TSOTA talks to ColieCo, handcrafted ethical fashion brand

By May 21, 2014

Fashion. Leeds.

Nicole Coates founded ColieCo whilst studying Fashion Design at University. She grew up and went to university in Leeds, and now works full time on running her business whilst also developing a new side project, ColieCo Weddings.

ColieCo specialise in well designed, hand crafted, ethical clothing and accessories using reclaimed fabrics. ColieCo on Etsy is a buzzing online hub for ethical fashion in Yorkshire, all beautifully handmade in small studio in the heart of Leeds.

The Company produces quirky, girly and fun fashion garments that are aesthetically pleasing, comfy, with a great fit, not compromised by their ethical design and manufacture.

ColieCo aims to break the rules of what ‘Ethical Fashion’ should look like. TSOTA caught up with Nicole to discuss her choices in crafting ethical fashion…

ColieCo was founded in 2008 – what made you decide to turn your passion into a career?

I started up ColieCo whilst studying for my degree in Fashion Design at Leeds College of Art. The College encouraged students to establish businesses early on, whilst we still had the help and support of the tutors. I was lucky enough to have my tutor, Angie, who was particularly encouraging and was developing a start-up business of her own running vintage-style events. She often let me sell ColieCo clothes at her events and put me in contact with likeminded businesspeople who offered me work experience.

ColieCo evolved to become an ethical fashion brand as I learnt more about the subject and realised how important it was. I really enjoy what I do and realised I could make money from it – for a while there was a blurred line between ‘hobby’ and ‘career’.


Up-cycling is becoming very popular at the moment – what was it that inspired you to focus ColieCo around reclaimed materials and locally sourced products?

Ethical fashion is very important today. You only have to look at the major news stories from the past year to see that something needs to be done about the way we manufacture clothing. It is not an ethical choice to buy clothing that you know has been made in appalling conditions. Manufacturers in Bangladesh are actually screaming out for transparency in the supply chain, especially following the devastation of the factory fires this year exposing the human cost of clothing manufacture. The big companies using these factories are of course at the other end of the spectrum to ColieCo in terms of scale, but I think if more people continue the positive trend to buy from local, ethical sources, at least they are doing something.

This knowledge is my main inspiration. Fashion can be very vain and whilst I can’t ever see myself not working in fashion, it makes it much more rewarding working in this way. I love how every garment can be different due to fabric variations, their source, how late in their life they are and how they have been treated. I also get to use a lot of beautiful and exciting vintage prints working in this way.


Do you search high and low for particular materials or do you try to make garments from what you find?

A lot of my fabrics are factory waste. Sometimes this means I will get a few scraps with large holes in them which I have to work around: these are often good for lingerie that use smaller pieces. Sometimes I will be lucky enough to get a full roll of something that may have a colour fault or damaged sections. These fabrics would otherwise be deemed useless and simply thrown away! I am particularly proud of my use of scrap leather. I see it as an awful shame for any leather to go to waste: the animal has died for us to have the luxury to wear its skin! To me, the skin should be used in its entirety, leaving no waste.

Working in this way usually means I have to look at what I have and design from that. I have quite a stock of fabrics now though so designing is starting to become a little easier!


Do you gain most of your inspiration from other designers, or from patterns and materials you come across?

I love looking at what other current designers are up to, but I find most of my inspiration in the fabrics themselves and their textures and prints. I also find a lot of inspiration in sculpture – I think garments and accessories are forms of sculpture themselves. My tweed and leather duffle bag idea came to me whilst I was looking around Tate Modern recently. I saw a piece by Barbara Hepworth and thought ‘HOLES!’ After some research, this then went on to become a main feature of the bag.



Your designs are beautiful and often quite quirky: raincoats with bunny ears… floral cat masks and knitted bow ties. Is every item one of a kind?

Every item is handmade in my studio in Yorkshire. The amount I can make of each depends entirely on how much of each fabric I have, so most end up been unique yes! ColieCo is quite playful and I love experimenting with different animals in my designs – who doesn’t like kittens and bunnies?!





You sell your garments online – do you travel the craft/fashion fairs as well?

Most of my sales come through online at colieco.co.uk and via word of mouth. I do also sell at craft and fashion fairs yes, I find it really nice to talk to my customers face to face and their feedback is so important.


We understand that you recently launched ColieCo Weddings! How does it feel to be commissioned to make the most important dress in someone’s life?!

It was so scary at first, but it is amazing to be part of something so special. I really enjoy getting to know the brides and bridesmaids and feel quite excited as their special day approaches!



What would you say was the most challenging aspect of moving from university to starting your own business?

The most challenging thing was probably realising I was on my own in the big wide world – no tutors, no machines, no studio! But it was also the most important thing. I am no longer restricted and molly coddled and I feel like a lot more is at stake. I learn a lot more from my mistakes now as money and my reputation are on the line, not just numbers that make up my degree score.


What advice would you give to those wanting to pursue a career in fashion?

Start early, take all the advice you can from other people, learn from your mistakes and move on. Make as many contacts as possible, talk about your brand: word of mouth is great advertising! Be as professional as possible when dealing with clients and talk openly and honestly about your work.


Where do you hope to see yourself further down the line?

I hope to see myself as a well traveled, well rounded and grounded person with an established handmade, recycled fashion label, and as someone who loves going to work every day. I love Leeds, it’s such a vibrant city and there is always something going on, but I plan on travelling in the very near future in a campervan! I want to see some of the world, meet new people, experience life on the road and find new inspiration.

I also want to focus more on and specialise in lingerie design at some point. I am working hard to gain as much experience in this area as possible, currently working as a garment technician for Something Wicked, a lingerie brand based in Leeds, who also feature ColieCo designs.

Visit the website below to view and purchase the ColieCo range of beautiful handmade garments and accessories.

Thanks Nicole!


WEB: www.colieco.co.uk

EMAIL: [email protected]

ETSY: www.etsy.com/uk/shop/ColieCo

FACEBOOK: www.facebook.com/ColieCo

TWITTER: @colie_co

TUMBLR: colieco.tumblr.com


Filed under: Fashion