Daring yet pragmatic, this 34-year-old fashion enthusiast recently launched the Réuni brand, overturning all the rules about design, production and retail along the way. A new-generation model that could very well set a new standard.
Introduce us to Réuni, which sounds like much more than a fashion brand…
To begin with, it’s a team effort, as I created it together with Alice Bailly, our artistic director, and Julien Garcia, who is in charge of marketing, logistics and customer service. Réuni reflects our shared passion for fashion, and our refusal to create yet another ready-to-wear brand. We wanted something different, so we decided to rethink the entire model. Instead of searching for inspiration, we begin by asking our clients what they want by sending them a questionnaire. We ask questions like what garment most inspires you? Which fabric? How do you think it should it be produced? Then we put their specifications into practice, while continuing the dialogue with our community. When we come up with a project that we think is right, we create a campaign and launch pre-orders before starting production. This process resolves most of the difficulties the fashion industry faces: our clothes are in line with what our consumers want, we can evaluate our production and our stocks, we don’t need sales to get rid of unsold items, etc.
You came up with the idea for Réuni after having had various work experiences. Tell us a little about your career path.
I went to a hotel school prior to studying for a business degree, and then I worked for the Maison Ducasse and Prêt à Manger. When I turned 28 I decided to follow my dream and go into fashion. I enrolled in the Studio Berçot, I worked for big fashion houses and I created a podcast, “Entrepreneurship in Fashion”, which gave me a chance to meet and talk with a range of industry professionals. At that point I realized that the traditional models were having a hard time functioning. In my view, French schools are developing creativity but not enough business savvy, especially in the era of the Internet. I’m amazed by the open-mindedness of tech entrepreneurs. Their imagination and pragmatism. The fashion industry, like the food industry, needs to shake off the constraints of custom and tradition and usher in a new era.
Starting this kind of project requires financing. How did you get it?
Thanks to the pre-order system, the capital outlays are quite low. As people pay upfront, this money allows us to fund the raw materials, the manufacturing workshops… Our cash flow is always positive – that’s one of our strong points when compared to traditional brands. They sometimes have to wait up to seven or eight months to recoup their investments, from the time it takes a designer to create the collection to the moment the collection is in store.
To kick off the project, and finance our first garment – a winter sweater sold at 750 examples – we used the Ulule platform, which served as a guarantor and helped us to start developing our community. We are continuing the adventure on our own site, but our model is still effectively based on crowdfunding.
Your brand is a textbook case. Let’s try to outline its fundamentals, starting with this idea of co-creation. It sounds effective but doesn’t it hinder your imagination?
We aren’t looking for absolute creativity, as a more couture-oriented brand would. We want to make good looking, well-cut products, with a certain something that makes them special, whether in terms of functionality or the detail of a cut. To do this, we call upon designers who work with us for the duration of a given project – Tilmann Wrobel for our jeans; star designer Michael Gunter for our coat. Then we put a lot of work into our photo shoots, to help define a look, our style. We think that people today want well-made clothes, in quality materials equal to those found at the biggest fashion houses and compatible with their budget. They want pieces that are at once luxurious and essential.
Your production is a virtuous system. How do you source your raw materials?
It’s a real headache and we spend a lot of time on it. We choose very selective materials – our merino wool coat fabric comes from Bacci, which also supplies Max Mara. Our products are all certified and when we select a fabric, we run it through a battery of tests – washing, repeated drying – to see how it reacts over time. Our choice is based on an equation: the best quality, ethics and price ratio.
And in terms of distribution and sales ?
We have no plans to open a store. We sell only on the internet and we produce according to our pre-orders, adding just an extra 15% to cover possible size exchanges. But each product is re-edited the following year, with improvements based on buyers’ feedback. On the logistics side, things are also very complicated. We have been working for a long time with Ares, which employs people seeking to reintegrate society, and now we’re looking for new partners. Our deliveries are done by bike courier for Paris, by Chronopost for anywhere else in France and abroad. And we use a service called Repack, which has perfected a system of reusable envelopes that are sent back to a logistics center to be washed and reused.
What kind of woman is Réuni intended for? And how do you develop your community?
Thanks to all the exchanges we have with our customers via our questionnaires, we know that 50% of our clients live in Paris, and that they represent all generations, although the average age is about 40 years old. Our community is built by word of mouth, and women are truly enthusiastic about the quality of our clothes and the spirit of the brand. The pre-order system puts us very far from fast-fashion, and it has re-introduced the idea of expectation and desire.
Finally, there is the question of the price of your products. How do you set them?
It’s pretty simple. We look at the competition, we analyze the feedback from our clients and we set an amount we can’t go over. This is where our famous quality + ethics + price equation comes into play. In the end, our prices are pretty reasonable, with about a 2 ½ ratio depending on the item. Which is very low in terms of the market overall.
What are your development goals? A men’s collection? An international expansion?
Of course, we have a lot of dreams but we realize that we have to take our time. We need to work more than ever on sourcing, bring out a product only if it is really ready. For the moment, we want to go slowly, to ensure the next three to four launches without looking further ahead. Like I said, we’re very pragmatic!
Learn more about Réuni ici
©photo : Benoit Auguste