Minimalist nightwear company noctu creates beautiful Fairtrade clothing that’s made from 100% organic cotton. Here’s the story of how Coca-Cola GB gave its founders a chance to start a business that helped make their dream into a successful, award-winning reality.

Sisters Zoë and Milly chuckle to themselves as they recount the story of how their luxury nightwear business, noctu, was founded. 

The idea for noctu – which means ‘by night’ in Latin – was initially sparked by their father. For years he’d been moaning about not being able to find a soft, comfortable nightshirt, that wasn’t too ‘granddaddy’. 

“He said to us: ‘you’re both creative, why don’t you design me something?’ So we did,” says Milly, smiling. “And after we designed it, we decided to make it from the finest, fairest organic cotton we could find,” adds Zoë.

And what happened next surprised them both. 

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…
Our story starts 7 years ago. In 2009 Milly and Zoë were travelling around India. They were there for many months and witnessed first-hand the destruction and devastation conventional cotton growing causes due to the harsh chemicals used. The impact wasn’t just on the environment, but on livestock and people too. Feeling depressed and despairing, they travelled back to the UK.

A twist to our tale
The story may have ended there if it wasn’t for a very lucky twist of fate. “A few weeks later I read an article in Company Magazine about starting your own business,” says Zoë. “And it offered the chance to win a £5,000 bursary from Diet Coke.” 

Photo credit: noctu

The competition asked for wannabe designers to create a design for a bag. But not just any bag. It had to epitomise their creative flair, reflect their brand and what they stood for and above all be brave. The sisters set to work.

Following dreams
They sent off the design for their bag with a short essay on how the money would help them to make their dream business a reality. They emphasised their Fairtrade, organic principles and drew on inspiration from making their dad’s nightshirt. They hoped, but didn’t expect anything to come from it. But they needn’t have worried. 

Photo credit: noctu

“I couldn’t believe it when we won!” says Milly. “It was incredible. And it wasn’t just the money, but the support and encouragement too.” Zoë nods: “It gave us the drive and the impetus to get the business going. It made us think we could actually be successful. We couldn’t have started without it.

“All of our collection is 100% Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and Fairtrade certified” - Milly, co-founder of noctu

The fairest cotton in all the land
With the £5,000 to get their business off the ground, they started noctu. But it wasn’t plain sailing. “After our travels in India, we were determined only to use Fairtrade, 100% organic cotton,” says Milly. But getting the quality they insisted upon, coupled with the right suppliers, was a tall order. “We underestimated how hard it would be to find the right manufacturers, the right cotton, the right quality,” admits Zoë. “But we got there in the end.”

Happily ever after
After several hard years – and 4 babies between them – they are finally on the road to success. And the men’s nightshirt that started it all is one of their worldwide bestsellers. 

Photo credit: noctu

Zoë now lives in Oslo, Norway – the country that’s inspired their minimalistic designs – while Milly is based in Bath. And despite having hectic family lives and almost 800 miles separating them, they manage to run the business between just the two of them. “We both work around our kitchen tables, with Skype on all day,” says Milly. “We have to be quite strict about balancing family and work though,” adds Zoë. 

A sounder slumber
“All of our designs are very minimal,” says Milly. “And the cotton is beautifully soft and comfortable. And it’s good for people with eczema and skin allergies.” Their range of nightwear includes clothing for men, women and children. And although they’re not currently making bags, they are looking to expand their range further to include more items to do with sleep, such as soft bedsheets and beautifully smelling candles.

“The Diet Coke bursary gave us the drive and the impetus to get the business going. We couldn’t have started without it” - Zoë, co-founder of noctu

All of our collection is 100% Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and Fairtrade certified. And we’re delighted to have just won 'silver' for the Fairtrade Business awards. Things are progressing and we are finally growing and we are making a difference. Not just in India, but in the world of fashion as well – we’re pushing for Fairtrade and organic to be the norm,” says Milly.

Photo credit: noctu

And the business is not only helping cotton farmers in India, where the cotton is grown, but also the local women who sew the garments. “We work with a fantastic company in India,” says Milly. “One that trains underprivileged women including women with disabilities. It helps them to get back on their feet.” 

The Diet Coke bursary gave us confidence we were on the right track and the money to get our first samples developed and website made,” says Zoë. “We are now about to release our latest stunning collection and launch a brand new website. We’re very excited about the future.”

The end.

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Find out the other ways that The Coca-Cola Company is helping empower and support women in business, with our 5by20 initiative.