Almost two years ago, Nadya Nguyen decided to finally act on her long-time passion for fashion and founded Cobalt Street, a Chicago-based socially and environmentally conscious clothing brand. Though Nadya had experience running a company from a previous business venture, this was her first time taking on fashion.
“She keeps design notebooks, she doodles styles in them, and she’s skillful with Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. So, she creates different designs in Photoshop and layers different pieces together to create distinctive looks – it’s pretty cool,” said Vince Nguyen, co-founder of Cobalt Street (and brother to Nadya).
“I am interested in fashion, but I am not as…passionate about it as she is,” Vince Nguyen said. “What I am particularly ardent about is sustainability and environmentalism, and that’s what we do.”
Each of Cobalt Street’s clothing items are made with sustainably sourced, eco-friendly materials including TENCEL, organic cotton, merino wool, and recycled nylon. In addition to that, each clothing item is designed with an eye toward size-inclusivity.
“When we designed our debut styles, we sought out feedback from over 4000+ women and tried the fit with over 20 models with a variety of sizes, body shapes, and heights,” Nadya Nguyen recently wrote on Cobalt Street’s blog. “We aspire to make fashion that fit, flatter and contour the beautiful bodies we all come in. Because we believe that confidence should be a right, not a privilege.”
Some of Cobalt Street’s most popular items include long dresses, like the Black BCI Cotton Square Neck A-Line Mid-Calf Dress and the 3/4 Sleeve BCI Cotton Boatneck Mid-Calf Flared Dress, as well as their body-con style dresses, including the 3/4 Sleeve TENCEL™ Lyocell Midi Bodycon Dress and the TENCEL™ Lyocell & Merino Wool Sleeveless Midi Bodycon Dress.
Cobalt Street operates entirely online, which allows the company to appeal to a broad audience. Looking at demographics, Cobalt Street tends to see the most purchases made by women between the ages of 25 and 49.
“Location-wise, the majority of our customers are in California, Texas, and New York. We suspect it may be due to increased sensitivity to sustainability and environmentalism,” explained Vince Nguyen.
Those two factors — sustainability and environmentalism — are woven into the very fabric of each of Cobalt Street’s garments. Part of the reason behind the founding of Cobalt Street was the exploitation and pollution Nadya saw plaguing the fashion industry as a result of fast fashion.
“I’m not entirely sure…if you’re familiar with the fashion manufacturing industry, but it’s a mess. It’s unethical…. it’s wasteful… it’s really not up to our standards. It’s not what we’re looking for. It’s not what we’re about,” said Vince Nguyen.
Keeping production in the United States allows the company more oversight of the manufacturing process, Vince Nguyen explained. That’s a huge benefit.
“And that benefit outweighs the expense of having higher manufacturing costs in America,” he added.
Although Cobalt Street’s clothing items are entirely manufactured in Chicago, the company does source their fabrics from abroad.
Currently, it’s just Vince and Nadya behind the company. “We wear 20 hats each and work with local businesses who help us efficiently manage other internal business processes,” Vince Nguyen said.
Because Cobalt Street is also based in Chicago, Vince and Nadya are able to frequently visit the local businesses they work with.
“We go to the shops and build personal relationships with the employees just to make sure that…they are getting compensated fairly and that their work environment is safe and secure for them. It’s not something that we’d be able to do with manufacturers overseas,” Vince Nguyen said.
Both of the Nguyens are first-generation immigrants. Though they are Vietnamese by heritage, their family hails from Moscow, Russia.
Sustainability, environmentalism and ethical manufacturing have always been at the forefront of Colbalt Street’s mission. But when asked why it was important that Cobalt Street was a Made in America company, Vince Nguyen said: “I think this country is amazing. I think this country has given us quite a bit and…We want to do everything we can to give back.”