‘Style is all about telling people what you’re all about with your clothes’: An Interview with Kwaleö

Interview by Karan Teli

Laurent; the 25-year-old Creative Director of Social and Lifestyle brand ‘Kwaleö’ sat down with me to discuss everything in his journey from Finance graduate in Montreal to taking over London with clothes, accessories, events and galleries while encouraging and influencing people to “be your own tribe; which means that you should be yourself, you shouldn’t be ashamed of the way you look and think, just simply embrace yourself.”

14HQ: The word brand is thrown around a lot in 2018. What does it mean to be a brand in 2018?

Laurent: First of all, it’s all about having an impact on people’s lives. Kwaleö is a unisex lifestyle brand. We don’t target men and women, we strongly think that the lines are blurred. When we design our products we take into consideration that those products might be used by both men and women. A lot of people relate to the concept of Be Your Own Tribe and when they wear our product, they feel that way. It’s refreshing to have a brand that stands for those kinds of values.

Why the name Kwaleö?

Before moving to London, I was living in Canada, I’d been living there for 7 years. I never studied fashion or design, I did finance. It’s quite different. While doing my studies, I was running a digital fashion magazine called Auxjourslejour which is French, but in English translates to “day to day.” It was all about updating people about trends and providing style advice. When I thought about creating a brand I wanted to keep the same spirit. I wanted to find a name that was close to “day to day.” I did some research, played around with Google translate and came across Kwaleö, which means “enjoy the moment” in Swahili.

Flashing back to 2016, discussing Kwaleö’s origins and the challenges that come with creating something for yourself from scratch, Laurent told me “It’s not easy. You need to invest your own money, you need to look for investors. I’m a bit of a geek, I initially approached the brand in a techy way of thinking. Also, the concept has always changed. Several times I’ve had to reshape the concept of the brand and come up with new stuff and in the end, it became what it became.”

How long does it take from having an idea to holding that idea in your hand?

Roughly 4-5 months. Most of the time I get inspiration from the people around me and places I go. Not the internet though. My digital fashion magazine actually helped me to understand the way people who are into fashion think. I start by having an idea, then design the products on paper, then I draw it on Adobe Illustrator. Get in touch with suppliers to get a few samples, in order to pick the right fabrics. The whole thing takes around 5 months.

I asked Laurent the importance of keeping up with trends; pop culture, music and fashion to be precise. It was his response that showed me that Kwaleö really is like no other brand.

As a lifestyle brand, you need to approach people in a very organic way. Within our generation, the best way to reach people, like you or me, is to do events. Parties, exhibitions. You need to do events. It’s a physical experience, where you actually interact and learn about the people you are targeting. You learn about the way they think. With music, everything is related. Music is related to fashion, fashion is related to sport and so on. Everything is connected.

How did you know that Kwaleö was going to be successful? What was the shining moment?

It started with my very first product. It was a backpack that you could wear on the front. Initially, I designed it for myself, I hate carrying huge bags. When you go to events, you don’t want a huge bag on your back. I wanted something convenient but stylish enough to go out. I started wearing this bag and getting reactions from people around me. People were asking me where they could get it. It showed me the product had potential. I started doing a few and instantly they sold out. It was a sign that I need to keep designing innovate and convenient products.  

But in this generation, what about social media?

People buy into experiences more than just products. I feel like approaching people in an organic way is more valuable. If a person told me what they’re wearing is comfortable, I’ll be more likely to buy that product than if the brand itself told me. That’s super important to me. Word of mouth.

That’s how much faith you have in your products?

Indeed. When I do events, I always have a few people wearing my products and when other people see that, they can relate to the products in a more organic way. Social media is important, but I pay more value to other things.

Is it more important for you to see big-name celebrities wearing Kwaleö or everyday people?

Usually, as a brand, you want your products on big people. You’ll feel like it would give your brand some sort of status. But it’s the opposite for me. I spend time talking to normal people. Seeing normal people wearing your brand, telling their friends about the brand, that’s way better for me. I’m more interested in reaching the “Average Joe.”

What advice do you have for people who are entering fashion; a market that is seeing new brands every single day?

Before thinking about your product or service, think about your concept. People are more interested in the value you can provide in their daily lives rather than the way you can make them look. When you have that concept, fit your products into the equation. As a brand, you need to stand for something. If you pay attention to what we post on Instagram, we never talk about how great our products are. We talk about inspiring people or how we can impact people.

Why does Kwaleö not do restocks?

We over consume nowadays. For us, it’s all about putting exclusive products out there. If you manage to get it, you’re one of the lucky few. By wearing that, you will know that not many people are wearing that. We fight over-consumption. Also, we have a shitload of ideas. To keep doing the same stuff over and over again would be boring. That’s why.

I handed over to Laurent something I had found online. A gift to him. It was an advertisement Laurent had written on April 25 2016 looking for an E-Commerce Marketing Manager for a start-up brand called Kwaleö on a job board site online. It showed the progression Kwaleö had made in just 2 years and for Laurent, it showed him progression in himself.

“Laughs” Wow. See this is what I meant when I said I was really techy. If I launched today I wouldn’t have done something about this. Now I can just go on Instagram and say “were looking for a marketing person.” Not an E-commerce Marketing Manager, with a long brief on a start-up company website. It shows how desperate I was. I’m glad you brought this.

It shows how far you’ve come.

Indeed. I actually did the same thing to find a co-founder and I picked someone and we still work together today. So it did work out.

Tell me the end goal of Kwaleö.

Since were all about pushing people to embrace themselves, I would love to have an incubator for emerging talents. I would love to be able to provide those talented people with the right resources they need to make it big. When I think about how hard it was for me to start all this, I wish I had someone to provide me with these things. Past the clothes, past the events, I would like a structure to help emerging talents.

What about for the clothes?

Opening stores. Letting people touch and feel the clothes before they buy it. Also, being able to part of Fashion Week, all of them – Paris, London, Berlin, Milan, Copenhagen and New York. that will be really big. Take part in those fashion weeks in those cities would be really big. It will show people we have no boundaries. If you can make all those, you’re unstoppable.

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