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Monkee Genes Denim Label Takes Organic Route

Monkee became the first denim label to obtain the U.K.?s highly respected Soil Association organic certification in July.

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PARIS — Going organic is proving just the business for Monkee Genes.

This story first appeared in the October 9, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Monkee, which hails from Bakewell, a small town in Derbyshire, England, became the first denim label to obtain the U.K.’s highly respected Soil Association organic certification in July. Retail doors haven’t stopped opening since.

The 32-piece collection for women and men goes on sale in Macy’s this month, while the U.K.’s House of Fraser and Selfridges are negotiating orders. An initial run in London’s Topshop last month, where Monkee opened a concession in June 2007, sold out within 10 days.

Monkee was founded in 2006 by Phil Wildbore, the designer behind the 25-year-old Road Jeans label. Monkee and Road together generated 2007 sales of nearly a million pounds, or $1.8 million at current exchange, and this year sales are expected to more than double to 2.5 million pounds, or $4.4 million, largely driven by Monkee.

“This idea that we can’t be green and be successful is just b—s,” Wildbore declared, adding that independent companies have the potential to thrive in tough times. “During a recession the high street goes even more boring and indies can have a pop at the market.”

Monkee aims to stand out with its marketing, with banana emblazoned merchandising and slogans like “Our customers are not paid peanuts.” And though selling at a slight premium, the organic offerings remain affordable at 50 pounds, or around $90. “Proof that organic products can also be good value for money,” said a Topshop spokeswoman, who added that reaction to the organic line has been strong.

While steering clear of what he calls ethnic, hippy designs, the move to organic did influence Wildbore’s aesthetic and inspire him to add flare styles.

“It felt right to have vegetable-dyed flares,” he said.

Other cuts include skinny, “supa” skinny and hip hugger, available in three finishes — Sateen, a shiny finish, raw denim and a fine corduroy. Colors run the gamut from bold reds, purples and greens to more neutral grays.

In addition to certifying the cotton as organic, the Soil Association, which Wildbore dubs the “Rolls-Royce of accreditation,” inspects everything from the dyes used to the working conditions. “Our standards are some of the highest in the world,” assured Sarah Compson, the association’s business development officer, who added other denim brands have since applied for certification.

And certification isn’t easy to acquire. It took 18 months to approve the factory, where certain dyes had to be replaced. Then two months before launch, Wildbore was informed the Pop Art-inspired back pocket labels didn’t qualify as organic because they contain polyurethane. Hence the detachable label. “Because it comes off and because we’ve got a disclaimer [saying it’s not organic] on the label, we can get away with it,” he said. With six different designs, the label has become a selling point and the brand has lodged a patent application for the invention.

For spring, the collection will include more finishes and, eventually, Monkee will convert completely to organic.

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