Innovative Companies with Sustainable Business Models: Nurmi Clothing

Company profile

Name: Nurmi Clothing
Founded: 2010
Founders: Anniina Nurmi
Industry: Clothing
Main services: Sustainable clothing + a clothing rental service
Sustainability: Nurmi Clothing uses fabrics and production processes that are less harmful to the environment compared to most other clothing companies. Nurmi Clothing is also experimenting with a clothing rental service.

Idea and company history in brief

What would you do if realized that you’re studying a field that’s mostly dominated by unsustainable and unethical practices? Anniina Nurmi answered this question by founding her own company with the aim of helping transform the clothing industry. The result was Nurmi Clothing, a Finnish sustainable clothing company operating in Lahti, Finland.

I was able to get in touch with Nurmi, who shared her thoughts on Nurmi Clothing. According to Nurmi, the story of Nurmi Clothing began in 2006 when she was studying to become a fashion designer at the Lahti Institute of Design. Being a conscious consumer was important to Nurmi, and knowing that the fashion industry wasn’t the most sustainable industry out there, she began questioning her career choice:

“There was this deep inner conflict within me about becoming a fashion designer while knowing that the fashion industry is anything but sustainable.”

However, after reading the book Eternally yours, timely design about sustainable industrial design, Nurmi realized that the principles introduced in the book could also be applied to fashion design. Nurmi graduated in 2007 and started working for L-Fashion group as a clothing designer while continuing to search information about sustainable design from books and online.

“Back then there was not much literature about sustainable clothing design, so I had to gather bits of information from here and there. At the same time I was learning a lot about how a large clothing business operates, thanks to my position at L-Fashion Group. At around 2008 I started writing about my insights about sustainability in my blog.”

Nurmi also launched an online store in 2008, selling sustainable clothes made by other manufacturers. The idea for establishing her own label came to her a year later.

“I began thinking: I write about and sell ecological clothing made by other brands, but I am a fashion designer by profession. So why not establish my own brand? This was in 2009 and I finally started selling clothes under my own label in 2010, slowly adding new garments and growing my collection.”

Nurmi Clothing displayed.

Nurmi Clothing displayed.

As her collection grew, Nurmi was also able to see how sustainability practices have developed and improved over the years.

“In 2008 there were very few sustainable clothing labels in Finland and sustainable clothes were hardly ever discussed in popular media. Today things are much better, but there’s also a lot more greenwashing. The clothing industry is still a long ways to go from becoming truly sustainable, especially because clothing manufacturing is so complex.”

Nurmi makes sure that her clothes are as ecologically and ethically produced as possible in two main ways. Firstly, she uses materials that have less burden on the environment, including hemp, organic cotton, recycled fibers and upcycled deadstock fabrics. She also makes sure that the fabrics she uses are of high quality and the best fit for the purpose. Secondly, Nurmi chooses suppliers she knows thoroughly and who are willing to be transparent about their own supply chains. All Nurmi suppliers can be found here.

Nurmi

Furthermore, being less bad is not enough for Nurmi. She is also interested in finding circular economy practices for her business, and wants to transform the industry from a linear, take-make-waste model to a circular one. Nurmi is currently searching for ways to implement service design and reuse and remanufacturing principles in her business. One concrete result was the launch of the Nurmi clothing library last year.

Today Nurmi Clothing is still a small player in the markets, and Nurmi wants to grow the business in the future. By growing her business Nurmi believes she can have a positive impact on society.

Business model: Product service system (Nurmi Clothing Library)

Although most of Nurmi Clothing’s revenue still comes from traditional sale of products, Nurmi Clothing also has a clothing library that allows people to rent clothes instead of buying them. Based on the below framework from Accenture, Nurmi Clothing Library has a product service system business model. 

Accenture

Accenture’s 5 business models for circular economy. Source: Accenture, Circular Advantage.

A product service system essentially means that a product is used to provide a service, for example when renting a car. Car rentals provide access to the benefits of having a car at your use without the burden of owning one. A product service system can also be a mix of various products and services, but the focus is always in providing a stellar customer experience, not on the products themselves. When a product is used as a service, the idea is to provide access to the benefits of using the product while retaining the burden of owning the product within the company. This way of thinking, also known as service-dominant logic, shifts the focus from products to understanding and serving the underlying needs of the customer.

In Nurmi Clothing Library’s case, the library’s customers pay for getting access to clothes instead of owning them. You can rent two clothes for two weeks at a time for a membership fee of 30 euros per month, which makes 7,5 euros per garment each month. It’s also possible to have a six-month membership for 120 euros, making each garment cost only 5 euros per month.

nurmi-clothing-library-infoboard2-revised

According to Nurmi, the library is still at an experimental phase, and she aims to develop and expand the concept in the future. Nurmi also believes that developing the rental collection into a major source of revenue requires changes in consumer behavior.

“For clothing rental to work we need to see a major shift in consumer behavior. Consumers are now used to buying clothes dirt cheap from a big retail outlet and then throwing them in the trash can once they’re bored with them. We at Nurmi Clothing want to create positive experiences about renting clothes and make it as easy and affordable as possible for customers.”

Nurmi Clothing Library is not alone in testing the clothing rental waters. Many new services are currently being introduced in the markets, including Rent the Runway for women’s dresses, The Mr. Collection for men’s clothes, The Ms. Collection for women’s clothes, and Bag Borrow or Steal for bags and accessories. Trying to find similar services in Finland is trickier, though. There are only a couple of clothing rentals in operation and they have difficult opening hours. Nevertheless, check out Luottovaate in Tampere, Vaatepuu in Järvenpää, and Vaaterekki in Riihimäki and Helsinki

Hopefully we will see more services like Nurmi Clothing Library in the future. If we want to close the loop for circular economy, we will need to change radically the way we buy and use stuff. Who knows, maybe we’ll see the Spotify of clothes in the near future?

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