For Hassan Pierre, fashion has always been married to environmental sustainability and social ethics. After studying at Parsons School of Design in New York City, Hassan launched his label “Way It Should Be,” recycling and reinventing vintage couture fabrics into luxurious demi-couture collections. His passion was to help consumers make informed decisions about their purchases, fusing the way for sustainable fashion to be the standard fashion. Hassan is the Co-Founder and CEO of Maison de Mode with Co-Founder Amanda Hearst. “As a retailer, we want to make people dream and to make people want to buy things — not just because they’re good for the planet, but also because they want to wear them.” – HP.
Angela Chan: How did you get into sustainable fashion?
Hassan Pierre: I started my career at Parsons School of Design studying Fashion Design and Management, both the technical side of designing and the business side of fashion. After school, I launched my collection called “Way It Should Be,” a sustainable demi-couture collection that focused on using vintage fabrics from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. I created collections out of these beautiful vintage fabrics from designers like Chanel, Ungaro, and Valentino. That’s how I got into the sustainable fashion space. Within my second collection, Vogue had launched this page called Style Ethics that Tonne Goodman and Anna Wintour were championing. Vogue had featured one of my dresses on Kerry Washington in a full page in May 2010, this was pre-Instagram, and very early on in the sustainable fashion space. That’s really how my career took off.
Chan: How did you pivot from a fashion designer into a CEO role with Maison De Mode?
Pierre: I met Amanda Hearst when she was an editor at Marie Claire writing about sustainable fashion. After my Vogue article came out, she visited my showroom to do an editorial for Marie Claire, and quickly we developed both a personal and professional relationship. We have many mutual friends and shared the same views and thoughts within the fashion and the ethical space. That’s how Maison De Mode was formed. We had this idea that if we could put all of the sustainable designers of the moment together, myself, Liya Kebede of Lemlem, Stella McCartney, Bono and Ali Hewson of Edun, John Patrick of Organic, and Scott from Loomstate we’d be able to move this whole concept forward and prove that sustainable fashion is the most luxurious thing, and that’s how we came up with the concept. There were only a handful of us doing sustainable fashion back in late 2009. Amanda had written about a couple of these designers, and we realized quickly that there wasn’t a retail space for these brands.
Maison De Mode is a platform business; half is the exceptionally forward-facing retail marketplace that focuses on emerging and established designers that all have a sustainable impact. How we define sustainability is anything that has a social, environmental, and economic impact created in their aesthetic. The second half of our business is focused on B2B solutions called Mode Communications, which focuses on consulting and communications with all types of brands. Whether it be a large fashion brand, hospitality group, or media company, it could go from implementing CSR strategies to communicating about different sustainable products that the business or company has. It runs the gamut, but again the focus primarily there is on sustainability.
Chan: Please tell me about a recent project you have done with Lacoste.
Pierre: The Lacoste project would fall under Mode Communications. Lacoste was looking to create their first sustainable polo shirt. It is called a Loop Polo, and it used dead stock Lacoste polos, then recycled them into new fibers to create the new polo. Instead of just dumping the old polos into landfill, they reused them to create a circular design strategy. Mode Communications helped develop the product and build a communication strategy around it. Authentic messaging is probably one of the most important things when it comes to sustainability. We have such a strong media tie, and our editors understand that we’re speaking something that requires a lot of due diligence and authenticity. We developed communication strategies with different online and offline publications, and we cultivated an influential network of various ambassadors to champion this cause.
The Lacoste Loop Polo project was a 360 project from development to distribution. It ties back to our marketplace as the exclusive online distributor of this polo which was exciting for us from a marketplace perspective.
Chan: What is authentic messaging?
Pierre: Most brands can get their messages out there easily. If they’ve created a product, they can easily send out email blasts and have many different publications cover it. But I think the messaging gets lost because the consumers are too savvy now, and they see beyond that, especially if it’s such a large brand that traditionally isn’t involved in a certain space.
Authentic messaging is more thought out, so it’s about different publications you’re engaging with and in the style you’re engaging them with. One publication might be a product feature, or another publication might be more of an in-depth look behind the product. It’s about the flow. It is not just looking at this as a one-shot opportunity but looking at it as a long-term strategy.
That’s the difference between an authentic message and something that is very forced.
Chan: What other exciting projects have you done?
Pierre: We did an energy efficiency project with Diane Von Furstenberg in her meatpacking district store. We reduced carbon emissions by doing a swap of lighting and HVAC. It’s not so sexy but very impactful.
We are currently working on a launch strategy for Kengos, a new sustainable footwear brand that is super light and great for traveling.
Chan: Why do you think companies come to you for implementation?
Pierre: I think it becomes a massive burden for many of these businesses internally, so we are that plug and play solution for them. It’s a win-win for both.
It depends on what the clients’ needs are and what they are looking to achieve. Once we have that, we look at two things; immediate actions, which we can implement and achieve within a six to a twelve-month timeframe.
Additionally, we phase the other parts of the timeline, which typically can take a little longer, especially if it’s in the supply chain area that requires a little more due diligence, understanding, and replacing the process.
Chan: When did you launch Maison De Mode?
Pierre: 2015 was our official launch date, but we had conceptualized Maison De Mode back in 2012. Amanda and I had done some small pop-ups in Miami. That’s how we actually built our initial customer base and then really sort of launched the website and business in 2015.
Chan: Are you seeing a vast increase of designers or brands coming in under the sustainability purposes?
Pierre: I think any new brand that’s coming out has sustainability in some capacity built into their ethos. The most significant trend I see is mid-size to large luxury businesses entering the conversation. Smaller brands do it, and of course, if you’re starting a brand, you should 100% be sustainable in some capacity.
You see the most significant shift when you know a company like DVF, Michael Kors, or Lacoste decides to make a change because there’s so much impact to be had. One little thing has such an enormous ripple effect. It’s fantastic to see everybody now taking sustainability seriously. Not just from a marketing point of view but also as investors become more serious about companies’ sustainable impact as their bottom line.
Chan: What are some of the specific initiatives you’ve seen with these more prominent brands?
Pierre: I think across the board for most, lowering carbon emission is probably one of the biggest priorities. Another forefront initiative for brands is about closing the loop. I also think that waste reduction for so many is a huge thing, not just waste reduction in the production cycle but also within the office with paper and plastic use or in the stores with packaging use. Cost is always the primary factor. We always show the initial costs, the long-term costs, and where you are saving money. In most if not all of these cases, you’re saving money in the end. That is where you know the cost analysis comes strong for these brands. Brands will move forward with these implementations because it will save them money and help them reach their goal.
Chan: It is excellent to celebrate cost reduction positively impacting the bottom line and the environment. Do you see closing the loop or creating a product circularity process being extremely difficult since it comes from design right from the beginning?
Pierre: It’s funny you say it’s a big challenge because you said it yourself, it comes from the design. This is where engineering and technology come in. It’s mixing engineering with fashion, and the circularity comes from the design. If you can make the design in a way that uses something regenerated, or leaving less waste, or continues to be put back into the system, then it’s a good design.
You also need to design to be broken down or recycled, or you know that’s where you are closing the loop. Initially it comes from the designer’s point of view, and then from there, you have to look at the steps to either putting this back or reusing it or making it so that it’s not having this significant impact.
Chan: What is a good design example, or who has done well with closing the loop?
Pierre: An interesting example is Hermès handbags. They are probably one of the most sustainable pieces because those bags continue to get passed down and reused, and they never end up in the landfill. It’s the design that is essential. The design aesthetics is what managed to be sustainable because it has the value to continue to be reused. One of the biggest challenges in sustainability in all fashion is that it either looks cheap, like burlap, or too expensive. It must be functional as well as aesthetically pleasing to the consumers.
Chan: Do you see any brands that you think have done an outstanding job ?
Pierre: No. I don’t think anybody is doing a great job right now, but I think brands are starting to engage with this concept, and it will take a while for them to figure it out. I believe H&M is focusing on sustainability because they will need to figure out how to close the loop. After all, there will not be enough landmass or water to produce cotton to clothe the population in 20 years in the same way they are occupying the business now. So they don’t have a choice, and I don’t think many brands have an option. I guess it’s something that we’ll see in the next five to ten years. But I believe that all brands now are considering it and understanding that it’s no longer a choice, but big brands need to prioritize this.
My career started over ten years ago, so it’s exciting to see that we’re here in this space and the whole fashion industry gets behind this movement. You’ve seen it from the events that we do to a significant event like the Met Gala. I’m excited to see what the next ten years will look like and what sustainable fashion is defined or means at that time.
Chan: Where do you see Maison De Mode will go in the next two to three years ?
Pierre: Our business will continue to grow as more consumers start to understand, desire, and need sustainable fashion. We are the leaders when it comes to the sustainable fashion marketplace. I see that we will continue to grow exponentially over the next two to three years, and I know just because of different companies signing on or about to start working with us in various capacities. Some large organizations and fashion brands want our consulting service from Mode Communications, but the sustainable fashion concept will move with it. I would like to see Maison De Mode as a household name for the sustainable fashion industry, almost like a Yahoo or Google situation
Chan: Knowing what you know today, if you can travel back in time, what would be that one piece of advice you would give yourself ?
Pierre: When I started, this was a strange concept to many. I was beating down people’s eardrums. Today, if I call or email someone, it takes ten seconds for them to respond. People now understand the importance of what we’re doing. Whereas before, it was chipping away at people and getting them to know that this is important for the future. It’s very frustrating at times.
My advice would be, just relax because everybody’s going to hear you in the end.