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Ethical Textile Production with Nina Kharey of Folds

“I think before, consumerism was out of control. I mean, even with my personal clothing line that I do on the side now as a kind of creative outlet, I want to make it a full circle economy as well. Make it something that’s fully recyclable because I just don’t see how we can continue with our habits the way we have. And I think that’s the thing that COVID’s shown us.”

Nina Kharey, founder of Folds

In this episode

Join Nina Kharey, Founder of SheEO Venture Folds, and Hannah Cree, SheEO Venture-in-Residence, as they discuss how Folds began and how Nina used existing supply chains to fill a need in the market during the COVID-19 pandemic. Folds is a medical apparel company that uses technology and design to create recyclable and functional scrubs. They bring innovative and eco-friendly solutions to help reduce the obstructive environmental impacts made by the garment industry.

They also discuss:

  • Nina’s previous career as an engineer – and what inspired her to follow her dreams into the fashion industry
  • The co-creation process in designing scrubs for healthcare professionals
  • Moving towards a circular economy in the textile industry, and how ethical production is a pillar of the company
  • The trends she sees coming up in fashion after COVID
  • Where Folds is at now, and where they’re hoping to grow to
  • Why Folds is choosing to keep its manufacturing within Canada

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Podcast Transcript:

The podcast is being transcribed by Otter.ai. (there may be errors, run-on sentences and misspellings).

Nina Kharey 0:00
I think before, consumerism was out of control. I mean, even with my personal clothing line that I do on the side now as a kind of creative outlet, I want to make it a full circle economy as well. Make it something that’s fully recyclable because I just don’t see how we can continue with our habits the way we have. And I think that’s the thing that COVID’s shown us.

Hannah Cree 0:21
Welcome to the SheEO.World podcast, where you will meet women who are transforming the world to be more equitable and sustainable. Your host for today’s podcast is Hannah, SheEO Venture-in-Residence. Welcome to SheEO.World.

Nina, I am so excited to have you here of Folds. And I want to say hometown because I’ve lived here for so long, but it’s not really my hometown—in Calgary. I want you to tell me about what is Folds? What is it?

Nina Kharey 0:53
Thank you for having me, Hannah. I’m so excited to talk to you too. Folds is my passion project. It’s my heart. It’s what was born out of COVID, the stress that I faced, and the reality that we were all facing. So Folds is a my way of fighting in COVID. It was started with masks, and it turns into scrubs. And we developed a fabric that’s protective and helps frontline workers do their job without worrying about, you know, the virus getting under their clothes, or just keeping them cool. It’s moisture wicking, there’s four way stretch, they look good in it. So it’s just giving them what they’ve been missing for so long while they fight this pandemic.

Hannah Cree 1:39
Okay, that’s what’s so fascinating to me. We are only about a year and a little bit over into the pandemic. And this business was born out of COVID. So what makes like the, what makes the fabric so special and different on the market?

Nina Kharey 1:53
Yeah, it was a lot of research that went into this, I think the fact that I already had a clothing line, and they already had that infrastructure and the logistics in place, I had a factory already working with me, I think that helped. That’s why we were able to pivot as quickly as we did. As for the fabric, that took a lot of research, I already knew that there was technology out there and just from when COVID hit and I think we saw a lot of technology and innovation start to kind of light up. And I think it became very obvious that we need to start looking at technology and more of the bleeding edge stuff. And so I think over the next couple of years, that’s gonna be fast anyway. So I knew that there was something out there, it was just a matter of finding something that had that balance of giving us what we need. And then the sustainability because synthetic fabrics are not very environmentally friendly, because of the amount of energy they take to make. But we were able to do it, I found a lab in Europe that’s been working with me. And we’ve been just going back and forth with the developing the relationship and testing and stuff. And so it’s just, it’s just organic, and it happened fast.

Hannah Cree 3:14
It’s so amazing that you, you know, this all came out of COVID. Of course, being a SheEO Venture, you have to hit a certain amount of you know, the 50k in revenue to even get there like you’ve done this fast and quickly and found different ways to kind of go to market on on those pieces. So your background is obviously in fashion. So what, how did you get here? What happened before COVID?

Nina Kharey 3:39
Well, I actually have a degree in engineering. And that actually helps me with the technology side as well. Big time, I was able to—I think I you know there is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to nanotechnology and how it’s applied in textiles. And so just having my engineering background helped with that. But yeah, before Folds and Noni, I was just working as an engineer. And then I followed my dream and started making clothing.

Hannah Cree 4:12
Okay, I didn’t know you were an engineer before. So this just gets even better. You have the engineer. And now you’re like you follow your dream.

Nina Kharey 4:21
Full circle for me. Yeah, it’s good for my parents. My parents are happy now. They’re like, okay, now we can see it all.

Hannah Cree 4:29
But you’re just panicking your parents for the last X amount of years?

Nina Kharey 4:33
Oh, yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ve taken some years off of their lives too.

Hannah Cree 4:37
Me too me, too. It’s totally okay. This is what we’re built to do.

Nina Kharey 4:41
I didn’t do it when I was a teenager. This is my time to do it.

Hannah Cree 4:45
Listen, I was a great teenager, however, I’m going to give you a run for your money while I’m an adult as I go and follow my dreams. So it’s like you’re an engineer, and it was your dream to be in fashion and that’s what you went to follow.

Nina Kharey 4:59
Yes. I watched my dad, when he came from India, he was he was a manufacturing. He was a manager at a manufacturing place here in Calgary, where they did knits. And they actually had great accounts, accounts like with Ralph Lauren, they did accounts with the Olympics here, when they were local it when they were in Calgary in ’88. I was, I have so many fond memories of being there. And my dad always told me, you’re not doing what we’re doing, you’re going to be an engineer or a doctor or a lawyer. So I basically I had no choice, I had to go and do that. But textiles and fashion, and just seeing a piece go from paper to something that someone can wear someone from go from someone’s mind to something that someone can wear to express themselves that just from a very young age was really impactful and stuck with me. So in when I was working as an engineer, I decided I had actually lost my brother to violence while I was getting my degree. And it was something that I just had to go through. And during the journey, I realized that if he was here, I also realized life is short. But if he was still here, he would be my cheerleader to just you know, go and do it, do what you got to do. So it’s all good now, it was very stressful for a long time.

Hannah Cree 6:24
Yeah, I mean, that’s not—it’s a hard journey there. And so are you also designing some of the pieces? Like you said, paper to kind of, like, what’s your process? Like are you holding that whole space for this?

Nina Kharey 6:36
Yeah, yeah, I, we started with the designs, I actually I was doing the designs and the research at the same time. The designing part was super easy and fun for me, because I already designed for the working woman, I already designed for people who are on the go, and they want to look good. So you know, my, it was always simple, comfortable, something that you can throw on and still look and feel confident in. And so that part was actually kind of fun. I was a lot of conversations. So doctors, nurses, of all backgrounds of thought like surgeons, spa injectors, dentists, everyone, and just hearing what they like for comfort, hearing about what they wear right now and their difficulties with it. That was a lot of fun and designing for them. So I still do design. We are coming out with a new style in a couple of weeks that we’re excited about. Yeah, I got my fingers in everything right now.

Hannah Cree 7:35
True entrepeneur.

Nina Kharey 7:35
Right? Yeah.

Hannah Cree 7:38
It you know, you have to be especially when you’re in the starting phases, right? Like in the creation, and I love I think this is such an important part of models, as you’re listening to your customer, that you are going to the customer first and you’re saying what do you love about your current scrubs? What don’t you? What does this look like? What would you like to have? And, and then hearing all that pain, and then creating something that answers that, but also that is creative and helping them on the job because you are putting, you know so many things into the fabric? I think that those are the pieces that sometimes entrepreneurs also miss. You know, I did that in my model sat down with 50 restaurants before we ever opened anything to be like, what’s your pain? What does this look like that also ensures that we had first customers? Because those 50 restaurants were like, Oh, you heard me? I’m gonna sign up and I’m imagining for you, that would be the same thing. You probably got them pretty excited. And were they some of your first customers?

Nina Kharey 8:37
Yeah, there was so much appreciation, there was so much of this. You know, they really appreciate that the fact that they were getting attention. There are a couple other companies that do stuff for them. Obviously, there are scrub companies, but the attention that athletes get, it’s not the same that these guys are getting and, these guys are the ones that are actually fighting a pandemic. But you know, they don’t get the—

Hannah Cree 8:59
Saving lives. No big deal.

Nina Kharey 9:01
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, they’re not, you know, the only difference is they’re not the military where we spend billions of dollars to equipping them, but these guys, they’re out there, they’re putting their lives and dangers or they’re missing their own families. And, you know, so I think they really appreciate it being, you know, looked at like that. So designing for them is super fulfilling. I’m doing this for them. And it’s nice that I get to feed my family doing it. For me, I get to apply my engineering degree, I get to do what I love. And, you know, I’m not just catering to people who are, I think before consumerism was just, it was out of control. And, you know, I mean, even with my personal clothing line that I do on the side, now it’s as kind of creative outlet even that I you know, I want to make it a full circle economy as well make it something that’s fully recyclable because I just don’t see how we can continue with our habits the way we have, and I think that’s the thing that COVID’s shown us. And like you said, people now want to feel important with it. And they’re like, they’re making conscious decisions when they purchase these things. And I think that trend is gonna continue.

Hannah Cree 10:14
Yeah, I think that that’s what COVID has shown, I think there was a huge halt. And, well, some people overbought, but you know that there’s been a lot of wake up moments during COVID. And it’s not like we didn’t know before COVID that the clothing industry had incredible environmental footprint. We just didn’t want to really talk about it, because we all wear clothes. And sometimes people go oh I don’t know—

Nina Kharey 10:36
I think it’s hard to understand. Yeah, I think people, you know, we get numbers thrown at us all day long, like 2000 cases a day, versus 400,000 cases a day. And it’s hard for us to not get the subtext of something, and just take that number. And I think textile pollution is like that, you know, you know that it’s third most polluting industry. But what does that mean? Does that mean there’s a lot of clothes in landfills? Or is it the production side? But it is a very complicated, complicated, horrible cycle, though.

Hannah Cree 11:10
Well, you said that you were kind of looking at your own kind of your passion project on your own personal line? Could you walk us through? Like, what does it look like to have a more ethical clothing brand or to you know, have the life cycle? What does that look like for people?

Nina Kharey 11:26
Yeah, I think the biggest thing that people can do, anyone and everyone is start asking, before you buy something, start asking what is the end of life of this piece? What does that look like? Is it going to go back into the ground? Is it going to go? Is it going to get burnt somewhere? Is it going to? Where is it going to go? What is it going to contribute to carbon dioxide emissions? For a line to be sustainable, I think there’s only truly one way at this point with where we are right now. And the amount of waste that just production itself makes that fabric needs to be something that can be recycled in an efficient way, and be made, but and you can make more yarn out of it. It’s either that or it’s either using organic materials, which I know other companies are doing. And that’s another great way of using—you don’t want to use your natural resources and over consume. So I think those two things to be aware of with Noni, for instance, my other line, we don’t make scrubs, but we do do things like trench coats. And I you know, the technology exists to make fabric that is—you can make shirts, like t shirts, or trench coats, and the fabric would be made out of material that’s recycled material. And you can wear it and send it back and they can make it into more fabric. That is the only way I think the textile industry can get themselves out of this is becoming a full circle economy.

Hannah Cree 12:55
Yeah, I, Yeah, I agree. Does it matter if it’s organic or not like that actually is better in terms of the lifecycle. I was getting to a point where I’m like, is it really better? Or is this a marketing ploy?

Nina Kharey 13:07
Organic, it’s it is better. But the thing is that we’re not—the amount of pollution that you put into water from dyeing this stuff, and from the agriculture of growing all that cotton, it’s, it is also very huge. That’s another problem. That is, that’s another problem that will require on the consumer end, we need to become more aware of what we’re buying. If it is something that’s made out of cotton, but it’s not sourced ethically, you probably shouldn’t support it. If you can buy a synthetic fabric, that it has a great way of being broken down. That’s a great purchase. This technology is not cheap. I know that a lot of companies, the fashion industry, for them to pivot and become sustainable, it’s going to cost them 30 to $40 billion. And they’re not we can’t depend on them to make that change. Because they’re not they make that money with selling stuff that is only designed to be washed twice. They’re already making that money, they’re not going to change. It’s such a big ask. So we as consumers have to start consuming less, and start buying better quality. And I think if each and every one of us just individually did that the change would be there.

Hannah Cree 14:33
Yeah, I you know, it gives me reflection and pause to even as I get older, I now look for like, what’s the quality piece that I can have for X amount of time that is a little bit of a higher piece, but I’m not throwing away in a year. Right? Like it’s with me for 10 years.

Nina Kharey 14:49
Totally. And I was gonna say and it’s not even, it’s not even better buying but also just upcycling other clothing, making clothing out of old clothing or, you know, donating coals you know, those are types of things that we should be doing more of, instead of going out and buy more clothes, I mean, the stats now is 60% of the clothes we buy, sit in our closet, or end up in landfills. That’s how much—at the speed that we are consuming clothing. So, I think we could slow it down.

Hannah Cree 15:18
I’m in this mode of like, actually paring down where I want to get to only one suitcase. Like all my clothes and just have, you know, like, really good pieces, because I got to that point to where I was like, I have all these clothes and like, I haven’t worn them and not and then COVID hits and you really don’t wear them. Right, right. Like, unlike where’s my sweatshirt? Where’s or where’s a nice jacket on top for zoom? Because on the bottom are sweat pants, right? That’s like everything has changed. Do you see? You know, with COVID? And what’s happened even from a fashion because you have that background? How do you see fashion changing after COVID?

Nina Kharey 15:57
I think the whole cozy style is here for a while longer for ssure. But I don’t know if you’ve heard but the roaring 20s are definitely I think coming. But I don’t think that’s something that’s coming soon. I think that’s a still a ways away. But I mean, you can look at what happened what’s happening in China, where COVID once when it did get a little bit more in control. Shopping went back up, luxury sales there went back up. You can see it’s starting to happen in some places. But I definitely do think that’s a little while out. So the cozy style. I think it’s here for a while longer, comfortable clothes.

Hannah Cree 16:33
I’m happy about that.

Nina Kharey 16:34
I am too. I’m okay.

Hannah Cree 16:37
I’m okay with that for the rest of my life.

Nina Kharey 16:39

Hannah Cree 16:41
I know, I know. It’s so crazy.

Nina Kharey 16:43
You know, and even in jeans, I was reading about the trend with jeans too. It’s more loose fit. It’s not the skinny jeans anymore. You know, it’s more like the loose fitted trousers.

Hannah Cree 16:53
I think it’s so hilarious that halfway during COVID. And I can say this because I have twins that are 18. So they’re that age that halfway through COVID suddenly a whole fashion, they just decided that fashion was going to change. It went viral, right? You can’t you need to have no more side parts. And no more side parts. You’re gonna have bigger baggy jeans. Basically, they’re wearing what I was wearing when I was a teenager. But it was interesting to see it like, you know, someone made this decision. It goes viral. And I was like, why are we changing a fashion in the mid pandemic? Like, are we even wearing any of that right now?

Nina Kharey 17:29
Right? Fashion and society is so handed and it’s so hand in hand. Yeah. It’s just, it’s so interesting to see. And I think now that we’re seeing a transition in life happening in society, we’re really seeing it at a fast pace. So I think we can apply it to all industries. Yeah.

Hannah Cree 17:47
Yeah, that’s true. So where is where is Folds at now? We’re like over a year into the pandemic. And then where do you see it going after the pandemic?

Nina Kharey 17:58
Folds, well, we have a lot of orders that we are catching up on, we’re kind of in the place where they’re good problems, we’re scaling, we’re now in a place where we just got to start raising money to start making some inventory, because we are starting to do some advertising, which we just started last night. But through word of mouth only we are struggling to keep up with orders. So we just brought on a new factory, we now have two factories out in Vancouver. And my husband says it’s like we’re on the runway.

Hannah Cree 18:32

Nina Kharey 18:33
And the plane is just getting ready. It’s just getting the speed going. So that’s where Folds is right now we’re delivering, we’re getting orders coming in. We have a lot of people that get their orders that come back and order more. People love, love, love the fabric, which I feel so good about. We’ve gotten feedback that it feels like a second skin. And we’ve gotten emails of appreciation where people are just saying thank you so much for making this for us. And just a lot of comfort. So it’s in a good place. We’re just getting going. The machines just lifting off soon.

Hannah Cree 19:10
Just lifting off. Yeah, because it’s like pandemic or not, there’s still going to be doctors, nurses, and everyone that needs this and you’ve built in this technology. You have this environmental, you know, you have a more conscious piece. I was going to ask you on your manufacturing, is it important to you or a value that’s in your company? Or that it’s being manufactured locally? You know, because it’s still within Canada?

Nina Kharey 19:35
Yeah. One thing is that I definitely know it’s all ethical. And the other thing is, we’re providing jobs. We’re helping the economy here in Canada, and I think we do need to bring manufacturing back into Canada. I think it was kind of embarrassing during COVID when we couldn’t even manufacture our own. we’ve relied so much on external control other people. And so I want to bring—

Hannah Cree 19:58
Even for vaccines.

Nina Kharey 19:59
Vaccines, yes, we’re seeing that now.

Hannah Cree 20:01
Don’t even do it here.

Nina Kharey 20:02
Exactly. I don’t think I don’t know what we do here. But I definitely want to bring manufacturing back. It’s expensive. Yes. But with everyone support, it’s working out. For me, the biggest thing also with manufacturing is just, I just want to make sure that it’s ethical. I want to make sure that everyone’s paid fairly. So as we scale, we will obviously have to look for other help. But it will always be something that’s right with our values.

Hannah Cree 20:30
Absolutely, absolutely.

Nina Kharey 20:31
Canada is where we’re keeping it for as long as we possibly can.

Hannah Cree 20:36
Yeah, there’s a lot of growth. I mean, this is the thing when when you have Canada where we have, we export a lot, but we import a lot, right? And we do manufacturing overseas. We did—we don’t do the vaccine here. Like, we’re getting that external. And now we’re all realizing, actually in these types of things. How are we local? How are we producing? How can we be more dependent on our own economy?

Nina Kharey 21:03
Self reliance, I think that’s what COVID is taught all of us on a personal end, on a major level. I agree. And I think that’s, that’s why I say keeping it here in Canada is my biggest priority. And I really do hope that we get the amount of support that we need to bring our production costs down so that we can stay in Canada. You never know. But um, that’s that’s the biggest thing for me. It’s just, I it was almost disappointing to be like, in a place where we were asking people at home who could sew. Please sew masks, you know, because we couldn’t get masks in from China fast enough. You know, so yeah, I think it’s I think it’s about time we start pulling our own weight in Canada and investing in our, in our youth and innovation.

Hannah Cree 21:51
Yeah, I agree. I love your stuff. I was on your website. And seriously, it does look so comfy that I even I was like can I not just wear this out? This is holy like I know they’re scrubs. And you can’t even tell though that they were scrubs. I was like, this looks comfortable. Plus, there’s like the added benefit. I am not a doctor or a nurse, but I feel like a little bit extra protected because of it with COVID.

Nina Kharey 22:13
I got a lot of family wearing the joggers.

Hannah Cree 22:16
Yeah, the joggers I was in. I was like, oh those joggers. So you know what, even if you’re not a doctor or a nurse, I think you might like the joggers. I think you need to go check it out. What is your website?

Nina Kharey 22:27
Its foldswear.com

Hannah Cree 22:29
foldswear.com. That’s where you need to check it out. Any like final thoughts or asks or gives to the community.

Nina Kharey 22:36
First of all, thank you to everyone listening. I think like I said before just asking the right questions when making purchases, I hope that we can do that more and pass that information along. And as for my ask with business, I mean, if there’s anyone out there that can help with medical contacts, you know, we are in a place where we are looking for more money. So anyone that has any interest in Folds, I’m very happy to hear you out and we work together and you know start a friendship.

Hannah Cree 23:09
Yes, exactly. So if you know medical doctors, any of that or you want to buy it yourself, or you want to invest in this incredible company, please do that. You know, thank you so much. We love Folds. It’s so amazing to have you a part of the community. It’s a really inspiring story. So check it out, Folds.

Nina Kharey 23:26
Thank you, Hannah.

Hannah Cree 23:27
See you.

Thank you for listening to the SheEO.World podcast. Like, comment, subscribe, and share this podcast with your friends. We invite you to join a global community of radically generous women at SheEO.World.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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