MILAN – Francesca Monaco and Salar Bicheranloo discovered that they were among the finalists of the Sustainable Fashion Awards of the Italian Chamber of Fashion almost by chance, from a press report, on a sunny July morning.
The founders of Themoirè, a Milanese accessories brand that aims at the lowest possible environmental impact, are in the running for the The Bicester Collection Award for Emerging Designers, one of the 12 prizes that will be awarded here at the Teatro alla Scala in a ceremony hosted by Rossy de Palma Sunday.
In the category, the duo will compete with the sustainable brand Nkwo and the Torlowei fashion house, both from Nigeria, for a chance to win mentoring and production and distribution opportunities.
“The fact that the finalists can be chosen in all categories and not just in accessories makes me even more proud,” said Monaco.
Yet the whole buzz of the award only plays a small role in scoring a special edition of Milan Fashion Week for the brand. This season the founders will expand their offer of ecological bags to debut their first range of footwear through a capsule collection that will be unveiled at Themoirè spring 2023 presentation, which will be held on Wednesday at the city’s Galleria Riviera.
Although it is not the first time that the brand has created a capsule collection – in the past it has made them by categories such as trench coats and jewels – Monaco has stated that Themoirè shoes are here to stay.
The first shoe launch will include three models, each available in two variations, ranging from platform mules in polyurethane leather and recycled cork to straw options.
The range will reflect the founders’ approach to bags, for which they work with natural, recycled or alternative materials for all aspects of the product, from linings and threads to labels and packaging.
“But it is much more difficult to make footwear: there are many different components, you need the right partner and suppliers require very high minimum orders,” noted Monaco, who said the couple have been working on the project for a year. She also stressed the importance of maintaining the brand’s accessible positioning, revealing that footwear prices will range from around € 250 to € 550.
Trying to balance all these aspects, the duo failed to find the right partner in Italy, but turned to a manufacturer in Greece for their footwear. “We are sad about this because we would have liked to keep everything in Italy, but we couldn’t find the right value for money here,” said Monaco.
“The truth is that it is very easy to make an expensive product, but combining quality, eco-conscious approach, design and a good price is another story”, echoed Bicheranloo.
A Mexican designer with 15 years of experience in bag design, Bicheranloo founded his first brand, Salar, in 2009. More trend-oriented and still active, the Salar brand “takes another path, with four collections presented per year” .
“But in 2019 we asked ourselves, ‘Why are we doing this?’ and questioned the pace of this sector, ”recalled Monaco. “We wanted to commit to a project that was responsible for the planet and communities, not defined as sustainable because it was impossible. We didn’t want to impose these notions on the brand we had because it would have felt more like a marketing move, so we opted for a side project, ”said Monaco.
Themoirè’s first collection immediately caught the attention of buyers, who confirmed orders even though the first delivery coincided with the COVID-19 outbreak in February 2020. “You could already feel there was a change from retailers and consumers, “Munich noted, referring to the growing interest in eco-labels.
While Monaco and Bicheranloo focus on timeless designs, opting for vintage-hued clutches and geometric tote bags that may live longer in customers’ closets, they are constantly exploring new materials, which makes for the most challenging part of their work.
So far Themoirè uses four main categories of materials: natural ones, such as cork, cotton, raffia, wood and straw; recycled options such as nylon threads, post-consumer denim and faux fur; water-based polyurethane leather and innovative alternatives, including fabrics derived from Nopal cactus, pineapple leaves, apple scraps and orange peels, just to name a few.
“There is so much experimentation from suppliers, they are really trying to do new things, but sometimes they are not ready for the market,” said Monaco. “Also, not everything can work and meet our needs. Many options are suitable for clothing, others for automotive, ”she added, citing the apple waste fabric as inadequate in footwear development, for example.
“Research is the hardest part, also because it is a circle. The more we use these alternatives, the more money providers have to invest and refine them, “Bicheranloo said.” But it all depends on the consumers too. For one, there’s a mushroom-based material that’s great, but costs more than leather. I can make a bag out of that, but will people eventually figure out its price?
Another challenge is balancing what’s available with their creative drive. “These materials are usually available in a limited range of colors, so developing a different collection is not an easy task either,” confirmed Monaco.
However, the elegant aesthetics and communication of the brand helped to improve the perception of the product. Despite the average price of a bag being around 270 euros, Themoirè is available in 230 stores around the world in high-end positioning, including Rinascente and LuisaViaRoma in Italy, and the likes of Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. in the United States, where the brand was launched last year.
Italy is still the main market, followed by the rest of Europe and the United States. The Middle East is catching up with key wholesalers ordering large orders in Dubai, while Monaco was particularly impressed with the brand’s performance in Greece.
In 2021 the brand totaled € 2 million in revenues, doubling the sales generated the previous year.
“A standalone store can wait,” Bicheranloo said when asked about future distribution plans. “We work with a limited stock and having a store would also mean developing a strategy to compensate for what we do from an environmental point of view… It would be in Milan, but it would represent more a communication tool, rather than a key to sales. But if that’s his purpose, it’s too big an investment, we prefer to communicate the brand in another way, ”he said.
The couple’s alternative approach includes social initiatives. For one, during Milan Fashion Week, the company will unveil the second chapter of Together by Themoirè, a series of projects aimed at creating a dialogue between the communities of artisans and the brand, as well as highlighting minorities in need.
After joining a Mexican community in Oxchuc, Chiapas, the founders headed to Madagascar for the second iteration of the project. Here they collaborated on the creation of raffia bags with local artisans, honoring their traditional techniques and creating a dedicated campaign on site to raise awareness around their personal stories. Part of the proceeds from the capsule collection will be donated to a local charity project.
In general, Themoirè donates a percentage of its profit to organizations that are also committed to climate change and plants a tree for each bag sold in partnership with TreeNation.