One of the biggest challenges for any purpose-led brand pursuing game-changer status isn’t breeding a fanbase who ‘get it’ but selling a vital new narrative to the hardcore apathetic. For fashion, mired in climate crisis and battling the clock to cultivate a circular economy, retuning fans’ mindsets (America throws away and 2150 pieces of clothing every second and even people with positive eco intentions are loathe to sacrifice what they perceive as an identify-defining hobby) is now mission imperative.

Dutch fashion brand 1/OFF Paris, whose couturiers splice together or respectfully reinterpret iconic vintage garments to create ultra-covetable new pieces (think: a Levi’s denim jacket with Chanel’s quintessential ladies-who-lunch tweed; double layered jeans; or two oversized classic men’s blazers tailored into a freshly feminized silhouette) is doing just that.

Selling to an audience including legions of the eco-unconverted, in 2021 it experienced 400% growth via sales across 25 countries straddling North America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the UK while transforming approximately 10k kilos of discarded clothing into ‘new’ product. A seemingly irrepressible sales trajectory has seen it parlay its ethos of “uniqueness at scale” and “commitment to re-relevance” into a brand that’s selling into a bulging 70 doors worldwide (from just eight in 2020).

Unorthodox in numerous ways, it’s arguably the only upcycled brand globally to key into so many places – boutique destinations including X Bank in Amsterdam and 10 Corso Como in Seoul but also department store behemoths including Selfridges, Holt Renfrew and (from September) Paris’ iconic La Samaritaine. It also has such a high lust factor that buyers don’t even know exactly what’s coming – they pick the style and color group, but the finer details are anyone’s guess until they arrive. For the most expensive items stores what’s get right of first refusal and no more. Here’s how a brand that blends “historical consciousness with open innovation” is breaking new ground:

The Brains Behind the Brand

The founder is Dutch entrepreneur Renée van Wijngaarden who, despite this technically being her first upcycling rodeo, has plenty of previous in the fashion industry; her father Edwin van Wijngaarden founded Holland’s Just B fashion brand, while her mother, Ellen Verhoeff, spent two decades working in the sales and design departments at iconic 80’ sports-casual favourite ESPRIT. Prior to 1/OFF, Paris Renée herself spent two years at pioneering luxury consignment e-tailer Vestiaire Collective, first as global marketing manager, then senior global brand & partnerships manager.

The former gave her invaluable insights into the machinations of the ‘traditional’ fashion industry (“including the wastage and flawed systems”) while the latter presented a compelling vista onto the power and promise of re-commerce but also its limitations: “I saw the appetite for rare items but also the issues with getting the pieces to people and creating the right look; many unappealing inconsistencies. For us it’s about the consumer shopping as they would as for new clothes, there’s no barriers or lowered expectations. This is what changes perspectives.”

Collections, Price Points, Stylistic Vibe

Despite its non-traditional stance, for the sake of structure the brand works to three seasons – spring/summer, autumn/winter, and Holiday (Christmas). The collection is two-tier: Couture focusses on the iconic Levi’s + Chanel type of mashups, with individual items retailing at around €3000; Classics – jeans, blazers, shirts (reinterpretations of quintessential style staples) are a relatively more accessible €550.

The visual language is ballpark Acne – grounded in subversive credibility – with Margiela’s delectable deconstructivism a more relevant North Star for van Wijngaarden than any upcycling challenger. It’ll be keep such avant-garde company in September when it show (for the first time) at Amsterdam Fashion Week alongside brands including Viktor & Rolf, Wandler and Kassel.

Rebel Vibes: The Beauty of Brandalism

The subversive ambience partly stems from the fact 1/OFF Paris doesn’t ask permission from the brands whose garments it remixes (nor does it need to), a mentality alive with potential. As I wrote for Forbes back in 2018, with the blueprint for luxury fashion retail sprouting unprecedented new contours – fueled both by streetwear’s gilded edge and younger fans’ disregard for heritage without innovation, edge, or obvious purpose – subverting or dismantling formerly sacred brand codes is swiftly becoming a fast-track to modernity.

How do the brands feel about it? Levi’s were reputedly very happy, others less sure. It’s unknown if the much-revered designs are yet on Chanel’s radar. But the consumer has clearly spoken and van Wijngaarden is emphatic about this form of co-created cool as a multi-pronged force for good: “I want to work with brands on solving problems and we can be that next step in the cycle to eliminating waste. We’ve been doing these collaborations for a while, but why aren’t huge companies using their creativity to do something positive? For instance, with the Gucci X Balenciaga Hacker Project collaboration, it would have been great if Gucci had worked on old Balenciaga stock. It was a brilliant collab, but it was centred on pushing the new.”

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New green legislation may push the point: “Most brand laws have been focussed on copyright and protecting a brand’s IP, but we’re going to see a lot more regulations regarding eliminating wasteful behaviours, something that may well accelerate collaborations with us.”

Radical Partnerships Ease New Era Transitions

Aside making eco-friendly choices way more convenient (repair, resales, robust end-of-life choices for products on their last legs) radical brand partnerships are indeed likely to be key to galvanising Net Zero lifestyles.

As Fiona Macklin, Race to Zero campaign manager at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCCC task force said at AdWeek Europe 2022: “Unorthodox partnerships will unlock the kind of smooth transitions consumers respond to when adopting significant change. To create these shifts fast enough, we need radical change… like McDonald’s working with Beyond Meat. It won’t be enough, but it will accelerate the movement.”

Niche Cool: Smaller Collabs Run Deep

While the Levis X Chanel garments have been the headline grabbers van Wijngaarden is just as keen on partnering with under the radar players: “Working only on the big brands can be a cliché. At the beginning the juxtaposed combination of Chanel & Levi’s worked because it helped people to really understand the concept. But I’m now also keen to work with more niche brands, partly to ensure there’s no element of greenwashing but also because consumers really like the niche stuff. Increasingly we’re finding it’s less about using designer brands and more about what we’re constructing.”

Manufacturing Genius

Van Wijngaarden is especially obsessed with manufacturing & construction processes; innovative new techniques for treating or manipulating materials are becoming an increasingly important part of the brand’s DNA: “We started as an upcycling atelier, anchored in the couturiers, but we’re now also very focused on the manufacturers. I think the real value in our concept sits in our production systems – collaborating with companies that specialise in denim, tailoring, unique fabrics.” She’s currently partnering producers across Turkey, Portugal, and France with a special denim project involving coating jeans is incoming: “I’m always looking for new opportunities to reinterpret garments in this respect.”

Beyond Vintage: In & Beyond Trends

Another key driver in 1/OFF Paris’ soaring success is its almost improbable capacity to both deliver on trends and transcend them. The items might descend from a smorgasbord of seasons, but their reimagining gifts them a contemporary edge. “Consumers aren’t living in a vacuum, they do appreciate trends, but it’s becoming less about adhering to a narrow, season-obsessed notion of them. For us it’s less about what I call ‘the hypes’, the ‘it’ products [that have a short shelf life], and more about trending details like a wider or higher waistband.” In short: it’s feeding the not-easily sated desire for the thrill of the new but also soothing new-season fatigue, pushing back against the relentless tyranny of the traditional fashion calendar.

It’s also making pre-loved fashion appealing to the retro averse. According to van Wijngaarden “We make products relevant again and in doing so we’re speaking to an audience that has never bought vintage before. We’re not seen as part of a traditional vintage world. Our fans are proud of the fact it’s old with the original labels, but the shape is very now.”

She is also emphatic that the brand won’t veer into customisation on-demand in order to ensure its creative authority remains paramount: “Lots of people have wanted to come to the atelier see the garments in progress and even have us upcycle their own clothes, but that’s not what we do. Our design voice is essential.”

Historic Garments, Modern Storytelling & Community

For vintage aficionados, communicating a garment’s origins but also pop cultural provenance may become key. On launching in Selfridges, a scannable swing tag on the couture items revealed where the constituent pieces had originated from. For the classic items tracing is harder to trace but van Wijngaarden reveals they’re considering adding QR codes providing a link for fans to either get in touch with us to ask more about the items or register themselves as the owner of it. Riffing further on the idea she says, “there could be a situation where the digital link and verification starts to create a micro community of some sort, of people interested in similar pieces.”

Rethinking the Axis of Creativity & Commerciality

While she doesn’t call herself a pioneer Van Wijngaarden certainly views herself as part of a wider movement rethinking what it means to both consume and create: “I’m not saying we’re entirely sustainable. I mean, look, I’m building a brand that does involve some degree of production, but consumption and the creativity that goes along with it really needs to be rethought. We’ve built a business on offering uniqueness, via vintage hunting, because of the emotional attachment connected to the hunt itself. We all need to reconsider and challenge the idea that special means new.”

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