Behind The Scenes With Co-founder of Sustainable Fashion Brand – Harry Ancely
It was in spring 2016 that everything started on a café terrace in the 17th Arrondissement of Paris. Charles is a recent graduate and is looking for work. Harry is finishing his studies and getting ready to go abroad.
“We are talking about society, we are talking about the future.”
Charles struggles to find companies that allow him to work while respecting the values he has in common with Harry. Convinced by Charles’ talent, Harry encouraged him to start his own business. “Since this conversation, we have never stopped multiplying the debates, carrying out research and nourishing the idea of creating a brand with a strong and iconoclastic identity and a committed company that acts in line with its values. At the start of the 2018 school year, we decided to undertake, entrepreneurship to be free of our choices. Undertake to proclaim a positive and inspiring speech. Undertake to realize our vision. Undertake to change things.”
Oblique is the synthesis of Charles’ creative talent and Harry’s idealistic will. It is a consensus to lead to a common project. Oblique is more than a brand of coats.
Harry is curious and passionate about animal rights, protecting the environment and sustainability – He is driven by his convictions. His appetite for the arts and cultures makes him someone who deeply needs meaning. Charles is a dreamer, who also shares the same passion for sustainability and is fascinated by the future and its possibilities. Drunk on fashion, clothing allows him to express himself, to materialize his vision of the world.
What does sustainability mean to you?
The concept of sustainable development is an approach to economic growth in response to the deterioration of the ecological and social environment by modern human economic activity. The expression was popularized in 1987 following the publication of the U.N. Brundtland report in response to the first Club of Rome report (1972), which predicted that demographic and economic growth would lead to an exhaustion of food and energy resources if we don’t change our way of living. Sustainable development is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” To me, sustainability is common sense. As a global citizen and entrepreneur, co-founder of Oblique, an outerwear brand, sustainability is becoming a natural way of approaching things. Sustainability has to be systematic and transversal. Every decision Charles PINEL – my friend and partner – and I are taking, we are considering it through financial, social and ecological aspects. It is a compromise to find a fair balance between those three parameters in each problem. As it should be mandatory, sustainability shouldn’t be a way to stand out from other brands. However, even if the ideology behind sustainability emerged at the end of the ’80s, we are still far to concretely apply it.
Have you always envisioned your brand to be sustainable or was this a developing process?
When we started talking about our project in 2016, Oblique, we wanted it to be ethical, but the most important was to have a very sharp and inspiring creative direction to design our outerwear collection and brand. Sustainability was supposed to be a corporate aspect of the company, not a communication dimension of the brand. We wanted to define Oblique through neo-futurism only. However, we realized quite fast that communicating sustainability to our suppliers, partners, and future clients is part of the commitment. We decided to put sustainability on the front row, at least in the beginning, to be sure that people experience that sophisticated style and high-sustainable standards can coexist.
How do you ensure that your brand is being ethical through its aesthetics?
Our aesthetic must make sense and means a lot to us. Oblique is founded on neo-futurism. An artistic movement emerging at the beginning of the XXI century, first in architecture, but then spreading in design and art. Imbued with idealism, this avant-garde movement is defined by designer Vito Di Bari in his Manifesto of Neo-futuristic city (2007) as a “cross-pollination of art, cutting edge technologies and ethical values combined to create a pervasively higher quality of life.“ Like its ancestor, the futurism movement from the beginning of the XXL century, neo- futurism is exalting the contemporary world, glorifying urbanity, machines, and speed always looking for inspiring movement and dynamic. Concretely, we design outerwear with sculptural shapes, graphical cuts, and ample volumes. We only manufacture noble natural or highly innovative synthetic materials. We preach sobriety with sophisticated details. However, if you see or touch our coats, nothing lets appear they are sustainable, even if our certified fabrics and processes are. According to our primary statement, priority comes to aesthetics. Each of our collections is based on our perennial artistic line, neo-futurism, and then connect to another universe with a strong symbolic related to a problem of our contemporary societies.
How do you ensure that your brand promotes a sustainable future other than through design textiles?
To ensure sustainability, we have to be transparent to establish trust. Transparency in the decisions made and on the work that remains to be done, trust in the relationships we build with suppliers, partners, institutions, and clients. Even if Oblique preaches speed, it stays a long-time process. For now, we communicate a lot on social media about our goals achieved. On Instagram, @weareoblique, we share everything related to the coat themselves: sustainable and technical details on fabrics for example. On LinkedIn, Oblique – Outerwear, we focus on corporate and managerial issues. In the short run, this information will be exposed clearly on our website. In the long run, we aim to quantify our impact and to be certified. The sustainable development of our collection is done. Before the launch of our collection in September 2020, depending on our crowdfunding results and on the COVID-19 crisis, we still have to conclude the traceability of our raw materials; to know how we will reuse our fabric scraps; to develop low-impact solutions for packaging, transport, e-shop, and communication. Here are our top future priorities.
Would you consider working with a brand that is ‘clearly’ non-ethical or do you prefer collaborating with like-minded people to yourself?
We definitely prefer link-minded partners. First, you support change and create synergies. Then, the feeling is better and communication easier. Almost all our shooting partners had a sustainable aspect more or less committed: shoe designer Maria Nina Václavková is working on emotional longevity and upcycling; footwear brand Beyond Skin in one of the most ethical around; Léon & George France home-delivering plants with responsible supply and supporting a reforestation program; Ica & Kostika 3D-prints its Biomimicry designed shoe piece per piece and Oh!Mine is a French sustainable jewellery house. However, we have to stay open-minded, and even if our will to change our world and industry is unwavering, as young entrepreneurs and emerging brands, we sometimes have to be patient and flexible facing economic and technical reality. We compose with an unsuitable system still operating; older and bigger companies trying to evolve and adapt and some actors who just consider sustainability as an occult constraint or an ephemeral trend…
I think it is important to also work with less sustainable companies to raise awareness, especially when you have influence. I hope one day Oblique will be able to be a game-changer.
Do you think that it is important for designers to be taught about sustainable development in schools/college/university before starting out?
Yes, it is fundamental to integrate sustainable development into education. Especially in product development and design training, but in every higher education training. Professionals of every industry should be able to offer sustainable solutions in their field. Since we started our project, so many people asked us about our business plan which is only considering the financial aspect, for now. In ten/fifteen years, you will have to integrate the social and ecological aspects!
Do you encourage people to learn more about ecological fashion or is this just something you ensure your brand has the knowledge on?
I encourage people to learn more about everything. Knowledge is power. We all should give interest to what we invest in, spending money is a vote to empower a company, a brand, a vision. The brand has a high responsibility, but consumers too, we all have. Each of us has to understand that the choices we make as professionals or as consumers are forging tomorrow’s world. Companies have to be conscientious about supplier choices, about their production processes and about the goods or services they are selling (And so much more!). Consumers have to develop their critical thinking and be responsible about what they are buying, especially when it’s something you are frequently spending on.
How can more consumers take responsibility when consuming?
Fashion addicts have to invest themselves more in learning truly about fashion. The cloth is so much more than a look, a brand, or a designer. It has a story, an origin, a composition… and when you really love something — or someone — you really have to give a deeper interest to it, even in the less glamorous parts. The most important is to be conscious of what you are consuming and how you are consuming it. First, you have to learn about the value chain of cloth, to understand all the people behind it and the related social issues. Then, about the types of fabrics: the raw materials used, the process to produce it, the sustainable issues, and quality standards related to each of them… Then, you will be able to understand and to decide properly what you are buying just by looking at labels. A good way to be sure is to follow certifications. For example, our recycled wool and cashmere fabric are coming from Italy, and the spinning mill is Global Recycled Standard certified. As the fabric is mechanically recycled in a European country, after a quality check, the GRS certification was enough. However, our lining is a twill of viscose. A silky and breathing fabric perfect as a lining, but with a lot more touchy value chain. It’s an artificial fabric: wooden pulp chemically transformed. Some producers are causing deforestation, water pollutions, and workers intoxication. So we found the best producer in the world, guaranteeing wood coming from sustainably managed forests FCS and PEFC certified; a ZDHC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals) certified process and an OEKO-TEX 100 and REACH certifying a non-toxic fabric. The fabric is even certified OK-BIODEGRADABLE!
Does your brand have an ecological development network to support you?
No, we don’t. It’s only us, our will, and personal investment as entrepreneurs and fashion designers to learn, to look for, and to develop sustainability.
What does the future look like for Oblique?
We omen a world where sustainable fashion and fashion will be one. A world with high ethical standards, a transparent with a fully circular system world, where we will be helped by cutting edge technologies. A world where art and machine would be present daily, a world where our societies would fully integrate nature, and the whole of humanity will live in harmony. You think I am dreaming, but I am just seeing very far. First, we have to end up our crowdfunding campaign to launch Oblique, so please have a look at our KissKissBankBank page, contribute and share. www.kisskissbankbank.com/fr/projects/oblique