Why Nancy Zeffman is creating a next-generation clothing brand built on sustainability and slow fashion

One can never care too much over what to wear when there’s an opportune event to go to like an interview or a first date. Especially for women who go through several changes through their lifetime due to wavering hormonal and reproductive cycles, the selection becomes even more laborious when you have to deal with issues bigger than just how you look, for instance, heat flashes, dryness, night sweats, tenderness, varying body temperature, etc. Through all this hustle, most of us often find ourselves practically living in the same old gym pants and t-shirt throughout the week until it doesn’t work anymore. The reason behind this is pretty simple:  they require much less to almost no maintenance and let’s face it nothing beats the comfort.  

Two friends from North London, Nancy Zeffman and Eileen Willet, together striving to achieve work-life equilibrium and trying to find their solace in random exercise sessions, came across the same realization as they were walking their dogs one day. But the fact that they had to change to their professional outfits for work-related meetings leaving them longing to get back in those leggings gave them their light bulb moment. Nancy recalls, “We wanted to keep all the qualities of wicking, stay fresh, comfortable clothing, but in more stylish, everyday luxury pieces that we would want to reach for every day. As our children left home for the university and work, we had some more time on our hands and thought that Cucumber could fit neatly into our lives.”

Following their instincts, both Nancy and Eileen gave up their professional commitments and worked their every waking hour to bring the idea to actualization. Being a tiny start-up on a shoestring budget, it became necessary to look at things differently for Cucumber. So, they started to look for innovative routes to find solutions and unconventionality became their style. Nancy says, “It’s been full steam ahead with Cucumber- a rollercoaster ride. We’ve willingly shifted our priorities, met some incredibly inspiring people, learned so much that we didn’t even know we didn’t know, had time to reflect on how to manage an ethical business and deliver quality clothes – it’s been hard work and fun, we have belly laughed through so many challenging moments.” 

“We are the future of fashion – we are more than just clothing, we are fabric led clothing - fashion with a purpose,” says Nancy Zeffman, Co-Founder of Cucumber Clothing.

Cucumber Clothing- The stunner!

Launched in 2017, London based Cucumber makes multifunctional pieces that are perfect for short getaways where space is limited in a single carry-on. Vestments from Cucumber are practically fit for any surrounding- from bed to beach, to lunch and a night out; the cutting-edge fabrics stay cool and fresh, needing minimal washing. Moreover, being virtually uncrushable, their clothes are ideal for traveling as they are also efficient in wicking away all sweat and odor. Cucumber is an interesting marriage of the latest cutting edge technical fabrics and beautiful designs.  But when Nancy and Eileen began taking the concept of ‘elevated essentials’ to their customer’s a few years ago, they found that many were not convinced. “So many women initially feel that human-made fibers by their very nature cannot be sustainable and cannot feel fabulous. We see ourselves as educators – educating women that technical fabrics that wick sweat and odors away and keep you cool can be sustainable and can be luxuriously soft and fabulous to wear,” says Nancy. “We are here to bust that myth! We are not the scratchy nylons of the 70s, we are beautiful luxuriously soft fabrics with all the added benefits of modern technology.”

Nancy Zeffman, Co-Founder, Cucumber Clothing.
Nancy Zeffman, Co-Founder, Cucumber Clothing.

As a part of the sustainable washing revolution, the founders made sure their products only require hand wash with no ironing while being durable and ravishing. Nancy explains, “Cucumber is part of the sustainable washing revolution – spot, cool or hand wash, (hang to dry, no iron), long-lasting fabrics and color dyes (they last up to 6 times longer than cotton), all adding up to less energy usage in the (very long) lifetime of one of our garments.” Determined to run an ethical and successful business, they have built a brand that stands on the principles of customer satisfaction and environmental sustainability, willingly incorporating a slow rhythm of production that challenges the culture of fast fashion. “We have wanted to be mindful of the world around us,” continues Nancy. “We realize that producing anything leaves a carbon footprint, but we are trying to make ours as light as possible, whilst supporting the local economy – we manufacture, source all our trims, labels and extras in the UK. We are not perfect, but with every new collection, we are getting that little bit better.” By doing so, Cucumber hopes to reduce the toll of fashion on the planet and preserve resources for future generations.

After being in business for almost two and a half years, Cucumber is constantly striving to improve its sustainability credentials and works to support women-led charities and social enterprises along the way. “Our work mantra is kindness,” shares Nancy. “Everything we have created with Cucumber has been helped along with large doses of kindness from others. We, in turn, believe in helping other people when possible, and we frequently meet emerging entrepreneurs to give advice gleaned from our experiences.”

Summing up her experience as an entrepreneur, Nancy says, “I think sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith or you would never do anything, our naivety was actually our saving grace. We had no idea how hard it would be so we’re able to push forward with vigor.” And it has worked.

Charming customers!

Carving out a niche for themselves in a crowded marketplace, Cucumber has become a go-to for women wanting to make a statement (looking and feeling cool) while also minimizing waste in the fashion industry. Nancy asserts, “I think the most meaningful success for Cucumber has been where we have had women writing to us to let us know how much they love our clothes, and how they have benefited by wearing them. We love that our customers love us. This is what keeps us going. We even have one customer who wears us under her bulletproof bodysuit in Iraq – we are the only clothing brand that she trusts to keep her cool under such extreme conditions! If we can sort her clothing needs, we know we can sort most clothing requirements.” More recently they were asked to join a panel talk on sustainability in fashion. She says, “We have worked very hard to be as sustainable and ethical as possible, and as a start-up, we have the flexibility to institute change quickly – this was a proud moment for us to feel our practices are being recognized.”

Although being a contemporary fashion brand Nancy admits pushing for sustainability is no easy feat. “We are not saying we are perfect, but we truly believe that what we are doing is the best available at the moment. We have a very transparent supply chain and we feel validated by the very high repeat customer rate we have and all the lovely feedback,” says Nancy. “Our interest in sustainability and circularity stem from trying to make certain we make the world a better place. There are many ways to help our planet.”  Cucumber is championing the most of them!

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