Recently, Canadian startup Nudnik has been garnering media attention because of its innovative approach to minimizing textile waste. They have been featured in stories from Forbes and the Globe and Mail and have also appeared on Dragon’s Den to pitch the concept.
The reality: the fashion industry and its resulting textile waste are one of the major contributors to bloated landfills worldwide. Twin sisters Lindsay and Alexandra Lorusso have been diligently working the problem. The team at Nudnik is able to repurpose some of the annual 400 billion square-metres of landfill-bound cutting waste into custom garments.
At this point, their flagship DISRUPTOR children’s unisex t-shirt is available in sizes 1T – 6T, but the company has plans to expand in the near future with a full assortment of modern basics.
We were enthralled by their story and their evolving mission. Lindsay Lorusso was kind enough to take some time out of her packed schedule to answer some of my questions.
You worked in a family business that deals with large-scale waste management. What were the key realizations that brought you to tackle fast fashion waste specifically?
Lindsay Lorusso: My father co-owns Wasteco, one of Canada’s largest privately-owned waste management companies. I worked for him for 15 years prior to starting Nudnik with my twin sister Alexandra (also Wasteco alum).
I’m super passionate about waste diversion, the circular economy and viewing waste as a commodity equivalent to raw materials. Textile waste is similar to plastic waste, they are both difficult to recycle. For me, that presents an interesting opportunity to be innovative. We decided to tackle textile waste because we had a lot of clients generating it at the time and asking for solutions to avoid landfill. It seemed like a good starting point. Nudnik was born out of the idea that we could intercept this perfectly good fabric from ending up in the waste stream and turn it into new clothing for kids.
Has your business model changed since the first inception of the concept?
LL: It has. When we started, our mission was to capture textile waste right here in Canada and transform it into Nudnik clothing with local makers. This sounded like a great idea, however, local manufacturing costs are very high and sewers aren’t well versed in kidswear so we were paying a lot for mediocre quality.
Our second challenge was sourcing the textile waste we actually wanted to work with on a consistent basis so we could scale a product line. Our supply was fractured and it wasn’t a challenge we saw ourselves overcoming quickly. Ultimately, we had to step back from the business and evaluate. What came from this exercise was the renewed understanding that textile waste is not just a Canadian problem, it’s a global one. We needed to think bigger in order to truly create a scalable business model of products made entirely from waste that never contributes to waste.
We’ve now partnered with factories overseas where most of the world’s apparel is made. We use their organic cotton offcut fabrics and end-of-roll threads and trims (that would otherwise end up burned or in landfill) to make our unisex DISRUPTOR Tee for kids in sizes 1-6T. There is enough of this offcut fabric produced annually to give every person on earth 6 adult sizes t-shirts every year.
There is enough of this offcut fabric produced annually to give every person on earth 6 adult sizes t-shirts every year.
What are the most significant challenges you have faced in repurposing textile waste?
LL: Finding the right partners. We are pioneering something new when creating circular apparel products and although there is a lot of interest to work together, it’s finding the right partnerships who deeply understand and support our collective mission that has helped propel us forward in the right direction.
Is there resistance from some manufacturers to the concept?
LL: Most are intrigued by the idea and want to give it a shot. For us, it’s more about finding the right fit. Ethical factories and great quality organic fabrics are imperative.
For consumers, what is the most effective way to deal with their own textile waste? How can they keep from contributing to the scores of materials being shipped overseas to end up in landfill after all?
LL: If we only wore our clothing for a year longer than we typically do today, it would be equivalent to keeping 1 million cars off the road every year.
Fall in love with what you already own, attend or host clothing swaps with your friends and community, buy second hand and purchase new only from brands doing good, like Nudnik.
As a last result, donate your clothing.
Do you think this shift towards sustainability is developing as a trend, or are you confident that we’re making a full transition as a society towards salvaging materials and reducing waste?
LL: Sustainability isn’t a trend, it’s a necessity. In starting a new decade we must all focus on climate action, on both an individual level as well as on corporate and enterprise level as well.
Forever 21 is a great example of a business going bankrupt because they didn’t evolve in a way that consumers now demand.
I believe sustainably will become the baseline of all decisions we make moving forward and I believe in a world where all new products can be made with at least a percentage of old ones.
Speaking to young entrepreneurs who want to follow through with their idea or concept for sustainable business, what is the best piece of advice you can offer from what you’ve learned so far?
LL: We went through two of Canada’s top accelerator programs and I encourage entrepreneurs with early-stage ideas (especially in the field of sustainability) to tap into local resources as well.
Becoming an entrepreneur is all about making decisions and then more decisions and so on. Getting started is only the first decision of many. Just start.
Also, find a mentor!
As the world makes a painfully slow transition towards focusing on sustainability and good stewardship of resources, it’s a shot of adrenaline to speak to pioneers in the sustainable movement such as the Lorusso twins. These are the people willing to take risks, blaze new trails and raise awareness about more conscientious consumerism. We are excited and encouraged about what the future holds for Nudnik.