MILAN — Francesca Monaco and Salar Bicheranloo discovered that they were among the finalists for the Italian fashion chamber’s Sustainable Fashion Awards almost by chance, through a press report, on a sunny July morning.
The founders of Themoirè, a Milanese accessories brand that aims to have as little environmental impact as possible, are vying for The Bicester Collection Award for Emerging Designers, one of 12 awards to be presented at La Scala theater here in a ceremony. presented by Rossy de Palma on Sunday.
In the category, the duo will compete with sustainable brand Nkwo and fashion house Torlowei, both from Nigeria, for the chance to win mentorship, production and distribution opportunities.
“The fact that finalists can be chosen across all categories and not just accessories makes me even more proud,” said Monaco.
However, all the awards hoopla plays only a small part in marking a special edition of Milan Fashion Week for the brand. This season, the founders will expand their eco-bag offering to present their first range of footwear through a capsule collection that will be unveiled at Themoirè’s spring 2023 presentation, to be held on Wednesday at the Galleria Riviera de la city.
While it’s not the first time the brand has done a capsule collection, in the past it has done them for categories like trench coats and jewelry, Monaco said the Themoirè shoes are here to stay.
The first footwear release will include three styles, each with two variations, ranging from platform mules in polyurethane leather and recycled cork to straw options.
The range will reflect the approach of the bag founders, for which they work with natural, recycled or alternative materials for all aspects of the product, from lining and threads to labels and packaging.
“But it is much more difficult to make shoes: there are many different components, you need the right partner and the suppliers require minimum orders that are very high,” said Monaco, who said the pair have been working on the project for a year. He also highlighted the importance of maintaining the close positioning of the brand and revealed that the prices of the footwear will range between 250 and 550 euros.
Seeking to balance all these aspects, the duo could not find the right partner in Italy, instead relying on a shoe manufacturer in Greece. “We are sad about this because we would have liked to keep everything in Italy, but we just couldn’t find the right value for money here,” Monaco said.
“The truth is that it is very easy to make an expensive product, but combining quality, an ecological approach, design and a good price is a completely different story,” echoed Bicheranloo.
A Mexican designer with 15 years of experience designing bags, Bicheranloo founded his first brand, Salar, in 2009. More trend-oriented and still in business, the Salar brand “follows another path, with four collections presented per year.”
“But in 2019 we ask ourselves: ‘Why are we doing this?’ and questioned the pace of this industry,” Monaco recalled. “We wanted to commit to a project that was responsible with the planet and the communities, not defined as sustainable because that is impossible. We didn’t want to impose these notions on the brand we had because it would have seemed more like a marketing move, so we opted for a side project,” said Monaco.
Themoirè’s first collection instantly attracted the attention of shoppers, who confirmed orders even if the first delivery coincided with the COVID-19 outbreak in February 2020. “You could already feel there was a shift in retailers and consumers Monaco noted, referring to the growing interest in green brands.
While Monaco and Bicheranloo focus on timeless designs, opting for vintage-tinged handbags and geometric totes that could linger in customers’ closets longer, they are constantly looking for new materials, making them the most challenging part of his work.
So far, Themoirè uses four main categories of materials: natural ones, such as cork, cotton, raffia, wood and straw; recycled options like nylon threads, post-consumer denim and eco-leather; water-based polyurethane leather and innovative alternatives, including fabrics derived from prickly pear cactus, pineapple leaves, apple scraps, and orange peels, to name a few.
“There’s so much experimentation from vendors, they’re really trying to do new things, but sometimes they’re just not market ready,” Monaco said. “Also, not everything can work and meet our needs. Many options fit clothing, others automotive,” she added, citing fabric derived from apple waste as unsuitable for developing footwear, for example.
“The investigation is the most difficult part, also because it is a circle. The more we use these alternatives, the more money providers have to invest in fine-tuning them,” Bicheranloo repeated. “But everything also depends on the consumers. For one thing, there’s a fungus-based material that’s great, but costs more than leather. I can make a bag out of it, but will people eventually understand its price?
Another challenge is balancing what’s available with your creative drive. “Usually these materials come in a limited range of colors, so developing a different collection is not an easy task either,” confirmed Monaco.
Still, the elegant aesthetics and brand communication contributed to improving the perception of the product. Although the average price of a bag is around 270 euros, Themoirè is available in 230 points of sale around the world in the high-end position, including Rinascente and LuisaViaRoma in Italy, and Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman in the United States. States, where the brand launched last year.
Italy remains the biggest market, followed by the rest of Europe and the US. The Middle East is catching up with major wholesalers placing large orders in Dubai, while Monaco was particularly impressed by the brand’s performance in Greece.
In 2021 the brand added 2 million euros in revenue, doubling the sales generated the previous year.
“An independent store can wait,” Bicheranloo said when asked about future distribution plans. “We work with a limited stock and having a store would also imply developing a strategy to offset what we do from an environmental point of view… It would be in Milan, but it would represent more of a communication tool than a key for Sales. But if that is your purpose, it is too big an investment, we prefer to communicate the brand in another way, ”he said.
The couple’s alternative approach includes social initiatives. On the one hand, during Milan Fashion Week, the company will present the second chapter of Together by Themoirè, a series of projects aimed at creating a dialogue between the artisan communities and the brand, as well as highlighting minorities in need. .
After linking up with a Mexican community in Oxchuc, Chiapas, the founders headed to Madagascar for the second iteration of the project. Here they co-created raffia bags with local artisans, honoring their traditional techniques and filming a dedicated campaign on location to raise awareness of their personal stories. Part of the proceeds from sales of the capsule collection will be donated to a local charity project.
In general, Themoirè donates a percentage of its profits to organizations that are also committed to climate change and plants a tree for every bag sold in partnership with TreeNation.