Q&A with Kaya Dorey of sustainable apparel line Novel Supply Co

When Kaya Dorey walked out the doors of Capilano University for the last time in 2013, she was armed with a Bachelor’s in Tourism Management, keen business skills and a passion for sustainability. Back then her peers surely knew it was only a matter of time before she made a huge name for herself. After further pursuing her interests and going on to complete a sustainable leadership program at BCIT, Dorey devised her own sustainable clothing company, NOVEL SUPPLY CO. Now, the company that saw its first production run funded through Kickstarter has brought Dorey into the international spotlight, and all the way to Kenya to address a UN conference. Here, Dorey speaks to that experience and more.

HELEN AIKENHEAD // FEATURES EDITOR
All photos by Cassandra Casley, Twist & Shutter

For anyone unfamiliar with the brand, how would you describe NOVEL SUPPLY CO.?

NOVEL SUPPLY CO. is a conscious apparel brand for the urban adventurer. We design rad apparel made from hemp and organic cotton so you don’t have to sacrifice your style to make the more conscious choice. We’re on a mission to make sustainability cool.

What was the inspiration behind the company?

I did a project on textiles waste and learned all about synthetic fabrics and how when you blend them you can’t recycle them and they don’t biodegrade. I also learned about the micro plastics that shed off our clothing in the wash and are polluting our waters and are entering our food chain. I realized I wanted to work for a brand that cared about the impact they were making in the world but also supplying rad clothing. I couldn’t really find any brands that suited both my style and values so I decided to venture out on my own.

What makes it different?

NOVEL apparel is not only designed but also manufactured ethically right here in Vancouver. My apparel is made with hemp and organic cotton that isn’t toxically dyed. Designs are gender-neutral, minimalist, comfy and relaxed. I work with local artists to design the prints on the shirts so the designs are limited edition and ever changing. Sustainability is at the forefront of any decision that’s made even though it’s more expensive for now.

Can you explain to the readers what the UN Young Champion of the Earth prize is?

This year, six young people from all over the world won the Young Champion of the Earth prize, made possible by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Covestro. The award is in support of environmental protection and sustainable use of natural resources; the prize consists of $15,000 USD seed funding, plus intensive training and high profile mentorship to help the project come to life.

How does it feel to be recognized at an international level by a group like the UN?

It’s surreal! It’s really encouraging to know that a group like the UN supports the need to redesign the fashion industry. Having their support and network is really going to open a lot of doors and opportunities for me.

What was it like travelling to Kenya to collect the award and address a UN conference?

Kenya was one of the most unique places I have ever travelled too. The people, animals and sights were colourful in all senses of the word. I got the opportunity to speak at a Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue as well as sit on a panel with Jason Kibbey from the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian astronaut in space and talk about how to make the fashion industry more sustainable. These experiences were instrumental in making my trip life changing.

How do you prepare for something like that?

I don’t think you can really mentally prepare for something like this. I wrote out what I was going to say before and practiced in my room but when it came down to it, I had to pretend that no one knew who I was, since I get more nervous around people I know or that know me. In reality, they were environment ministers from all around the world that were well aware of who the Young Champions of the Earth were.

What are your goals for the company in 2018?
  • Develop a take back program for the apparel I am making and take responsibility for the apparel I make and create a solution for the waste at the end of their life.
  • Manufacture another production run.
  • Design two new products.
  • Partner with two designers.
  • Develop two new artist collaborations.
  • Get into three boutique stores around Vancouver.
What are your goals for the company looking even further ahead?

Research composting solution for fabric and research automated manufacturing

What is something you wish more people would understand about sustainable clothing?

I wish people would understand that the price of a garment isn’t really the true cost. Someone or the planet is paying the price to make it that cheap. I also wish people would consider the end of life of products when they go to buy something. If it can’t be recycled or there’s no way to break it down then you shouldn’t buy it. Straight up.

Has winning the award changed anything for you in terms of future plans for the company?

A big part of this award is actually the mentorship and network that we receive. Now that I have a lot more resources and people at my fingertips, it’s going to allow me to develop new opportunities for collaboration and connect with experts in the field that are already implementing circular economy models that I wouldn’t have had access too.

Do you have any plans of expansion?

I am planning on more collaborations this year and getting into a few boutique stores in Vancouver as well as entering 20 per cent more markets.

Do you have any more projects in the works?

I am working on a rad collaboration with another artist named Tori Swanson right now. She will be designing a limited edition print and a percentage of proceeds will go to an organization that aligns with both our missions.

Were you inspired by anything at the conference that you would like to incorporate into NOVEL SUPPLY CO.?

At the Sustainable Innovation Expo tent, there were some really interesting projects that stood out to me. One booth was upcycling plastic bags into totes and there was another that was turning waste into biogas. It gave me motivation to get going on this take back program and really develop new and innovative solutions for the textiles waste.

You had already graduated from Capilano University by the time you launched the company, but had you already started thinking about starting it while you were here?

I hadn’t conceived the idea of a sustainable apparel line, however, CapU is where I developed a passion for sustainability and the skills to start my own business. I took two environmental stewardship courses, a course in climate change and a course on policy and planning. These courses are what inspired me to become a change maker in sustainability.

Did anyone or anything from your time at CapU help inspire you to start the company or put you on that track?

A few of my teachers: Greig Gjerdalen, Joe Kelly and Kim McLeod, were instrumental in putting me on this path. They’re the ones that truly walked the walk by biking to school, taking public transit or bringing their reusable mugs without fail. They showed videos like The Story of Stuff, assigned projects related to climate change and brought us outside to appreciate nature. These experiences and people are the reason I chose to further my education in sustainability and ultimately start NOVEL SUPPLY CO.

What advice would you give to the students at Cap who want to start their own business?
  • Take advantage of the networking opportunities while you’re a student because when you’re done, they are much fewer and harder to get to.
  • Choose electives based on what your passionate about not what will be the easiest to pass.
  • Search for events around Vancouver and just go and you’ll find what you do and do not like and either is good.
  • Have informational interviews with people in fields that interest you (come prepared with questions, don’t ask for a job, always follow up and be very professional in your e-mails – download Grammarly on your computer).
  • Do projects on things you’re passionate about not just what’s easy – you’ll get a lot more out of it and likely a better grade.
  • Go to Small Business BC and get as much information as you can.
  • Look into Futurepreneur.
  • Get a mentor.
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