After studying global economics, business and Spanish at the University of Mississippi, Patrick Woodyard took off for Peru where he worked in microfinance. While he was there, he met shoemakers whose low wages and unsafe working conditions inspired him to push the fashion industry in a more sustainable direction while championing the wellbeing of people who make the things we buy. Today, his company, Nisolo, is Climate Neutral Certified and a Certified B-Corp. It currently supports the livelihoods of more than 1,000 individuals throughout Peru, Mexico, Kenya and the U.S.
Woodyard sat down with Jessica Abo to discuss Nisolo and the launch of the company’s sustainability facts label.
Jessica Abo: Tell us about your company.
Patrick Woodyard: Not only have we been focused on making very high-quality, functional, comfortable, everyday products that look great, but also we’ve been focusing on bringing them to market in a way that really embraces integrity and honors both the people who made them, as well as the planet in the process.
What inspired you to start Nisolo?
Woodyard: I was living in Peru, working in microfinance and was actually in the home of a shoemaker on the outskirts of a major city and was talking with him. He had just quit his job. He’d been working for 13 years at a factory, treated horribly and was out on his own. And it just made me think, “Man, I don’t think about the impact of my clothes and what happens to them before they get to us.” In that moment, working with him and his family and just seeing these incredible people, the faces behind the clothes that we wear, I realized that more brands needed to exist that took them into consideration and took the planet into consideration with every step they take as a company.
How does your company promote both the sustainability of the planet and the livelihoods of the people who make the products?
Woodyard: As consumers, while we know a ton about what our clothes or our phones or our cars can do for us, once they’re in our hands, we know almost nothing about the journey they took before they got to us and how they impacted the hundreds of hands that created them, the thousands of miles they travel and what the impact of that was on the planet. And this is affecting tons of industries, this lack of consumer awareness and in the fashion industry, in particular, it’s contributing to three major problems.
First off from a people perspective, the fashion industry is littered with human rights abuses. From a planet perspective, it’s also contributing to the reality that the fashion industry is one of the top five most polluting industries today, estimated to contribute up to 10% of global carbon emissions. You know, that’s more than international shipping and aviation combined. The third problem that this lack of consumer awareness is contributing to is now that a sustainability movement is taking place to combat this, it’s become profitable. And so you see more and more brands making broad sustainability claims, but they don’t have the practices to back it up.
We really see the industry at a fork in the roads. Is it going to continue to improve, or is it all just going to be hearsay? We wanted to create a label that would help consumers understand how our products are impacting people on the planet. So we spent several years leaning on global experts, looking at every assessment across social and environmental justice in the industry, taking all of that information and developing a criteria into one simple label that is digestible but has the breadth and depth to really have teeth to it, to help consumers understand the impact that their product is having on people and the planet. We really leveraged the nutrition label and what that did for the food and beverage industry and how it created stronger supply chains and healthier food. And you see consumers making better choices each day. That can happen in the fashion industry and so we created this label to hold ourselves accountable to our practices across people and the planet in hopes that this label will also be adopted and begin to hold the industry accountable as well.
How are you getting other companies to use this label?
Woodyard: We decided to open source all our methodology and all of our research behind the sustainability facts label, because we recognized that we can’t do this by ourselves. In fact, Nisolo means, “neither alone” in Spanish. We recognized we can’t do this without the help of an entire ecosystem. That’s what it’s going to take to transform the industry. So, we’re offering up all of our research in order to collectively, as an industry, elevate the level of transparency that’s been in existence so that we can begin to transform this industry for the better. We believe that if other brands adopt the breadth, the depth, the digestibility of this label, and are able to elevate that transparency within their consumer bases, we can put a significant dent in poverty from this industry, over a hundred million people making the clothing we [the fashion industry] wear, plus their dependents, if they were pulled out of poverty, imagine that impact. We also believe that something like this and this level of consumer awareness and the way that demand is going to transform supply chains can also reverse and really course-correct the fashion industry’s impact on climate change as well.
What’s your advice for consumers who want to buy from brands that support the people who make their products but don’t know how to get the real story happening here or overseas?
As consumers today, it’s hard to know which brands are being truthful and how to know if you’re actually making a better choice or not. I think the advice that I would have for consumers is, look for statistics, look for facts, keep clicking and understand what’s behind it. Are these broad sweeping claims or is there actually evidence to back this up? Look for third-party certifications. Nisolo is B-Corp Certified, Climate Neutral Certified, Leather Working Group certified. We’re always seeking more and more certifications to validate the claims we’re making. That’s another very critical component. Finally, look for brands that have a holistic approach to sustainability. It can’t be cherry-picked and become a one-issue topic. It has to be about people and the planet. And a lot of the categories we’re looking at within our Sustainability Facts Label, we always say, “What good is an eco-denim pair of jeans, if the person who made it isn’t paid a living wage?”
What do you think is the secret to your success?
At Nisolo, we always try to stay hyper-focused on what we can control, taking one step at a time toward success until that flywheel really starts moving. And then the momentum just continues to build. The second thing that I would say is the world needs brands like Nisolo. There’s a lot of brokenness in industries today, especially in the fashion industry. A lot of people want what we want. Values are aligned. We all want to treat people with better integrity. We all want the planet to be honored in the process, but our clothes aren’t doing that today. And thankfully we’ve had an opportunity to work with all of our staff, advisors, investors, celebrities, influencers, who share in those values. And I think that’s been such a huge part of our success.
Nisolo is just getting started and the world needs brands like this to succeed. We welcome everyone to join in on our community and help push for what we’re fighting for. It just really comes down to fighting for what you believe in. Living with purpose and pushing forward.