THE BOUNCER OF ATHLEISURE WEAR
We talked industry secrets, thoughtfulness in fashion and being the best with Kristin Hildebrand, the founder of super-exclusive sportswear-brand WONE
We’re in the time of sneaker raffles, of Soho-house memberships and festivals, which are that in demand, people have to apply to buy tickets. It’s the time of artificial scarcity and therefore the time of man-made exclusivity. On the first sight, one could think, that WONE, the super-exclusive athleisure wear label by former Nike creative concept director Kristin Hildebrand, may have jumped on the trend to generate sales and to create a certain kind of mysticism around the brand. Whereas in fact, it tries to crack down on these entrenched industry-methods. Being frustrated with the mechanisms of fast fashion and the need to create new hypes around old products Kristin Hildebrand turned her back on her corporate past and founded an own label. Simple and successful, the main focus lies on creating a high-quality product with a timeless black design, that will last a lifetime – against our disposable culture, against waste and garbage, against the high-paced fashion cycles. For more consciousness and sustainability. The products are released in limited runs and only accessible as an accepted WONE member. Apply and wait for Kristin to personally e-stalk and approve you – but in the meantime read our interview with her:
Nele Tüch Your brand is like a social club – not everyone is allowed to buy from you. Is it because of the limited amount of pieces, to keep up exclusivity, to keep in contact with your customers or to create a certain kind of mystery around the brand?
Kristin Hildebrand I was frustrated with the way this industry treats its clients and I wanted to change the dynamics of this. I myself want to be treated like a human when I’m buying something from a company. I want real interaction with a person that I can call or email, if I’m having an issue or I have a question. This isn’t rocket science here.
However standard CRMs aren’t set up to really “Know” your customer. The brand is specifically set up to interact with our customers as people, so it naturally will end up feeling like a social club because we can only manage a set number of pieces as well as customers per collection and project.
NT Let’s call you the bouncer of athleisure wear. How do you decide who’s in and who’s out?
KH The goal is always to be able to provide an uncompromised level of service and attention. In-store luxury shopping feels this way so why shouldn’t the e-com as well?
NT If something is really exclusive and limited, usually there’s a big reselling market with higher prices. Have you seen this with WONE?
KH I’ve been in this industry too long, and know some of the dirty secrets. One of which is that the reselling market was manufactured from the very start. Yes, sure it caught on, but after a good push.
We haven’t seen reselling and I hope we don’t. I want people to love what we do so much that they wear it and keep it for themselves for as long as possible.
NT A lot of people advertise their product with, “the city’s best“, “the world’s best“ – usually that means it’s not even close. But in your case, it might be true, what makes WONE the best?
KH We use the best material vendors in the entire world, so factually speaking our product quality is not a subjective matter. We intend to keep on this path with further innovation around make, production and fits, so that we always take that subjectivity out of the conversation about our product.
That being said, WONE the brand, will always be subjective. My hope is that we operate differently and challenge industry standards so much that the rest of the industry is forced to do better in general as well.
NT “WONE is activewear’s answer to luxury high fashion” What parallels do you see in high fashion and WONE?
KH I love Alan Watts so much and reference this quote quite a bit:
“I might say that I’m interested in Japanese materialism because contrary to popular belief, we are not people who love material but our culture is by in large devoted to the transformation of material into junk as rapidly as possible And therefore it’s a very important lesson for a wealthy nation (and we are all colossally rich by the standards of the rest of the world) it’s very important for such people to learn and see What happens to material in the hands of people who love it.”
I believe the Japanese cultural approach to materialism, high fashion (and WONE) all share a thoughtfulness that we unfortunately just don’t see in most industries.
NT You worked in the fast fashion industry for a long time, even being the creative concept creator of one of the biggest players in the field, of Nike, for seven years. What made you quit your job and start your own label?
KH I think about death a lot as a stoic practice and I just wasn’t ok with dying knowing that I wasn’t living up to my fullest potential. I wanted to see what else I was capable of. I was also frustrated with the fact that the people creating brands nowadays are doing it in a really lazy way. I want depth and purpose and meaning from a brand and I just wasn’t seeing it.
NT It’s really interesting how big fashion companies try to sell the idea of value through colours, a mix of materials or more stitches. Your design approach is really different…
KH I appreciate this observation as it’s something we talk about all the time. Matthew Barney’s early work called ‘drawing restraint’ is an idea that one produces better, often, if there are more restraints. Using colours, print, pattern, extra seams etc., often times allows; fit, function, material to be compromised as the garment itself (and brand) is hiding behind the noise. Simple is much more difficult than complex to achieve – so that’s always been the goal.
NT You use fabrics, which are used by professional athletes, therefore are more expensive but also washable up to 50.000 times. Extending the lifespan of a garment makes it more sustainable. What is your approach to sustainability?
KH Our approach to sustainability is more like a matrix, being omnidirectional and taking the entire business into account as well as deep diving on longevity and composition. It’s taking full accountability for what we are producing, including 100% visibility into the supply chain.
I can’t stand a lot of this non-sense around recycled materials checking the “sustainability” box.
You wouldn’t believe how dirty these processes are converting bottles into yarns, additionally, factories are literally producing bottles from scratch at a lower cost than it takes to buy them to sell back to the yarn makers.
I have three small kids I’m raising thus, sustainability is a much greater awareness/responsibility for me than just saying I’m checking the box.
Interview and words NELE TÜCH