A conversation with NoNetz: From cancer to sustainable activewear

Nonetz Short

NoNetz Inc was founded in 2012 by Cathy Paraggio after a cancer diagnosis forced her to change her career path. With her son Chris, they want to provide the most comfortable, sustainable activewear. Their products passed the quality test among autistic people, who are extremely texture sensitive. They’re now diversifying NoNetz’s product line with the use of technical fabrics.

Cathy’s been such a great customer since Handprint’s early days. She embodies courage and resilience – and she’s a dedicated entrepreneur who wants to make a positive impact on the planet. 🦸‍♀️ For every newsletter subscription, NoNetz plants a mangrove tree in Indonesia with us 🌱🌏🇮🇩
If you’re inspired by her story, drop us a message!

You were growing a career in computer science and global network design. How did the idea of NoNetz come to you?

I was working in IT as a Director of a sales and services team. When I lost my voice to cancer for 2 years, I learned to be silent and listen and express myself in creative ways like stained art and design, and eventually clothing. There was this idea to create an anti-rash swimwear line. This was a very new vertical for me and much research had to be done. Though it was a viable product, there were many technical aspects I had to explore.

My son joined me on this journey in 2017 to grow Nonetz and since then things have really taken off. It definitely has also helped us grow closer in our relationship as mother and son. We have both learned a great deal with many highs and lows, and we even made enough to almost cover his entire university.

Recently we just received funding, which will allow us to expand our product line and include anti-rash guards made from recycled plastic bottles and more. We are very excited about it!

Why did you decide to make Nonetz a sustainable brand?

When I learned about harmful effects that are produced during the process of making the fabric, the dyeing of textiles etc., then I started looking into every aspect of it. When you see the river turn blue because of denim dyes, you realize that this also affects people’s health because now they’ve no access to clean water!

I never understood the great impact of the textile industry until I got involved in it. You’ll be surprised by how secretive the industry is. When you start asking questions about their regulations, and how everything is being done, then you decide you need to do it better. However when you do it better, you know it comes with a cost. It is more expensive, however I believe it is worthwhile even though that means lower margins for NoNetz.

How much would you say your customers care about your sustainability initiatives?

I would say that it is hard to tell. I believe that I definitely care more than most of my customers. Well at least that is how I feel as of now. My customers in the US seem to care more about the free shipping, the promotions, the best deals. They seem much more capitalistic. They might say they care, but when it comes to paying more, they are hesitant. It is unfortunate because they don’t understand what goes into the making of NoNetz products. Each time someone asks for a discount, that comes out of our margin. This margin is how we pay our people. There seems to be a disconnect.

On the other hand, I think my Australian customers are definitely the ones to embrace the idea of sustainability more than the US. To sum it up, I think sustainability is a secondary concern for my US customers. They buy NoNetz because of the comfort and texture sensitivity aspects, not so much because of the sustainability initiatives that we do.

I think people are still not used to thinking of their clothes in a sustainable way but more of a lifestyle? Maybe they have yet to associate fashion with sustainability as they’re still very much into fast fashion. I got hit by a tornado in upstate NY not long ago, with a tree fallen on a house. The storms here are getting so violent that everyone has a generator and can longer depend on the climate. To me this is a huge change from 5 years ago, what else do we need to see happen before we start doing something? I think many are living in a willful denial and that really needs to change.

What are your main challenges to maintain sustainability standards for Nonetz?

  1. The cost is high

In order to produce at a local factory that produces sustainably and lower my carbon footprint, the minimum order is high. It is expensive and almost impossible for us as a small business to afford. I want to bring a product that is good for the planet and yet affordable for the people. The balance is tough.

  1. Convincing people to buy it instead of an alternative unsustainable brand that might cost a lot less

People are not willing to buy the product unless it is at a low price, which means much lower margins – to almost nothing for us. They tend to go for an alternative option that might be way cheaper but spoils really quickly. Who is making your clothes? How is it possible, for example, for a boys swimsuit to be $5 without unethical practices?

  1. Raising awareness

It is important that people know how poisonous the fabric we wear is to the environment and to ourselves. E.g. Organic Cotton uses so much water that it could be considered bad for the environment in terms of water conservation. Educating the crowd to highlight the processes and get them to be aware is so important.

What kind of criteria do you look into to make sure your products are sustainable?

I have a lot of metrics that I use. I have to know that there’s no child labor involved, the mills are entirely certified, the workers are fairly paid etc. I tried to remove plastic from my packaging to replace it with paper but it failed terribly. It frustrates me so much to know that I’m unable to eliminate plastic entirely from my packaging, especially when I’m actively trying to clean up plastic on the other hand by supporting ocean clean up projects. I have tried to geolocate everything to limit it to one area so that it lowers my carbon footprint but I simply don’t think it is possible. There just isn’t any expertise to make it here in NY, and even if there is, the cost is way too high and I don’t have the margins for it. Round and round.

Do you have any advice for those who might be interested in being sustainable but aren’t sure where to start?

Do what makes sense for you. If everyone just does even one part of it, I’m sure it will make a whole lot of difference. Start with small steps, one thing a year and slowly build on that for the next year. You might not see an immediate return on that lost margin on choosing sustainability, but you’ll distinguish yourself and that might be a differentiator for your brand.

What would you say is your ultimate goal for Nonetz, a few years from now?

Hopefully our business expands and I’ll have the ability to care for my employees beyond just payrolls but also covering their health care, tax shelters etc. Wouldn’t it be great to have that all taken care of so that one can rest their mind and have lesser worries and burdens?

What I would really love to do is to also incorporate more interesting technical fabrics that do more than just managing your body temp. Ultimately my dream is to do away with the washing machines and dryers. If we can redefine threads and the way it releases dirt and germs, I think that would be really cool!

Thank you so much Cathy for sharing your inspiring story 🙂 All the very best with NoNetz 🙂