UKFT Rise – Founder Feature with Naru Studios
Meet Natalie Smith, 34, founder of Naru Studios, a brand of conscious luxury accessories celebrating British manufacturing and leather craftsmanship. Natalie’s dedication to establishing the brand at the forefront of the conscious luxury fashion industry has led to the making of beautiful, yet conscious handbags.
Read Natalie’s feature with UKFT Rise below:
Company launched in: May 2022
My background is in… handbag design! I’ve been a handbag designer for over a decade and have worked globally for luxury and commercial brands alike.
I decided to start my business because… My time in the industry gave me increasing insight into how fundamentally damaging fast fashion can be for the environment. I was struck by waste issues surrounding sampling and the lack of sustainable practices in the supply chain, as well as the impact fast fashion has on communities around the world.
I’d reached a point in my design career of knowing that I could never make any real change towards sustainability in any of the companies I worked for. Those decisions always came from higher up and despite working hard on various projects (alongside some amazing co-workers who shared the same vision as me!) change rarely happened.
After 10 years in the industry, I decided it was time to work towards breaking away from the fast fashion wheel and fulfil my seventeen-year-old dreams of creating my own conscious luxury leather goods brand.
Something that really helped in getting my business off the ground is… Outsourcing expertise in areas that I didn’t have a lot of experience in and business advice from industry professionals from not only the fashion sector but other sectors too. I wanted to learn as much as I could and not rush the process of creating NARU. I wanted to ensure that our supply chain and all aspects of the business were thought about meticulously to ensure that I was creating a luxury brand that wasn’t like the rest. I am also a big believer in collaborative working and love to celebrate the skills of anyone that works with me, which I find creates a harmonious balance and collective vision.
An area of business I’d like to gain more knowledge of is… I’d like to learn more about implementing sustainable business growth strategies whilst keeping our supply chain/suppliers intact and carbon footprint as low as possible.
Three important qualities for an entrepreneur are… Vision, determination, and curiosity.
A UKFT Rise subscriber I find inspiring would be… Piarvé Wetshi and Deborah Lyons, founders of Last Yarn. I admire their strong work ethic and drive to see change in the textile industry with the creation of Last Yarn. They are right when they say that overall, there is more focus on creating change in the design and production of garments rather than textile production. The foundation of the fashion industry is textile production, so it is crucial that textile workers across the globe are being paid fairly, given equal opportunities and shockingly in a lot of cases, given basic human rights in the workplace.
Something happening in the industry that’s inspiring me right now is… The development of biomaterials, leather alternatives and in particular, leather sourced from regenerative farms. I am a huge fan of regenerative agriculture and the biodynamic farming movement. Through practices which enrich soil and protect water, regenerative agriculture is aligning and in harmony with nature. I believe the future of the leather-goods industry depends on the learning or re-learning of these practices.
A change I’d like to see in the industry would be… Following the new Green Claims Code, which tackles greenwashing, I believe that every piece of fashion clothing, footwear or accessories should have a ‘carbon label’ so that customers can make an informed choice of what they are purchasing and understand the environmental impact of their decisions.
Can you elaborate on the inspiration in your work? I take inspiration from artistic trailblazers, past and present to inform my work. I try to capture an aesthetic of simplicity and balance through minimal lines combined with intricate British leather craft. Artistic influences can be seen in everything from the bags’ bold lock fittings, inspired by Barbara Hepworth’s “Green man” screen print, through to the feminine ‘fan compartment shapes’ that recall artist Rebeccca Horn’s 1972,‘White Body Fan’.
What are your achievements and how have they shaped your career? My love for handbag design began when I was seventeen after winning an award at the college in Oxford where I was studying Fashion and Clothing Design. The winning design used vintage garments and it was my first insight into upcycling garments and the principles of sustainability. This moment led me towards my love for handbag design and my dedication to never stop learning about implementing sustainable and ethical practices in my journey ahead as a designer.
This opportunity led to me gaining a place on the accessories degree at Cordwainers’ of the London College of Fashion. During my time at Cordwainers I went on to win a second award with Hugo Boss and in my fourth year, I also won the ‘Dato Jimmy Choo Award’ for my final collection, which explored the juxtaposition between traditional leather craft and digital print technologies.
The awards helped secure my first junior design position in Italy and during my career I also worked in New York, Switzerland, Stockholm, and London. These incredible opportunities enabled me to experience new cultures, meet amazing people, and work for some of the biggest players in fashion. Overall, I would say that my experience in the industry has shaped my vision for NARU and determination to make positive change in the luxury fashion sector.
I define sustainability as… Honesty and transparency. As it stands now fast fashion production (which includes both luxury and commercial brands) has doubled over the last 15 years. If the industry continues in the same vein, it will use more than 26% of the carbon budget associated with a 2-degree pathway by 2050 – well overshooting our global targets of 1.5 degrees. If the fashion value and supply chain is 100% transparent then positive changes can be made, and companies will be made accountable.
Do you have any exciting news to share for 2022? We have just launched NARU rental which is a rental platform integrated into our website. We are the first ever accessories manufacturer in the UK to offer rental straight from our online store so that our customers are offered the choice of renting products directly from the website, as well as buying outright. Our rental platform is designed to be more accessible and is another solution to the waste crisis that the fashion industry is widely known for. With rental, our products can be enjoyed but for shorter time, enabling them to be used again!