Some people desperately want to be part of the crowd. They look at what everyone else is doing and do their best to fit in. And then there are those who purposefully stand out, making every effort to be different.
Linda Förstner, Sarah Grohé and Alex Atanasova—cofounders of luxury fashion label Uneins—are from the latter camp. Uneins in German translates as ‘un-one’… at odds, to differ. The trio disagrees with the conventional approach to fashion, and they’re united in their mission to do things differently.
In general, fashion is not a pretty industry. Murky supply chains hide human rights abuses. Obsolescence is built in—traditionally through the seasonal Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer rhythm to introducing new collections, and more recently through the ever-speedier disposal cycle of ‘fast fashion.’ Nobody wants to be “so last season.”
Which is why Uneins rejects the idea completely. Its core collection includes wardrobe staples—black dress, skinny trousers, leather jacket—made to be durable and remain relevant for a long time, “without expiration date.” Linda, the designer, introduces new designs “when there’s a reason to do so, unbound by seasons and trends.” It’s a new way of interacting with customers.
But what really makes Uneins special is the new way it interacts with suppliers—producers and artisans who are quietly revolutionising the fashion industry.
“The hard part in fashion is to be innovative all the time and still be sustainable. We want to do both,” says Linda. “Fabric is such a big part of it, and most end customers don’t have any idea about materials.” So Uneins searches the world for innovative textiles and small manufacturers that are doing something good, and then collaborates with them on a special set of items, a capsule collection.
That’s how they ended up at a fish factory in Iceland. Atlantic Leather shares Uneins’ desire to make fashion less wasteful. It turns fish skins, a by-product of the local food industry, into an exotic leather alternative. Although the material is gaining popularity, it’s still relatively rare.
Travelling to the remote north of the country, the team spent time learning about the tanning and finishing process, from scraping the scales off raw fish skins to dyeing and drying them. They got to know the people behind the product, seeing how they work and live, and experience the stark landscape which would influence the colours, structures and mood of the subsequent collection.
By weaving the story of the fish leather into its capsule collection, Uneins provides a platform for communication and connection between supplier and shopper—women who want something a little more unique and authentic than the typical luxury brand experience.
Each capsule is kept small and designed to complement pieces from the core collection, avoiding duplication, waste and the idea that anything is for this season or that. And each gives Uneins an opportunity to enter a new market—a new supplier in Japan has inspired the next collection.
The ultimate goal is to build a network of industry peers who share the company’s vision. By bringing to the forefront what small, innovative suppliers can do for designers, the team hopes to influence more fashion labels to follow their lead.
“Most people aren’t very eager to share their suppliers and manufacturers. Everything, down to where the best buttons can be bought, is a big secret,” Sarah laments. “We want everybody to know what we do. That can only be better for all of us.”
They may be seen as industry outsiders today, but Uneins isn’t being different for the sake of it. They want to change fashion from the inside.
“Either we start something new and different in this industry or we’ll choose a totally different industry to work in,” says Sarah. In the end, like a lot of outsiders, Uneins is happy to stand apart from the pack, but it would welcome like-minded company.