VERNON, Calif. — There’s a distributor in the U.K. passing through the Atelier & Repairs factory, a worker is preparing a stack of white button-down shirts with brightly colored floral patched pockets for shipment and the rest of the team is running around ahead of Pitti Uomo.
To say it’s busy is an understatement, as Atelier & Repairs witnesses the turn of a corner in its business, founded in 2015 on the idea of circularity and repurposing, rather than throwing out, tired garments or textiles. It’s now linked arms or in talks with big businesses — such as Candiani Denim and Dockers — as it also plots the launch of a contemporary line reusing leftover fabrics.
While much of the market has oohed and aahed at Atelier & Repairs’ crafty repurposing of denim, chinos, Army fatigues and other items into high price-point wearable works of art, the operation is far more sophisticated than even the hand-stitching on its pieces.
Its business divisions are diverse.
Consumers know Atelier & Repairs’ main line product using deadstock and production leftovers. There’s also the one-of-a-kind redone vintage pieces under it’s Assemblage line that remains the halo endeavor of the brand and a shining example of the craftsmanship and creative exploration that takes place in Vernon.
“There is the artistic approach, not that we think of art but we are inspired by the one-of-a-kind artistic approach,” said cofounder Maurizio Donadi. “You paint only once or you make a sculpture without a mold. It’s free jazz. You know your instrument, but you don’t know where the sound will take you and it’s a collaborative effort.”
Then there’s retail with its first store opened last year on Edinburgh Avenue, just off Melrose Avenue, a shop-in-shop at Fred Segal on Sunset Boulevard and Bergdorf Goodman’s Bruce Pask’s B. Shop. There’s also a less well-known, made-to-measure service the company views as a sleeper business with a 100 percent return rate.
And still yet, there are the growing partnerships with other brands for either cobranded product or business-to-business services on the design or supply side.
“We source. We design — that happens here,” said cofounder Marisa Ma as she motioned to the Vernon factory, or what the company calls its Transformation Center. “We make. We market under Atelier & Repairs or collaborations. And we distribute. So it’s traditional in terms of a clothing company I suppose, but this is the differentiator: It’s using leftovers.”
Now, in a bid to offer more consistency at higher volumes to the market, the company will debut the new label AR to the trade within the next month or so in hopes of getting it on store shelves late this year. The line will be made from leftover fabrics processed by its partner Saitex, the sustainable factory that works with companies such as Outerknown, Target and Eileen Fisher.
Atelier & Repair’s customer base is split 60-40, male-female but that could change with AR’s denim silhouettes marketed specifically to women.
“We see AR as the child, our child who never had a Walkman and knows only how to swipe,” Ma said. “It’s more modern, more contemporary.”
It also continues the circular loop the company adheres to because it’s not only made from leftover textiles, but customers will be encouraged to bring the pieces back for customization once they’ve grown tired of it or need the item repaired.
“It’s almost like buying a washing machine, an appliance,” Ma said. “It’s about how do we design with intention where we can bring this product back home and break it down for parts to use it again? It’s not about breaking it down and using it for insulation in the wall. That’s not circular. Circular is actually maintaining the integrity of what it was meant to be initially, and then keeping it in circulation.”
Conversations and deals don’t happen overnight. As the company aims to industrialize the process of reusing leftover materials, it’s also having to help companies answer the question of where Atelier & Repairs fits into an existing supply chain and marketing framework.
The company’s upcoming collaboration with Dockers, for example, which is showing at Pitto Uomo was the result of over a year of discussions. The result is what Dockers’ senior director of global marketing Lauren Johnson said is “our best-selling style reinterpreted into something different, but still true to Dockers.”
Atelier & Repairs took the company’s classic, pleated khakis and transformed them into three different styles, incorporating details such as a shoe-string belt in The Kennedy, camouflage reinforcements in The Camo Strip and cargo pocket elements in The Traveler. All retail for $225.
“The market is so crowded with brands, so we need to be extremely disciplined and clear with our business strategy and that then informs how we position ourselves in the marketplace,” Ma said. “I think in the end, while we’ve had buy-in from the supply chain side and buy-in from brands, and maybe because no one’s ever asked them to do this before, do they treat us as a supplier or do they treat us as an extension of their design office? What we find is we’re both, actually. Because it’s new and there are certain systems in place on the supply side of A to B and all the way through to Z, how do we, especially with a large company, fit Atelier & Repairs in their process?”
Whether or not the business partnering with brands eclipses Atelier & Repairs’ own product sales remains to be seen, but there’s momentum around the business-to-business division as of late as more companies go in search of greener methods of production.
“We should always have an opportunity to be creative,” Ma said of the core brand. “It’s an outlet almost like research-and-development, where we’re presenting ideas of refurbishment to these other companies because we went through our own product and because we tested it. I think with the partnerships it will eclipse and it should because the larger companies are the holders of all the leftovers. They hold all that [excess] inventory. If we can steer the ship with them, even five degrees, it’s going to make such a huge difference.”
Donadi added another view on whether business-to-business services could outgrow product sales.
“I actually don’t think so because you look at how we think about clothing in general today, we still want something easy,” he said. “That T-shirt that you know. Those jeans that you know. People will always find their cozy outfit in the basics because they don’t want to think, but then there are moments in their life where they want to feel unique and special and they will want something to enhance or they will want to appear just because we live in a visual world where you don’t necessarily look more or less intelligent if you wear cargo pants. So I think there will always be one and the other.”
The factory is a test kitchen of sorts that presents the case study they hope to be able to use to prove to other businesses circularity works and it can also be high-margin and stylish, too.
“It’s not even fashion; it’s just comfort for your body,” Donadi said. “In my mind, [what is fashion is] split into two. There’s the fashion that we don’t do anymore, so the origin of fashion. It’s elegant. It’s innovation. It’s experimentation. Fashion as an expression. Today, fashion is based on trends. But I don’t have a definition of fashion. It doesn’t really feel that that word is interesting right now. For me, it’s secondary as a word in itself. Our approach is methodical in the way we want to build the business. The true A & R is in my dreams every night and we have not achieved either one. It’s not about fashion. It’s about expression. It’s about creativity. It’s about dialogue.”