Entrepreneurialism and environmentalism are the key ingredients that Louise Vongerichten Ulukaya has used for her new children’s wear label Mon Coeur.
Although the fashion world is a new venture for the founder, she is well-versed in the worlds of hospitality, consumerism and consumption. Her father is renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and her husband is Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya. Although the Mon Coeur founder did not mention either biographical connection in an interview, she spoke thoughtfully of each, when asked.
Born in New York and raised in the south of France, Ulukaya returned to New York to earn an undergraduate degree and worked in the hospitality business. She also opened such restaurants as Chefs Club and a fast casual business, Chefs Club Counter, but sold her stake a few years ago. “The lifestyle is more challenging, when you have kids, to be in that industry,” she said.
Shopping with her mother before the birth of her son in 2018, Ulukaya was disenchanted with the children’s clothing that was available and set out to create a sustainable collection. Her intention was to help create a healthier planet for children. “A lot of the brands out there that promote themselves as sustainable and conscientious are not really sustainable and conscientious,” she said.
Mon Coeur is being sold direct-to-consumer online, and it will also be sold via Maisonette starting Friday. Primarily produced in Portugal, the materials and fabrics are sourced from Spain, Italy and France so that the supply chain is in Europe. In addition to using only upcycled components, the founder wanted to make sure that all of the production is sustainable and ethically made. Having made two visits to Europe during the pandemic, Ulukaya said she wanted to choose locations where people worked in environments where they are respected and earn a minimum wage.
Treating workers well is one of the pillars of her husband’s Greek yogurt company, Chobani. The company recently revealed it is giving 2,220 workers up to six hours time off to get the COVID-19 vaccine. She said, “We embrace sustainability in our daily life, in our way of consuming and eating foods. Obviously in his business and for him, social [justice] for workers [is important]. On a daily basis that is what we talk about — how to make things better for the planet, providing better product options and making sure that the social aspect is very dominant within the company.”
Post-industrialist recycled cotton, recycled polyester from upcycled plastic bottles and recycled Roica elastin are among the resources used in the children’s wear. Sizing ranges from infants to nine-year-olds. Retail prices start at $38 and go up to $84. Zippers, buttons, labels and hang tags are all upcycled.
Asked about the cost of sustainability and the little likelihood that the average family would spend $50 for a child’s T-shirt, Ulukaya said, “Designing the clothes, I wanted to make sure that those clothes are accessible to everybody that is conscientious, but not a niche where it is extremely expensive. Or that people are thinking, ‘OK, it’s green so it’s not going to be for me because it means there will be a premium. That means it’s going to be 20 to 30 percent more expensive than any regular T-shirt.’ The price points are very reasonable and in that sweet spot where people are really willing to spend to have quality clothes that they can keep for a very long time,” Ulukaya said.
The founder’s plan is to scale up and to expand internationally. The infrastructure and organization are already set up to handle such expansion, she said. “Our vision is to change the way of consuming when it comes to kids’ clothing.”
Ulukaya declined to comment about first-year sales.
Launching during the pandemic has presented its own set of challenges, just as the shutdown has affected other industries, she said. “All of the chefs in New York and around the world are being extremely courageous and creative in finding ways to overcome, to make ends meet and try to survive. Whether it’s been well-known chefs or up-and-coming ones, everybody has been really amazing.”
So proud of her father, her chef brother and other chefs in New York and Europe, she said, “Everybody has been so good at keeping morale up. This is tough, for sure. And for us at Mon Coeur, it’s been another layer of challenge in launching a company in the middle of COVID-19. But I see it also as a blessing. The team has been so amazing at keeping one goal in mind — launching no matter what happens. And that’s what we did. This is not a hobby — this is my life. When I do something, just like when I did with the restaurants I had, I do it fully and with all my heart. Obviously, this is more emotional for me because it is linked to my son.”