We’re so happy to be back with a new season of Fashion Talks! In this space, we connect with fashion experts, innovators, and entrepreneurs to learn more about their stories, their journeys and learn from their knowledge.
This month’s special guest is Eugénie from MARTAN. She is the co-owner and head of sustainability of MARTAN, a Dutch circular fashion brand. They are incredible at combining circularity with design. As a result, they create amazing garments out of upcycled textiles from the hotel industry.
We met with Eugénie to talk about business, and inspire us with their story and what they’ve learned along the way. MARTAN is also part of our community of brands that are producing through Manufy, how exciting is that? Let’s get to know them more!
Better Magazine: So let’s start from the beginning, how was MARTAN born? Where did the idea come from and how did it become the business that it is now?
Eugénie: Well, MARTAN consists of me and the two co-founders, Diek and Douwe who started a couple of years ago to build the idea. At the beginning MARTAN was focused on creating creative & artistic fashion shows, fashion movies and one of a kind pieces. It was only around two years ago that they decided to shift the concept of MARTAN to a ready to wear brand. Around five years ago, I was running another business, the brand Archivist. A fashion brand that focuses on upcycling hotel linen and tablecloths. The aesthetic of the brand was very clean and basic. I realized that I had all these really nice materials, but the design was not exciting enough. As a sustainable brand you can not rely only on the fact that you’re using circular material you also have to be cool. So I was looking for a new direction for the brand, a new designer that could help me with the creative part, since I don’t have a background in fashion design. Since we already knew each other and collaborated together, with Diek and Douwe we decided to join forces and make MARTAN a ready to wear brand, but using upcycled materials. Now we’ve been doing exactly that together since February of last year.
BM: Interesting story! It is such a good business idea to merge all your talents and skills together to create something much more powerful. So you mentioned that you already had your brand and had some experience with sourcing. How was this process for you and how did it shift when you started to collaborate with MARTAN? Where did you start sourcing materials, and how did the design process go?
Eugénie: So before MARTAN, when I started my brand I was wondering what happened to hotel sheets after they get discarded, so I started to research. I had a friend who was working in a beautiful luxury hotel in London, so I called her and asked her what they did with the sheets that they have to throw away because of stains, holes or other defects. I discovered that the textile used in the hotel that did have some defects was just thrown away. I asked if I could have the fabrics, she said yes and from then on she would call me every time a big batch of fabric was about to be picked up and I would have it collected. I realized that the quality of the fabric was really good and suited really well for clothing. So we started to look for luxury hotels, also in The Netherlands, that use the best quality materials, and that is how basically we started sourcing.
BM: So you source this beautiful 100% cotton material, but how does that get transformed into a garment? What does this process look like for you?
Eugénie: This part of the process is what the boys focus on and experiment with. Douwe’s preferred way of design is draping. He takes the mannequin and experiments with the fabrics on top , trying out what works and what doesn’t work. We also create more basic items like shirts and drape the sleeves for example.
BM: Going back to your first business, where did this passion and curiosity for circularity come from?
Eugénie: Well, already when I was writing my master thesis for my Law degree I knew I wanted to research the fashion industry, because I was very passionate about it. The Rana Plaza collapse in 2013 was something that marked me and I think it was then that the awareness started to grow about how the fashion business was not on the right track. Also the environmental problems linked to the fashion industry were starting to emerge, so when the moment came in 2015 to write my thesis I knew I wanted to talk about these topics from a legal perspective. I also started working for a big fashion company in Berlin and I started to realize that I wanted to put all my effort in the field of circularity in fashion trying to make a difference in some way.
BM: Very interesting coming from a law background and combining it with your passion for fashion.
Now, a couple of years later, are there things that you started doing years ago that you look at now and think that nowadays you would have done completely differently?
Eugénie: Well with MARTAN we only started in February and everything has gone quite well. With Archivist I would say quite some things, but they are small things that helped me to grow during the process. For example when I started my fashion brand in 2018 I had no idea where to start finding producers, so I tried to reach out to a lot of different factories and went with a friend by car to visit those factories. In the end that was quite a waste of time because those factories were not equipped to do what I needed. It was just later that I found the factory I’m still working with in Romania that is very well equipped and makes beautiful samples. I don’t know exactly how I would have done it differently but I would definitely try a different path, maybe look for an agent or a platform like Manufy where you can find partners more easily
BM: I understand, at the end of the day it helps you to save time and gain more focus on other aspects of business like creating new collections or marketing. When looking at the whole process of starting a fashion brand, once you found your sources for the material how did you get all the rest started? Did you know about marketing, about creating collections and selling them to the public? How did you experience your entrance to the fashion business?
Eugénie: Well the very first collection that I made was for pre-order, so I just made samples, and put it on the website. In the next two weeks there would be the possibility for the people to order the product and once the deadline was over we would then produce it and ship it. Later the orders became bigger so we started selling to shops, going door to door to show our collection. This is basically how we started.
BM: One thing we’ve observed during fashion talks is how sometimes people tend to think that it is very complicated to start a business like this and go through the process, but sometimes we can make things so much easier for ourselves. We don’t have to have everything figured out in the beginning. So as a last question I wanted to ask you if you have any advice for young fashion designers or starting business owners who want to launch their idea? What is important, what do you need to have in mind?
Eugénie: I would advise to start and keep your collection small. Maybe focus on accessories because they don’t have sizing so it is an easier product to start with (this will help you also with having less returns). They are a product category that consumers will buy less often, but they are prepared to spend more money on them, especially if they are well made and nicely designed. There is also a lot to be done with waste materials and accessories. And as a last tip, use Manufy to source because it makes looking for producers so much easier!
To learn more about MARTAN go to martan-official.com.