals in the sustainability sphere want to nurture our collective vision of creating a better fashion industry”, and their support initially shocked the founder. Yet “collaboration is so important” for her, and the ongoing creative relationships she is forming in the community have become a benchmark for how she runs the brand. The founder views NARU and the fashion industry’s response to climate change and sustainability as a collective effort, and it is refreshing to see a brand work so hard to forge bonds with other experts and leaders in the sustainability space.

When asked what she looks forward to in the coming year, Natalie announced the brand’s ‘exchange and archive’ platform. A “circular programme where customers can trade existing products for credit towards something new”. An innovative concept that eradicates the endpoint in the product life cycle for the customer and adds to the brand’s sustainable positioning. This newest addition to the platform is “the third pillar of the brand’s circular business model” alongside the rental, repair, and restore service. 

The brand’s first birthday is just the beginning of Natalie and NARU’s journey, and it’s exciting to watch the brand and founder deservingly gain momentum and acclaim in such a meaningful, evolving and essential area of fashion.

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