HOW IT WAS BORN
Hi, I’m Xenia, and Attire is my baby. I want to tell you my story from the very beginning; it's going to get a bit personal.
Being an influencer is fun and stuff. When I started, I had no idea how this crazy fashion world works and so many goals I wanted to accomplish. As time went on I started to achieve some of them: I’ve worked with my dream brands, attended fashion shows all over the world, booked big campaigns and gotten prestigious press coverage. I love doing what I do. But at a certain point, I felt something changing in me… something was missing. I thought when I had it all I would be happy.
I have come to realize that what was missing in my career was something more meaningful. I was attending fashion weeks, changing 10 times per day, getting little to no sleep, no personal time, every day another flight. In and out, in and out. No routine, no home base. Don’t get me wrong, I love fashion and I love what I do. But I took it all too seriously. If I missed a show, lost luggage, delayed posts, or wasn’t able to catch up with emails, I’d get so stressed out you’d think I was saving lives, but I wasn’t. I realized I needed to do something more meaningful. Something that can actually have an impact.
In the same period I got approached by brands who wanted to do capsule collections with me. One of them, a huge retailer, offered me a lucrative six-figure fee plus percentages of the sales on top. I asked for details of the collaboration: Do I have creative freedom? Can I see the factories where it’s being produced? Can I decide what the materials consist of? The answers were no, no and not really. I received a sheet of ‘designs’ I could choose from produced in factories I’d never be able to visit, made from low-quality materials. I started thinking is this what I want to stand for? I declined the offer.
That same day a friend of mine texted me these words: “You are the best Xenia. Your honesty will open so many doors. For me you are truly different and unique. You will make the best decision soon.” This simple text made me think. So much. “Your honesty will open so many doors.” I thought about it for weeks. What does this mean?
I had played with the idea of creating my own brand that was fully honest and had the best possible sustainable approach but in my head it was impossible. What do I know about production? I work on the other side of fashion. But there were so many signs. I watched The True Cost. I remember sitting on my couch, barely able to breathe. I cried. It touched me. What we forget with all these clothes and all these collections (some that come out weekly) is that there’s a human cost. Everything we wear has been touched by real humans; humans with families, humans with their own set of dreams.
Is it fair that a mega mogul can control a EUR 70 billion fortune while the last people in the production chain can barely manage to survive or feed their children? That people die in toxic environments because somebody did not want to spend a little bit more money on safer working conditions? Wouldn’t it be okay to have, maybe, 1 billion, and still live a luxurious life beyond most people’s wildest dreams, but run major companies in a more ethical way?
I don’t want to point fingers and I can’t create change by complaining. It’s what I actually do that counts. So after watching The True Cost and seeing how Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old girl from Sweden, is changing the world, I felt ridiculous for thinking I wouldn’t be able to have an impact. I have reach, I have loyal followers, I have a great network, I have savings. I can do it. And this is how Attire was born.
THE IDEA BEHIND ATTIRE
My number one belief is transparency. I think honesty, authenticity and being true to yourself are some of the most important values in today’s society. With that in mind, I will disclose the factories I use and why I use them. I’m working with small factories, most of which are family owned, and I have been inside each of them watching our pieces being produced. I have talked to the owners who have a proud history of production, sometimes stretching back multiple generations. I have seen the workers, the people who work hard so that we can have a new piece of clothing. It is touching and it means so much to me. There is a cost to clothing, so it shouldn’t be something we wear once and throw away. I will be 100% transparent about pricing. You will know what you’re paying for: the material cost, the labor cost, the transportation cost. You will see the margin that we get.
Did you know that almost no brand discloses the origin of the yarn? We use wool suppliers from Italy and Portugal, but that doesn’t mean that the wool is from these countries, it only means that’s where the mill is. We go the extra mile and disclose the origin of the yarn, and each farm is certified to ensure that no sheep was harmed in production. It is a shame that the word ‘Sustainable’ is thrown around so loosely as a buzzword. Brands use it as a marketing tool. In fact, many brands invest more money in marketing the perception of sustainability than in actually making efforts to be sustainable. Scary, right? The problem is there is no real definition of sustainability. Financially, a brand is sustainable if it makes enough money to survive the business year. For some, sustainability means using recycled materials. For others sustainability means being CO2-neutral. Here is my personal definition of sustainability, defined by doing a lot of research and deciding what aligns most with my values and what’s most important to me.
We are proud to say that our collection and packaging is completely plastic-free. All our fabrics are 100% natural and 100% biodegradable. Natural fabrics require little to no toxins in the production process (as opposed to man-made fabrics). We do not use any polyester or polyester blend fabrics; polyester can only be recycled a limited amount of times because it loses so much of its quality after being broken down, and it releases micro-plastics in the recycling process that pollute landfills and oceans. We chose not to use polyester mixed fabrics despite the fact that they are more affordable because they cannot be recycled — the process to separate polyester mixed fabrics takes too much effort and requires too many chemicals.
(Please note that these are my personal values and priorities and just because something is important to me does not mean that other efforts don’t matter or are wrong. At the end of the day it is personal preference and a personal belief system that define a company’s culture.)
My little team and I went to the three most important textile fairs in Europe. Trust me when I tell you that I have touched every sustainable fabric that was available. We collected hundreds and hundreds of samples. One thing struck me: when I asked for the origin of the yarn many of the suppliers couldn’t give me an answer. This made no sense. How could they not know the source of their fabrics? More conversations revealed that it is symptomatic of a larger problem — we need more transparency throughout the entire supply chain. I spoke with one supplier who told me he wanted to buy organic cotton from the USA but there was no way of knowing if the fabric was actually American because it might have been sourced in America, but then sent to India to be dyed, sent to China to be spun, sent back to the USA to be sold as organic cotton, then sent out to the mills worldwide for a cheap price. This is not sustainable. We have tried our best to trace the origins of our fabrics.
There are many ecological fabrics, but they also have to feel and look good. There is no point in creating clothing that people won’t love and wear, even if it’s sustainable. I am proud of the fabrics we have sourced. The look and feel is incredible. They are toxin-free and are certified to have come from companies that ensure fair and regulated working conditions.
When I began researching sustainable clothing, I couldn’t find a brand that married full transparency, affordability, and great design. Sometimes I liked a piece but something was off: the quality, the length, the feel. Or sometimes pieces were great but they looked cheap. Working in high fashion has taught me so much about quality and fit. I have very particular taste and I want people to feel how I want to feel in my clothes — powerful and comfortable.
This would not have been possible without Carmela. When I looked for a technical designer (because my drawings look more like a kindergarten project than actual designs) a follower sent me the following DM: “Hi, you should hit up Carmela. She designed the Calvin jeans. When you hire her I promise you will have the most fun and laugh a lot.” I don’t know what it was but this DM stuck in my mind. If I look at the people close to me in life, I think my biggest talent is recognizing genuine, pure, lovely, loyal people. I DM’d Carmela and after writing back and forth, I flew her to Paris. We fell in love with each other right away, so much that she deserves her own paragraph in this section.
Carmela is from Venezuela but lives in New York. She is incredibly talented. When she sent me her CV I couldn’t believe she was real and I asked my PA, Marie-Hélène, to do a background check to make sure the things she was claiming were actually true. Check this out: she came to the USA with nothing, received a CFDA scholarship, studied at SCAD, won awards, one of which led her straight to work with Ralph Lauren and from there she ended up working as one of the youngest designers at Calvin Klein under Raf Simons. I was so sad when Raf and Calvin split but now I have to say it was serendipitous, otherwise Carmela wouldn’t have been available to us. Carmela is passionate about modern, minimalist, strong designs (I have never seen her wear an outfit I didn’t love), she does charity work for people in her home in Venezuela, and she is so raw, so passionate and so real. I have never met a harder working, more organized, more passionate person. My words don’t do justice to how much I appreciate her.
I creative directed the pieces and Carmela executed and interpreted them in her way. We had 10 different sketches of possible designs for each piece of clothing (more than 100 design sketches) and together we decided on the final pieces. The rest we canceled or saved for following collections. This is just the beginning, we are a young and small team, including my amazing boyfriend Jürgen who is the master of finances and communication. We are not perfect but we are trying our best. As I like to say: we always give 200%.
My god, had I known how complicated and exhausting and scary this whole journey would become, I don’t think I would have started it. My extreme naivety has been both a blessing and a curse. Everybody I talked to warned me about production. Everybody. Everybody advised me to get a partner, somebody with experience, somebody with connections. Yet here we are, half a year later, many lessons richer. We scouted close to 100 factories throughout Italy and Portugal. I knew I wanted to produce locally because I need to be able to see the production, the factories and the workers with my own eyes.
Oh my naivety. I can’t help but laugh when I think about how I started this thing. In my head it looked like this: I need to find some fabrics and I need to find a factory and this one mill will give me all my fabrics and this one factory will produce all my clothing. Funny. This is the reality: Fabric sourcing takes a lot of effort and time. It’s a full-time job. And because we were so particular about what we wanted, we were limited. And because we wanted specific fabrics, they needed to be ordered. For the fabrics alone we had to wait 8 weeks (which seems like forever but is very quick in the production world). My clueless mind thought everything was always available! The funnier thing was the factories. I thought one factory does it all. Our collection includes coats, tailoring, knitwear, tops and pants. Each factory specializes in something specific. For the knits we needed to find a factory specializing in knits, for the blazers a factory specialized in tailoring, etc etc etc. We work with five small factories that specialize in the styles we produce. We work with factories that produce for leading high-fashion brands. This way we can ensure the best quality and fit. Sometimes in life you get lucky, and we found a great partner in Portugal (who is also all about sustainable efforts) who helped us find the best factories. Thank you endlessly for everything you have done and your patience with three ambitious young people with big dreams. I know it’s been a wild ride. Thank you for keeping up. I can’t thank the people around me enough.
Everybody who works in production knows this but damn. We. Had. So. Many. Issues. Fabric wasn’t available, delivered one month late or in the wrong color or quality or quantities; samples took forever because I am so incredibly particular about the fit, one fabric didn’t work in the design we intended so we had to change fabric for that style but then it wasn’t available… There were unexpected financial surprises, legal complications, endless delays. I’m pretty sure the universe wanted to test how seriously I’m taking this mission.
I tried my best to source the best-possible fabrics and the best-possible factories, but there is no one stop shop perfect solution. For example, I would love all of our yarns to be locally sourced. I found a sheep farm and a small wool mill in Portugal that produce their own wool. Our coats are made from their wool. I saw their sheep in front of us on huge fields of grass being as free and happy as sheep can be. When I talked to the owner I asked her: Why is your wool not certified when this is the most sustainable fabric I have come across? She said it’s because they can’t afford a certificate. They are too small. They are family owned. It’s Artesian. I asked: Why can’t we get our pants made in your locally sourced wool? She said because Portuguese sheep wool is different than Australian wool. Portuguese wool is more rough, not as soft, and doesn’t work as well for pants. So we had to source international wool from Italian mills. (But we made sure to only source certified wool where the sheep have not been harmed during the shearing and where worker safety is ensured.)
Certificates are tricky. There are so many different random sustainability certifications, some that mean something and some that don’t mean anything. You can have the most sustainable mill that produces everything locally that can’t afford a certificate, like my little Portuguese farm, or you can have GOTS-certified cotton and still sell a T-Shirt for EUR 4 without VAT. Yeah, yeah, quantities bring prices down, but mass production will never be truly sustainable. We have tried our best to find the trusted certificates we need.
I am usually on top of everything but during fashion month in September my brain was not working properly and I approved one fabric without asking the origin because I thought we had only pre-sourced certified options. We paid thousands of Euros for the fabric. Before final production I asked about the origin of the wool because I knew the origins of each piece except this one — nobody knew. I was shocked. We asked the Italian supplier and he replied “India and Thailand.” I asked for more information and he couldn’t provide me with any. I had to choose: lose the money and stick true to my mission or go easy on myself because this is my first collection and maybe it’s okay if one piece is not perfect. I decided to cancel the pants. I can’t stand behind something if I don’t give it my best. I accepted the fact and returned the fabric, lost the money and learned an expensive lesson. (Thankfully the supplier was nice and understanding and gave us credit for returning the fabric in the end!)
SO WHY DID I CREATE YET ANOTHER CLOTHING BRAND?
Because of my customer pains. The amount of Greenwashing going on in the fashion industry drives me crazy. Finding amazing, sustainable brands that weren’t really modern, minimalist, stylish, wearable or affordable frustrated me. This is where I jump in: honest, transparent, ethical, high quality, locally produced clothing that looks and feels amazing and is as affordable as possible (because remember: if a product is cheap, somebody along the production chain didn’t get paid). Clothing you (and I!) will love and feel proud to wear.
We are not perfect. We have a long way to go. The entire industry has a long way to go. But we are striving to be the coolest, most ethical brand on the market. I am proud about how far we have come in such a short amount of time and I guarantee that we will only get better. I put my heart and soul into this and I hope you will love it as much as I do.
Hamburg, November 2019