Sydney’s Nua Collective is as much a social project as it is a fashion and homewares brand.
In the summer of 2019, Nicole Phillips was unhappy in her job as a lawyer in Sydney and wanted to make a change. She flew over to Brazil to visit her friend Camila Garbin, and quickly realised the disparity between their two countries.
“There’s such danger living there,” she says. “It’s still very much a developing country.”
During that trip, Nicole was inspired to put the gears in motion for an ethical fashion brand that could help lift women in Brazil out of unemployment.
“I just had this really strong urge that we could use our love of design and creativity to do something.”
Fast forward to 2021, and that idea is now a reality with the launch of Nua Collective.
“We started it with the mission first: find any way we can to help women,” Nicole says. “The way we do it is through sharing beautiful products.”
Camila works with brands on the ground in Brazil while Nicole works from Sydney, and together they’ve united their networks and skills to build a collective of sustainable, ethical fashion and homewares that provide opportunities to women in Brazil.
The intrepid pair met during 2018 when studying at a language school in Berlin, and it didn’t take long for them to become inseparable. They discovered their shared values and views about the world, as well as their love of ethical fashion and their passion for helping women.
“We see women and sustainability as a completely interlinked idea, and that’s because we just can’t progress as a society sustainably if there’s one half of the population getting access to economic opportunity,” Nicole says. “So the more we can give women access to greater income opportunities and sustainable employment, the more we’re going to develop as a sustainable society.”
Nua Collective is empowering women both through their business model, but also through their products. Their embroidered cushions feature stunning silhouettes of women’s bodies that celebrate the naked form.
“Nua means naked in Portuguese, which I learnt later is actually a really risqué word, unlike in English,” Nicole says. “The idea of calling it the ‘naked collective’ is that women possess this vulnerability that can be very much taken advantage of, and it predisposes us to poorer living situations in certain contexts. We thought if we could reinterpret that into a coming together of all this vulnerability, it transforms that into empowerment.”
Both Nicole and Camila are passionate about the collaborative power that women have to ensure a sustainable economic future for everyone, so they’ve partnered with brands in Brazil who share these values.
Their first main partner brand is Projeto Fio (which translates to Thread Project) who make all their garments and some of their cushions.
“They’re a social art project. They run weekly embroidery workshops for women living in the favelas of Brazil… A lot of the women have come from really damaged, disadvantaged backgrounds or have been subject to things like domestic violence,” says Nicole.
Like Nua Collective, Projeto Fio is a “project first, and a brand second”, so transparency and ethical production are non-negotiable. To foster the connection between the customer and the maker, each woman writes her name on every garment she makes. That means you can see the handwriting of the woman who made your clothes, and you can look her up on the Nua Collective website and put a face to a name.
“For us, the awesome part about Projeto Fio is that we can have personal relationships with the people making the clothing that we’re selling,” Nicole says. “We try really hard to share their stories, because they all have really positive relationships with the work that they’re doing.”
Even though the garments are made on the other side of the world, they’re a tangible object that connects the maker to the wearer, and Nicole and Camila celebrate that connection.
As for sustainability, Nicole says Projeto Fio only work with locally sourced and sustainable fabrics and materials.
“The fabrics are all organic cotton and they don’t use any synthetic fabrics in the making of their clothing,” she says. “The embroidery threads are all cotton, and the buttons are all wooden. They’re not certified on Australian standards yet as they’re a very small brand, but that’s what they’re working towards and we’re talking to them about that.”
Projeto Fio also produces small collections to reduce waste, and all the offcuts from their garments are used in their homewares range.
When you purchase from Nua Collective, everything is sustainably packaged and posted in recycled materials and no unnecessary excess packaging is used. And as a personal touch, your purchases come with a handwritten thank you note from Camila and Nicole — they really do go the extra mile.
For their beautiful range of minimal artworks, they’ve partnered with Brazilian artist Patricia Peixoto from the label Paira.
“Working with an artist with really sustainable and transparent practices is really exciting,” says Nicole. “She works with water-based paint because acrylic paint is really bad for the environment as it contains microplastics; the art is all on sustainably sourced canvas that is locally made in Brazil; and there’s no bleaching used in the process.”
As women from different countries with multicultural backgrounds, it was also important to Nicole and Camila that Nua Collective should be established as an inclusive brand that celebrates diversity from the very beginning.
“Camila and I are not stick-figure girls and when we started Nua we wanted to see the whole of society represented in the clothes,” says Nicole. “We feel really proud of the models that we’ve used, and all of the models are actually friends of the affiliated brand creators, so we’re working with small communities of people. The same goes for our own models — we’ve got Brazilian models, German models, there’s a Swiss girl in there, we’re using all our contacts everywhere.”
Their models represent diverse genders, ethnicities and bodies and challenge the norm without relying on tokenism.
It’s only been two weeks since Nicole and Camila officially launched Nua Collective, but they’re already planning for a follow-up launch in October. In preparation, they’ve been talking to Australian artisans as well as Brazilian ones, and they’re growing out their beautiful range of lightweight, embroidered clothing just in time for the Australian summer. If you’re in Sydney, keep an eye out for them at a Bondi market in the coming months.
“Slow fashion is the hard game because it’s more expensive to make and harder to scale, but if you can see you are directly helping someone have a better life through wearing their garments, it’s such a meaningful and mindful way to shop and wear clothing,” Nicole says.
“That will be our mission until the end — just to keep growing out that social and sustainable purpose”.
It’s early days for Nicole and Camila, but they’ve already demonstrated their commitment to their mission, and followed through with truly beautiful products. We’re excited for the future of Nua Collective.
You can start your summer early and shop from Nua Collective here.