Exalting its ethos of purposeful creativity with heart, AZ Factory is collaborating with fashion designer Bas Timmer and his Sheltersuit Foundation, which provides people experiencing homelessness with gear to protect them from the elements.
Later this month, Net-a-porter will begin selling a range of small bags and backpacks, each of which will finance a Shelterbag to be donated by local nongovernmental organizations to a person in need.
Disclosing the project exclusively to WWD, Richemont executive Mauro Grimaldi suggested the holiday collaboration with the Dutch charity could become a permanent side project as the strategy at AZ Factory crystallizes.
“You buy a present for a friend, and you offer something to someone you don’t know, who is in need.…We love the idea,” Grimaldi said in an interview.
After realizing five “product stories” in 2022, all of which were collaborations, AZ Factory next year will unveil a mix of repeat collaborations, surprise guests for Paris Fashion Week shows and couture week, plus pre-collections by the in-house AZ Factory team, whose members were all handpicked by the late founder Alber Elbaz.
The affable designer, who gained international acclaim during a 14-year tenure at Lanvin, died of COVID-19 in April 2021, spawning a strategy of serial collaborations at the fashion start-up, a joint venture with Compagnie Financière Richemont.
Since joining AZ Factory in January, Grimaldi, a strategic adviser to Philippe Fortunato, chief executive officer of Fashion & Accessories Maisons at Richemont, has met with about 60 design talents, evaluating proposals on the basis of business potential, complicity and alignment with the brand’s mission of “smart fashions that care.”
“We experimented a lot over the past year, and we defined a little bit of the tempo for 2023,” he said. “So step by step, we will build an offer that will become a kind of base for our core offer.”
AZ Factory kicked off its “guest amigo” program in March with South African designer Thebe Magugu, then followed up with product “stories” by size-inclusive brand Ester Manas and Lutz Huelle, a fixture of Paris Fashion Week since 2000, and the first seasoned talent to create a collection “with” AZ Factory. (The brand prefers to say “with” rather than “for” to connote its friendship-based approach.)
In July, it teased its approach to couture for Millennials and Gen Z by inviting recent fashion graduate Cyril Bourez to create 35 one-of-a-kind looks interpreting iconic and glam Elbaz designs via upcycled vintage Americana: Hawaiian shirts, sports jerseys and the like.
Citing a strong reaction to the Bourez collection, which nearly sold out, Grimaldi said AZ Factory now offers a “made-to-order” service in which a customer’s favorite garment can be zhushed up with the design flourishes for which Elbaz was known.
Grimaldi said he hopes to unveil its permanent and guest collaborators at the top of 2023, when another “absolute beginner” will be conscripted to create a project for January couture week relevant to new generations.
He touted that all of AZ Factory’s guest talents accrue vital insights into creating, merchandising and marketing a collection, skills that are essential to building a viable fashion business.
Richemont touts AZ Factory as a platform for independent creativity, and one that offers benefits analogous in some ways to fashion prizes, including financial support, but also access to a design studio, atelier, marketing muscle and communications channels.
“They come here with an idea, and they encounter professionals that are among some of the best in the market,” he enthused. “We teach them how to turn an inspiration into a business.”
After meeting with Timmer, the AZ Factory design team unearthed overstock leather and silk to create the utility bags, which will retail from about 180 euros for a mini zippered pouch, up to about 650 euros for a backpack in a mix of animal prints.
Made from upcycled materials, a Sheltersuit is a water- and windproof jacket that can easily be transformed into a sleeping bag. A Shelterbag is a portable, sheltered bed that rolls up into a bag.
The nonprofit organization has already distributed more than 20,000 products.
Grimaldi noted that AZ Factory will also make a donation to the Sheltersuit Foundation, which in 2021 did a collaboration with Richemont-owned Chloé.