[10 MINUTE READ]
Happy Friday! Yes, it is Friday again... isn't the week after a bank holiday just the best? We think so too! And we have the perfect way to welcome you to the weekend: this week's interview.
This week we chatted with one of the co-founders and designers of Francis Stories, Sonia Mota. Sonia created Francis Stories (whose brand name we are obsessed with btw) in 2018, with her co-founder and partner. Francis Stories is an online brand that creates soft, woollen garments from natural materials in the most sustainable way possible.
Sonia believes in respecting nature, as well as the lives and stories of those who helped create the garments; a philosophy we absolutely adore. Without further ado, inspiration loading in 3, 2, 1...
Morning Sonia and welcome to CAROLINA GMX! Could you start by telling me a bit about your childhood and how you feel it has influenced you today?
I come from a very small rural town in a small Portuguese island located in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. Growing up I’ve always had this immense curiosity and fascination for everything that existed in the big world outside of the environment where I lived; big fancy houses and buildings, cities with lots of movement, and the styles and fashions of those places. Design, whether it related to interiors or fashion, was something that was very appealing to me throughout my childhood and teenage years. I started by reading as many glossy fashion magazines as I could, and later, with the evolution of the internet, I began spending a fair amount of my days browsing through fashion blogs and fashion news platforms.
Now, I look back and realise that coming from this small island with so much natural beauty ended up leaving a big impression on me. I am so lucky to have grown up in such a beautiful place and I feel it has made me more acutely aware of all the harm we, as humans, do to our home. Later, when I decided to follow my passion for fashion and jump head-first into the industry with my own brand, a sustainable and ethical philosophy seemed like the natural choice.
"Our sustainable approach is twofold; we use only high-quality natural materials and uphold the highest ethical standards."
Ah! That is why I love asking that question! Where we come from has such a massive impact on what we end up doing later on in life and what we deem to be important. How did you get started in the fashion industry?
My love of fashion started at a very young age. However, a career in a creative industry is not usually what most parents envisage for their children, as it can be precarious and hard to sustain. I’m sure parents all over the world feel this way, but this mentality is even more common in small, isolated places, such as my hometown. When I moved to Lisbon to study for my bachelor’s degree in Marketing and Advertisement my horizons opened up. Then, for my masters, I decided to start steering my way into fashion, studying Fashion Design and Branding. During that time, I busied myself further by landing work for Vogue Portugal, and working in a high-end fashion store, where I had the privilege of having lots of contact with retail operations and the finest quality clothing.
Wow, that sounds like such a great segway into the industry! So when did you decide to start up your brand and why? Was the timing important?
It was after completing my master’s degree that I decided to take the plunge. I realised that I would be much happier working on my own creations, with my aesthetics and my core values. I gained a lot of knowledge from working for other brands that turned out to be very important and relevant for this brand, but I also like to learn by doing. And while timing wasn’t a critical factor at the time, I can now recognise that 2018 was the perfect year for creating a sustainable and ethically-focused fashion brand!
The current climate really makes you realise the importance of timing. How does sustainability factor into your business?
Our sustainable approach is twofold; we use only high-quality natural materials and uphold the highest ethical standards.
The reason we only use high-quality natural materials is because clothing is inherently a short-life product, which means that sooner or later it will get disposed of. We strive to make our garments last longer by using high-quality materials and the best factories for production. Even if we can stretch the life-span of a garment that is regularly used from a few years to a very ambitious decade or two, the garment will still have to be thrown away at some point. If the item is made of plastic, it will stick around on the earth for much longer. I am confident that new recycling solutions will become more easily available, but we’re still not there – it is still very uncommon and expensive for the industry to use recycled plastic fibers. Even if we could recycle it, during the wearing and washing, a garment loses fibers, which inevitably end up polluting land and water resources. For that reason, Francis Stories believes in using natural yarn. It may not degrade as quickly as paper, but it will degrade long before plastic fibers.
That is great to know! Could you talk a bit more about your ethical standards?
We know that using animal fibers has many negatives, such as the ill-treatment of animals. As a brand, Francis Stories is very sensitive to this issue. That is why we have gone to extra lengths to ensure that the raw materials we source come from producers that are certified by independent organisations for complying with good practices. These good practices involve upholding animal welfare standards, as well as respecting nature and their workers.
Respecting workers is a fundamental value of Francis Stories, which is why we have chosen to work with the best factories in Portugal. And, as we know them personally, we can visit them and be assured that they all have honourable working conditions. This is the only way for a brand to truly be sure that there is no child-labour; or exploitation of any kind, happening behind the scenes. All of the sources we use have first-world salaries and labour rights in place.
That is brilliant! Do you think people are more conscious of the materials and fabrics in their clothes nowadays too? If so, why?
I believe people are getting more and more conscious about it. Whether it is one of the main factors they consider when it comes to purchasing is a different story… Unfortunately, I believe that only a small percentage of consumers consider this to be a decisive factor. That being said, I am confident that consumers will realise the importance of these issues over the next few years. I think that the increase in awareness comes from the great work that several organisations, individuals, companies and tastemakers, such as yourselves, have been doing to publicise these issues.
That is so kind, thank you. Our background in sensitive skin issues and allergies means that it is something we are constantly thinking about. Collaborations with people, companies and organisations that are like-minded are very important to us...
Absolutely! We feel the same. One has to see past the material… Often, where the material comes from, how it was obtained and its quality is more important than the material itself. Those details can give you more information about how long the garment will last than any preconceptions you might have about the type of material. That being said, this information is often inaccessible to consumers, so I don’t blame them. What consumers can do though, is demand transparency from the companies they shop with. We have a massive responsibility as a brand and consumers have a responsibility as well. If we all act together, we can transform the fashion industry.
I totally agree! And what were your biggest challenges in starting up a business?
I suppose it was having all these sustainable and ethical concerns, but starting the business from the standpoint of a regular consumer. This meant I had a lot to learn about the processes, and had to make some difficult decisions for the brand in order to ensure Francis Stories reflected my beliefs. Then came the next challenging step, which was carefully investigating all the potential partners for sourcing materials and producing; balancing compliance with all our sustainable and ethical standards and their ability to provide us with the quality we aim for. We were lucky enough to meet a very knowledgeable textile engineer (who is also a textile agent) with great drive. She is very aligned with our way of looking at both the quality and sustainability demands. She even managed to point us in the direction of the best production factories… This is officially outside of the scope of her job, so we owe a lot to her and her knowledge!
Finding the right teammates is vital when setting up a business; people that will bat for you and the brand no matter what. What other strategies do you think have been key to the success of Francis Stories?
We don’t look at our business as a successful one just yet. It is far too early to make that assessment. We’ve reached some milestones, but Francis Stories is still at a very early age. Still, for all the things we have accomplished, I believe the key is having a well-defined plan and knowing how to adapt to circumstances. Everyone experiences setbacks. I believe that business plans must cover as many aspects of the business as possible. For a new clothing brand, I think the three most important factors are the product, marketing, and the finances. In terms of product, our strategy is to create one that is of great quality; aesthetic quality, production quality and material quality.
You made an interesting point about the importance of marketing. Could you talk a bit more about that side of your business?
Marketing is crucial for us. We are an online brand that is relatively new, with no physical store. This means that our target market is a bit more niche, but scattered all over the world. We believe that through creating high-quality products and forging strategic partnerships with like-minded retailers, we will be able to grow the brand even further. At the end of the day, a business is a living entity and its success is, more often than not, measured by its finances. If the finances are bad, the business is no better, which is why it is very important to plan. Even when everything goes to plan, a fashion business is still a risk. Therefore, we have adopted the strategy of taking one step at a time.
"It can be daunting at first when you try something new, something different, something not proven, but that is how the world we have today came into existence."
It sounds like you are keeping very firmly grounded, which is impressive! What is your favourite thing about your job?
It has to be the creative freedom. I am a very creative person, so not having that pressure from above to deliver certain things at a certain time is great for me. I can let myself develop new ideas whenever they emerge, without any concerns or worries.
Sounds ideal! And which item is your favourite piece that you’ve ever created?
While Francis Stories is mostly a knitwear brand, my favorite piece so far is our Imogen Overcoat. It is a very dense, wool-cashmere blend, long overcoat with a beautiful wide collar. It was also one of our consumer favorites, despite the high price point.
It is so sleek- I love it! What do you think makes your brand stand out?
I believe it is a mix of our ethos and our aesthetics.
Could you describe your biggest “pinch-me” moment?
I can’t think of a singular “pinch-me” moment. We’ve had some wonderful situations arise during the past two years, but probably the most significant have been where we receive beautiful feedback from consumers all over the world. These people don’t know us and don’t need to be spending their time sending us these messages, yet they do… We appreciate it very much! We also love receiving feedback that suggests improvements; it all helps us to evolve.
And what inspires you?
Oh, so many things! But the common thread is that my inspiration tends to be visually stimulating; Wabi-sabi aesthetics, Ikebana flower arrangements, paintings or other artwork from various minimalist artists, interiors and architecture, and obviously, other beautiful fashion brands.
The Wabi-sabi worldview is so intriguing to me! I need to read some more about it as I love the aesthetic also... Could you describe what an average day at Francis Stories looks like for you?
On average, I start at 9 AM and force myself to officially wrap up the day by 7 or 8 PM. In between those hours what I do can vary considerably day to day (even in terms of my lunch break, which is terrible, I know...). I tend to start with e-mails in the morning, prepare orders to ship, but from then on it completely depends. How I structure my day depends on the flux of orders coming through, on the need to create content, on my creativity and urge to design… Well, I’m sure you can infer from this that I’m not solely a designer; there are many other hats you have to wear when you are the co-founder of a small brand.
Yes, it definitely sounds very busy and varied. Do you think you have a work/life balance?
I try to! I like to reserve evening time for me and my partner, but often we end up talking a lot about Francis Stories (he is the other co-founder). Sometimes ideas surge, and that is fine by me. I think that when you do what you love and truly live it, you don’t have a life separate from “work”.
I completely get that! What words do you live by?
I don’t have a specific quote that I live by, but there are two main ideas that I try to live by. The first is always maintaining a positive mindset, as I believe that influences not only our perceptions, but our ability to find solutions. The second has to do with taking risks; along the lines of “you’ve got to try and err to succeed”. It can be daunting at first when you try something new, something different, something not proven, but that is how the world we have today came into existence. At some point, somebody took a chance and that is how we ended up with so many beautiful tools, concepts, and art.
That is so true! I love that! What’s next for Francis Stories?
We want to ensure that we keep on schedule for the launch of 2020 AW collection and start working on 2021 AW collection in tandem.
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