How does one go from a background in business administrations to becoming founder of a highly commendable sustainable fashion brand? Without any experience in the field at all, in 2007 co-founder Martin Hoefeler took this challenge by the horns and created the Cologne based eco friendly brand ARMEDANGELS. We talk in depth details of the what’s actually behind becoming a sustainable brand, challenges everyone faces, competition and how true does one stay to their beliefs. The German designer has a lot to share when it comes to staying on trend, fascinating thoughts on changing careers and advice to fellow entrepreneurs.
Where does the name ARMEDANGELS come from?
The name ARMEDANGELS pretty much sums up what we stand for. The name symbolizes a sort of „Robin Hood“ for the textile industry. An armed angel fighting against the injustices and conditions of an industry that needs revolutionary change…
Tell us a bit about your history within the field of fashion design?
There is not much to tell. Before I founded ARMEDANGELS, fashion never played a big role in my life. During my studies (business administrations) I met my Co-founder at an entrepreneur workshop. We were both looking for a business concept based on social principals. When we heard about the conditions in the textile industry – we were shocked. This was the moment we decided to change the game and make a difference – even without any specialized knowledge in fashion. In 2007 ARMEDANGELS was born.
Has the plan always been to create sustainable wear?
We don’t accept compromises when it comes to the product. We have and we always will work only with sustainable materials. Sustainability is not just a trend for us – it’s our belief. That’s why we only use materials such as organic cotton, organic wool, TENCEL®, Modal or recycled polyester. And of course we partnered with organizations like Fairtrade, GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) and the Fair Wear Foundation to help us implement our high standards and to hold us accountable. Not only material wise but social wise too.
What are the challenges you’ve come up against in your journey to create a sustainable clothing brand?
One challenge is definitely to meet commercial retail prices – despite a sustainable production. Regarding our price range, we can’t compete with “Fast-Fashion“ labels – and that’s not what we want either- not regarding the price, nor regarding the quality. But we are able to compete with brands offering a similar kind of quality and products. Another challenge is to extend our product range. We have to find new, sustainable materials and comply to GOTS in every production step. Also, of course, they have to match our high design standards. All these steps are very time consuming and cost a lot of money. And of course it’s tricky sometimes – especially for our designers and buyers. But it‘s a challenge and it’s our job to find creative solutions to face these challenges. Nevertheless, we continuously work on extending our collections. And a lot has happened since we started. Today we launch four collections every year. Men and Women.
How have you managed to meet those challenges?
With a great and passionate team. People who are creative, love what they do and stand behind our philosophy – 100%. We are not perfect and we will make mistakes but that’s how we grow. That’s how we change the game.
How do you deal with competition within the sustainable field?
We love competition. We can’t revolutionize the textile industry ourselves. The more people care about Fair-Fashion and join our mission – the better. Doesn’t matter if they are customers, retailers or competitors.
Does the fact that you make eco- friendly clothing make it harder to stay on trend?
We can‘t chase every trend – and we don‘t want to either. We rather focus on modern, contemporary collections. Moreover, we don‘t think there needs to be a contradiction between fair, organic and beautiful clothing. Our mission is to combine fair working conditions and sustainable, high quality materials with beautiful design.
What advice would you give to aspiring eco-entrepreneurs, especially those with an interest in sustainable apparel?
Don’t respect the status quo – change it and let no one tell you it’s impossible. It’s not! It will be tough but it’s worth it.
How have you seen the sustainable fashion industry change/develop since launching ARMEDANGELS?
The Fair Fashion Market is definitely growing. Our sales figures and retail requests prove it. When we started ARMEDANGELS in 2007 we had a team of 3 in a shared office space in Cologne, only selling our products via our online shop. Today we are almost 60 people, selling online and offline in more than 800 Point-of Sales in 16 countries. People start being more conscious about what they wear and where it is produced. That’s great. But even though people think about sustainability more and more, in the end, they buy what they like. Design and price still come first for the majority of people. Fair enough. Nobody wants to wear an ugly shirt – no matter how fair and organic it is. This is the balancing act we have to manage. Clothing, which is fair, organic and beautiful at the same time. It’s still a long way to go but that’s what you have to deal with if you want to become the fairest fashion label in the world.
By Olive Duran