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Q&A: Maurizio Donadi of Atelier & Repairs on Scaling an Upcycled Brand

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Most brands have a mission statement, but Atelier & Repairs, the premium apparel label founded by denim industry veteran Maurizio Donadi, has an initiative: “to eliminate the world’s excess, one stitch at a time.”

Atelier & Repairs tackles sustainability by producing new garments from deadstock fabrics and garments that already exist. And in the process, reimagines basic (and often) utilitarian or military garments into highly covetable one-of-a-kind pieces that cross fashion, denim and streetwear genres.

Along with sustainable messages, the brand reinforces positivity with its designs. The “Military for Fun, Not for War” collection features U.S. Army work pants embellished with retro deadstock fabric. The brand’s latest series, called “On LSD,” refashions military woodland camouflage cargos with psychedelic patchwork.

However, the brand is best known for its transformation of vintage Levi’s 501 jeans. The brand adds quirky patchwork made from deadstock fabrics, chops jeans into culottes and adds gussets for a more relaxed fit.

The first inkling of what was to come began in 2015, when Donadi began experimenting with vintage pants and jackets he accumulated over time. “This evolved into, and inspired, my search for more predominantly vintage military and denim that I could further develop, and scale for sale,” he told Rivet.

The brand’s first public appearance was made possible with help from Nina Garduno, the founder of Free City in Los Angeles. Donadi says she embraced what he was tinkering with early on and invited the brand to launch through her store in 2016.

“Since then, our development has taken diverse directions and expanded into multiple categories utilizing leftover stock from modern brands as well as vintage, allowing us to live outside of the vintage aesthetic and fit,” Donadi said.

Along with introducing programs that allow consumers to customize their own garments, Atelier & Repairs has launched a Brand-2-Brand program, that support the efforts of apparel brands and retailers that want to reduce their pre-existing and waste stock.

“So far, the response to our creative excess reduction mission at retail has been positive,” Donadi said. “There is, of course, more that we can do to increase our impact.”

Rivet caught up with Donadi to learn more about his brand’s unique business model and how working with limited resources may actually incites creativity.

Maurizio Donadi

Maurizio Donadi

Rivet: How do you define sustainability in fashion?

Maurizio Donadi: Sustainability is a multi-faceted endeavor that encompasses both social and environmental concerns, which many companies in the fashion industry are tackling and achieving in great stride. We define sustainability as a responsibility to be mindful in the ways we design, manufacture and market ideas and product. There remains a lot of room for individuals and brands in fashion to steward and inspire the village for the greater good.

Rivet: In what ways is it working with vintage/dead stock fabrics a challenge? And in what way might it be inspiring?

MD: So far, we utilize fabrics as trims for repair, reinforcements and embellishment. The challenge in working with dead stock fabrics, whether vintage or modern, is naturally the limitation of availability. Therefore, our merchandising and engineering design process initiates with sourcing – and asking ourselves where and how to utilize our curated finds. You’re exactly on point that it is also inspiring because it encourages us to make decisions in a more discerning way and this passes on to the end consumer who knows that what he/she is looking at is truly unique.

Rivet: How do you scale a business based on vintage and dead stock fabric?

MD: Carefully. We’ve learned from the market response, and from what is available, that scaling from what already exists has its intrinsic challenges. However, this has allowed us to curate the nuances of different fabrics in an artistic fashion much like painters and composers—enhancing the beauty in variation—and offering uniqueness in a non-traditional way.

Rivet: What type of projects are you doing through the Brand-2-Brand program?

MD:
 There are multiple ways that we partner with brands, and not just those in fashion, in order to elevate and focus their position on how to address their excess inventory. We see ourselves as helping to complete the circle for them through an imaginative approach.

One scenario is transforming their left-over stock in our development lab for them to sell via their existing channels. This has allowed them to offer a fresh accent with their own product to their already loyal customer base. Another popular partnership is for us to customize a brand’s stock that we co-promote and co-sell.

Ultimately, our Brand-2-Brand program offers customization according to a brand’s desired aesthetic as well as bring something different to their offering.

Rivet: What have been the most effective ways to communicate the brand’s message about circular, one-of-a-kind fashion?

MD: For every piece or group of product that we transform, we try to weave the ‘personal’ story of how it was found and reimagined—both addressing the circular and one-of-a-kind lens. We are finding that customers appreciate the responsible approach we have with our initiative, some simply like our ‘look’ and the majority are attracted to the reconciliation of both missions (creativity x responsibility) as a seamless partnership.

Rivet: What are your most popular items for Spring ’19?

MD: Our iconic styles of vintage Levi’s 501, mixed and unbranded chinos, Japanese kendo jackets and military camouflage cargo pants have been received positively. With each season and year-round delivery, we reimagined them from one to the next. We typically limit what we offer within the traditional seasonal calendar in order to have newness in the market every 8-10 weeks.

Rivet: What’s the feedback for the brand’s made-to-measure business?

MD: So far, our made-to-measure customization program has been a surprise success for us. This includes transformation of customers’ own items to Made-to-Measure of styles we stock for customers to build upon. We launched it as a means to further encourage the reduction of excess in our customers’ wardrobe as well as a way for one to enjoy an aesthetic unto his or her own. Historically, customization was the only way clothes were purchased; we see it as a standard versus novelty.

Rivet: What’s coming for Fall ’19?

MD: There is going to be a larger component of modernity. Structurally, we will offer specific themes to accompany our iconic styles of military, denim and workwear.

Rivet: Name one term that you think is overused in the denim category, and why?

MD: Heritage. Because it’s restricting while it can be more innovating and modern.

Rivet: How do you envision the denim industry in 2030?

MD: The world is going too fast (for me) to be able to detect future social trends and how denim, in its wider sense, will evolve. Philosophically speaking, I am not even sure there will be basic jeans nor do I think there will be fabrics that resemble the one we are using today. I believe that a utilitarian, long lasting and extremely well made uniform for life will be created by then and that fits, construction and fabrics will be very different.

One thought I have right now is that maybe in the ‘luxury wish list’ for 2030 there will be a 100 percent recycled and biodegradable cotton [jean], with selvedge, built to last and repairable at any time during its life. And that pair will probably set you back $5,000 of 2030 crypto currency. Or something like that.

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