Several brilliant sustainably driven fashion start ups are running the retail scene right now- from athletic wear to underwear, the options have reached an incredible and bold new high. Sometimes, sustainable + fashion can mean vintage to many, which might not seem attractive for athletic or functional wear. Trend is also an element people consider when deciding on purchasing a fashion item. So what’s to be done to create a trend, functional piece that is new, not old, yet sustainable?
Several new brands cropping up now like Labo Mono that use sustainable material to create their products and in turn, contribute to eco-conscious manufacturing. We’ve spoken to Ali about setting up shop in the fashion industry as a sustainable, yet trendy brand.
First off, we’re going to begin with character- the personality behind the start up. Ali is an avid adventure junkie that takes himself to places and routes so diverse, full of new experiences and landscapes. While on vibrant escapades, the one thing that never complimented his mood were his jackets. Adventure jackets are either practical and boring, or just trendy with little utility and cover against weather.
Tapping this gap, and finding the right balance of style and value, Ali Namdhari, a 30 year-old French designer living in London, came up with the idea of Labo Mono. Ali is the perfect example of hard work meets hard play and we had a brilliant time talking to him about how he came up with the idea for his business. His simple and honest approach to entrepreneurship gave us the confidence that given all technology and resources at hand, nothing is impossible.
What made you switch industries- from tech and app to physical product and retail?
Funny enough, I never felt that I had changed industries. Sure I was designing apps, and now I’m manufacturing outdoor clothing. But at the same time, I used the same workflow and principles I loved using when I was designing an app (Design Thinking). Start with a problem, build a prototype, test it, repeat.
And instead of working with developers, I’m now working with a factory.
In the end, I still see myself as a designer. Only now, I’m able to work on a wider range of projects, and have some extra skills along the way like logistics, marketing, and sales to name a few.
How did you feel when you came up with the idea of Labo Mono?
I always knew I wanted to create my own product. Something I would be proud of, that would have an impact on the people around me. I was able to travel the globe while working, comfortably get paid. I was living my best life as a designer. I wasn’t really prepared for what was happening next. In summer 2018, I was cycling home when I got caught in a rainstorm. I had one of those windbreakers with me, and was drenched by the time I made it home. With my frustration level to the max, I immediately started looking online for a jacket that was actually waterproof, comfortable when active and that I could wear when not cycling.
To my surprise, all the results I got were super serious looking technical jackets. Not quite what I had in mind for everyday wear: I love wearing bold colors and prints. And the few ones that came close were far from being sustainably made.
That’s when it struck me. There’s something to be done here!
But clothing design and manufacturing wasn’t my field at all. I made apps for a living. And so I shrugged it off.…Or so I thought. For a whole week after that, everyday when I woke up, when I was showering, at work: it was there! I kept thinking on how that perfect jacket would look. About the features it could have. About how it could actually be useful to a lot of friends too. I just couldn’t take it out of my mind.
This is when I thought, “OK, Ali, you are way too obsessed with this, let’s Google “how to manufacture jackets”. It’s insane, the amount of quality information you can find online about any field, if you’re willing to put the time in. Hours of reading and watching tutorials, documentaries, and interviews. And the more I learned, the more I was picturing that ideal jacket. And the more I was getting excited.
A few weeks in, I knew I could do it. I was way too motivated not to try. You know that excitement you’d get when your parents told you you were going to Disneyland? I would get that every time I was thinking about this new project.
I loved my job at the time, I really did. But that feeling, you don’t get that many times in your life, especially when it comes to work. About a month later, I had quit all my clients and went all in on this new adventure.
How did you come up with the brand’s name?
“Labo”stands for “lab” in French. I knew that I wanted to create products featuring bold prints/colors. And the idea of imagining those being made in an ironic scientific research lab sounded really fun to me. I’m trying to use this aspect more and more on Instagram. I have a 3D animator friend to create some machines I had in mind.
And “Mono” because I want all our prints and colors to be unisex. I’ve seen so may awesome designs in clothing stores, only to find out that were only made for kids, or women. Hey, grown up men can wear happy colors and prints too!
With a background in design, do you think that it’s important for a company’s success to have a good design for products, brand, and packaging?
I’ve seen way too many clients and entrepreneurs spend crazy amount of money and time in their branding way too early. Sure thing, good aesthetics are important. But people aren’t going to use your product or service just because it looks nice. They will use it because it is simple to use and brings value to them.
Make it as simple as possible, with the least features possible. Think about the context and the whole flow that your user will go through whether it’s a digital service or a physical product.
How did you go about researching the market and the gap for a raincoat company?
My first instinct was to go online and look for such jacket. When I realized I couldn’t find that perfect jacket online, I asked my friends what kind of jackets they were using. Casual cyclist friends, casual hikers, and commuters. And the answer was usually the same. One jacket for the city that looked great, and another one for more active situations, but nothing great in-between.
That’s when I went on hours of jacket reviews on YouTube, going out on stores to buy and compare jackets. Sketching and prototyping that perfect jacket based on my findings, then showing it and testing it with people I interviewed initially. Getting feedback, fine tuning, then testing again, until the final prototype was ready for production.
Make it as simple as possible, with the least features possible. Think about the context and the whole flow that your user will go through whether it’s a digital service or a physical product.Ali Namdhari
What is the sustainable element in Labo Mono and how to did you apply it?
When researching the market and learning about current manufacturing process, I realized that there were a lot of ways to build a more sustainable jacket. Sure that would add some extra cost, and would mean spending more time finding the right suppliers, but to me it was worth it, and was actually a pretty fun challenge. It wasn’t until I visited a textile and fashion fair in Paris, that I got familiar with all the sustainable alternatives for fabrics, finishing, and techniques in the clothing industry.
- For the Urban Jacket, I needed something light, highly waterproof, and breathable. And from all the fabrics available, one specific recycled polyester fabric was the best candidate. Using considerably less water, CO2, and energy to produce, keeping plastic bottles away from landfills, and performing really well.
- The second element was finding an alternative to PFC (fluorocarbon) water repellent. Commonly used on most water repellent jackets. Although they are effective, they are also harmful for wildlife and people. That one was even harder to source, but after a couple of months, I managed to find a great finishing in Germany.
- The only non recycled plastic used in our jacket are currently the accessories ( zippers, buttons). But even those will be swapped in our growth plan.
Do you think sustainability will be the new normal with all businesses?
I am a realistic optimist. Sustainability is definitely a topic that has become more important in the last few years. With so many new independent brands launching, and showing that we can produce quality products with less impact on the planet, I think the future is looking brighter for the planet. But unless strict manufacturing laws are applied, there will always be big brands who will find the cheapest and dirtiest ways just to lower their costs, and only promote greenwashing marketing to appear more sustainable.
Hopefully, people are becoming more aware of this issue, and it will eventually be up to them to decide how they consume.