Nicola Biss, founder Modern Societies. Image supplied.
Nicola Biss is the founder of ethical clothing label Modern Societies which she founded in 2019. The brand began with Nicola creating handmade recycled bead earrings which evolved into designing unique one-off clothing that is designed in Aotearoa and ethically handmade in Pushkar, India. Nicola’s eye for vivid colour and detailed designs combined with the brand’s conscious ethos has seen Modern Societies develop a loyal and growing following with customers in Aotearoa, Australia, France and the UK.
We caught up with Nicola to find out more about her brand, what inspires her and what you would never catch her wearing!
Tell us about your latest collection?
Every jacket, kimono and bomber is one of a kind and designed by me one by one – collections taking just over three months to create from concept to completion. Our focus is on bringing people ethical fashion that lasts. All of our clothing is handmade out of recycled quilts, historically rare embroidery and vintage skirts from India.
What made you become a designer?
I started designing earrings out of recycled materials as a creative outlet. When that became successful, I decided to go all in. I left my job to go travelling and find unique makers to work with overseas which could help grow Modern Societies while staying true to our sustainable roots.
Looking for skilled craftspeople with transparent and ethical working conditions using sustainable materials, I spent three months travelling through Bali, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India – talking to locals about where to go next – doing clay courses, gemmology courses, going to gem factories, bazaars and extremely remote places.
It was only in the last shop I visited, the week of my flight home that I found a partner to create my designs who was truly ethical in their work, to the level I was looking for. Honest, lovely artisans who were custom making clothing and bags out of recycled materials. It was magical – I spent several days with them custom designing my first collection.
I’m now designing Modern Societies’ twelfth collection which will feature miniskirts, strapless and halter tops, plus more of our popular kimonos and bombers.
Looks by Modern Societies.
What inspires you?
A lot! People at the top of their field like Eminem and Elon Musk, my customers, spiritual meditation, nature, books like Shoe Dog and Losing My Virginity, travel, festivals, friends – I find inspiration in almost everything.
Describe your personal style and how it influences your designs?
Eclectic and one of a kind – twenties inspired, seventies inspired, classic, bewitching, vibrant, gothic, artsy, unpredictable. My style influences my one of a kind designs and my customer base which is diverse and inclusive – I design to have options for anyone no matter their style – from full sequins to relaxed, because sometimes it’s a sparkle kind of day and sometimes it’s a cosy one.
What is your all-time favourite purchase?
Moulin Rouge tickets in Paris, loved that show! I think money spent on an experience is never wasted. But if we’re talking about clothes then I know it sounds made-up, but my favourite purchase is my purple Modern Societies bomber with Ganesha hand embroidered on the back. It’s from my very first collection which I was so proud of.
What wardrobe item should everyone invest in?
A vibrant, show stopping jacket that makes you happy. I love unique jackets and have quite the collection – five of mine are from Modern Societies but over the years I’ve collected lots of unique jackets from different designers – you’ll know in your heart when you see the perfect jacket for you.
Do you have a style rule you always obey?
Sleep on it if you can – I tell my customers to sleep on it if they’re not too sure – Modern Societies is slow fashion, made to be worn, not sit in a closet so I want people to be sure – most often they’re back a few hours later to purchase.
Looks by Modern Societies.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Working in New York as part of a rebrand project for a fashion label I worked for in London – a small crew went over to do press days and throw an underground party with Massive Attack and Uma Thurman. I learned so much during that week and am so grateful to have been picked as a part of the crew to work on those projects over there.
I think visiting those places really opened my eyes to the staggering volume of creative and inspiring people out there just giving it a go, which is what I was doing when I started out with Modern Societies.
What can’t you live without?
Meditation. I’ve been meditating most days for over a year and it helps every part of me – spiritually, mentally, creatively and physically. It helps me remove limiting beliefs and brings renewed creative energy which is where most of my best Modern Societies’ photo shoot concepts come from.
Finish this sentence – You would never catch me wearing…
Real fur – it completely goes against my values and Modern Societies’ values of using sustainable, cruelty free materials.
With many well-known designers vowing to stop using it, the movement has been so successful that I hear some brands are now selling real fur labelled as faux fur… crazy times!