Pal Offner Blog 03

How uni­sex fashion label Pal Off­ner aims to break with gen­der stereotypes

We talked to Sabina Pal, one of the two creative minds behind Pal Offner, about being an independent designer, about femininity and masculinity and how it all began.

Bounda­ries bet­ween mas­cu­lini­ty and femi­nin­i­ty, strai­ght­for­ward and expe­ri­men­tal design, Zeit­geist and timel­ess­ness mel­ting away,” the idea behind the label Pal Off­ner rede­fi­nes gen­der ste­reo­ty­pes – by not defi­ning them at all. We tal­ked to Sabi­na Pal, one of the two crea­ti­ve minds behind Stutt­gart based brand Pal Off­ner, about being an inde­pen­dent desi­gner, about femi­nin­i­ty and mas­cu­lini­ty and how it all began…

What hap­pen­ed in this omin­ous Fri­day night in Decem­ber 2013? What made you deci­de to found your brand?

I was in Stutt­gart to visit friends by end of the year. It was a fun night out in the city and we had a cou­p­le of drinks. We were in a bar at Wil­helms­platz in the city cen­ter when Nele asked me if I want to join her for a ciga­ret­te out­side. And then she star­ted a very sweet pro­po­sal – a founding-proposal!

Nele always had the wish to found her own label but was loo­king for the right part­ner to com­ple­ment her. For me this sug­ges­ti­on came out of the blue. We knew each other only brief­ly and I had no points of con­ta­ct with the fashion indus­try so far. Thus, I would have never expec­ted her to take me into con­si­de­ra­ti­on. But somehow she did. And she had the right fee­ling. I got super exci­ted and thought that this might be it’ – the job I always drea­med of but didn’t know about until that moment it was rol­led out to my feet. 

It was two years befo­re when I star­ted dis­co­vering that par­ti­cu­lar design niche of avant­gar­de black fashion for mys­elf pas­sing by a bou­tique in my home­town Frankfurt.

So, in the moment Nele asked me, I immedia­te­ly thought it all made per­fect sen­se. So, we star­ted plan­ning and final­ly quit our jobs to have our own com­pa­ny. Very exci­ting times! 

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Sabi­na, your care­er took a few detours to even­tual­ly run into fashion – why’s that? How did your love for design evolve?

Right, my deep dive into fashion busi­ness-wise was a lucky coin­ci­dence. Howe­ver, mar­ke­ting and adver­ti­sing is not as far away from it as it might seem in the first place. 

When I deci­ded which care­er path to take I first con­tem­pla­ted with com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on design. Howe­ver, when being con­fron­ted with the pure crea­ti­vi­ty of stu­dents at their exhi­bi­ti­on at the school of design, I rea­li­zed – that’s not me. I am a crea­ti­ve per­son, I am in love with design and aes­the­tics but I am not a creator mys­elf. Having one or ano­t­her crea­ti­ve moment or out­co­me and a good fee­ling for har­mo­nious design doesn’t auto­ma­ti­cal­ly turn you into a desi­gner. You bet­ter ack­now­ledge this befo­re ending up in mediocrity. 

So, I deci­ded to stu­dy Media-Eco­no­mics and go into a branch that com­bi­nes stra­te­gic thin­king with crea­ti­vi­ty and aes­the­tics. This led me strai­ght into adver­ti­sing. I had a blast during my almost seven years at Ogil­vy. As one of the big­gest inter­na­tio­nal adver­ti­sing agen­ci­es I was lucky to meet gre­at men­tors and a diver­si­ty of brands and pro­jects. Without being awa­re, I lear­ned ever­ything I nee­ded to start our own busi­ness: from clas­sic pro­ject manage­ment, working with crea­ti­ves, pro­duc­tion and cli­ents, to stra­te­gic thin­king, brand buil­ding and busi­ness modeling. 

Last­ly I was lucky enough to meet Nele and start PAL OFF­NER, which ulti­mate­ly is the per­fect result of the inten­ti­on I first had when making the choice on my studies: 

Com­bi­ning crea­ti­ve work with stra­te­gic, struc­tu­ral work.

Uni­sex fashion is a dif­fi­cult field – many desi­gner put men in womens’ clot­hing and the other way around, clai­ming it’s uni­sex. How do you defi­ne this term for you and your work? 

Well the ques­ti­on is what or who defi­nes mens and womens clothes as such and the other way around? Shouldn’t the approach to uni­sex be exact­ly to blur tho­se lines? If you want to take uni­sex to the extre­me, than the­re should be neit­her clothes defi­ned as mens” nore others defi­ned as womens”. In this sen­se it makes per­fect sen­se to put men into women’s clothes and the other way around. For us howe­ver, the clue is to offer the ran­ge. To open up that boxes of gen­der by giving all opti­ons, having styles with dif­fe­rent levels of what our socie­ty defi­nes as mas­cu­li­ne or feminine. 

From our point of view the main issue with uni­sex is a dif­fe­rent one: Get­ting rid of shapes. Inde­ed it is not easy to crea­te fit­ted styles that work on all men’s and women’s bodies. Howe­ver, this won’t be the case to sin­gle- sex-brands” eit­her. Pro­bab­ly ever­yo­ne knows this from sear­ching the city for the per­fect fit­ting pair of trou­sers. But from our point of view, this shouldn’t lead to working only with over­si­zed, neu­tral shapes. Surely the­se items can be part of the varie­ty and look you offer. We have some, too. But it should never be the core. We think that this is key to the approach of uni­sex if you real­ly want to make a social and cul­tu­ral chan­ge that crea­tes free­dom for all per­so­na­li­ties: To crea­te diver­si­ty in the shapes each per­son can choo­se to wear. 

Having one or ano­t­her crea­ti­ve moment or out­co­me and a good fee­ling for har­mo­nious design doesn’t auto­ma­ti­cal­ly turn you into a desi­gner. You bet­ter ack­now­ledge this befo­re ending up in mediocrity.

Pal Offner Blog 01
Pal Offner Blog 02

What was the most important les­son you’ve learnt so far as inde­pen­dent desi­gners? Any tips for like­min­ded crea­ti­ve minds who dream about foun­ding their own brand?

Oh were should we start … may­be the res­u­mé are the­se three things: 

1. It’s good to be an all-rounder. 

From our per­cep­ti­on, pro­bab­ly the most important thing to being suc­cess­ful apart from your crea­ti­ve con­cept is gre­at con­trol of tasks, timings and bud­get – so basi­cal­ly a well-struc­tu­red pro­ject manage­ment. At least, if you want to do it for a living, being a gre­at desi­gner is not enough.

Fur­ther, if you are a per­son that pre­fers to stay in the back, this is a pity when it comes to sel­ling your pro­duct. As the­re won’t ever be some­bo­dy who can pre­sent your pro­duct and brand with the same emo­tio­nal affec­tion and authen­ti­ci­ty as you can. 

Plus, you should always keep in mind that the shiny“ part that you see from out­side is the smal­lest part of your dai­ly life when foun­ding your own busi­ness. It’s like all new busi­nes­ses: You should not con­si­der yourself too good for any kind of jobs. In the begin­ning you need to be rea­dy to do anything from clea­ning the toi­let in your stu­dio to hef­ting fab­ric roles and boxes etc. It’s hel­pful if you are not too much of a deli­ca­te person.

2. You need endurance. 

First, becau­se the begin­ning is tough.

The first mon­ths after the foun­ding one of us was always in panic – becau­se we whe­re afraid of things going wrong, that we can­not over­co­me the amount of to do’s you have when set­ting ever­ything up for the first time and also we had no know­ledge about some things at all (for examp­le the end­less field of cus­toms). We liter­al­ly worked day and night … the natu­ral adre­na­li­ne shots you get when you put all your money on one card hel­ped, though. 

Second, becau­se buil­ding a fashion brand without inves­tors and limi­ted money is a long-term effort. Crea­ting las­ting rela­ti­ons­hips with col­la­bo­ra­ti­on part­ners and cli­ents, con­ti­nuous­ly approa­ching pro­spects and making sure you get bet­ter with each collec­tion is key and doesn’t hap­pen over night. 

3. Lear­ning to get relaxed. 

Fol­lowing up the last state­ment, this is very important: By all the­se efforts, you have to learn to take things easy.

You are often facing chal­len­ges whe­re you first have to find your bea­rings. Plus you work tog­e­ther with many, many dif­fe­rent peop­le and natu­ral mate­ri­als – which both means that the­re are always sur­pri­ses you did not expect and plan. Then you take a deep breath and find a solu­ti­on. If we would still panic in each situa­ti­on as in the begin­ning… well, we pro­bab­ly would have gone cra­zy by now. 

Does this sound nega­ti­ve? No, it shouldn’t! We’d encou­ra­ge ever­yo­ne who is wil­ling to puts his or her hands on all the­se varie­ties of tasks and learn new things each day to make this step. The fact that you are your own boss and do even the unplea­sant work for yourself neu­tra­li­zes about all frus­tra­ti­on. And in the end, the­re is also the shiny part. The moment of the shoo­ting, when you see ever­ything you crea­ted and worked hard on in the past mon­ths fina­li­zed and beco­m­ing ali­ve. This is priceless! 

Pal Offner Blog 05

More and more com­pa­nies focus on sus­tainab­le mate­ri­als and an eco-friend­ly pro­duc­tion, what role do the­se values play in your own work?

Our first goal is to pro­du­ce under fair working con­di­ti­ons, with high qua­li­ty and short distan­ces of production. 

Thus we draw our fab­rics from Euro­pean sup­pliers and cho­se mate­ri­als that are made pre­do­mi­nant­ly from natu­ral threads or rea­son­ab­le mate­ri­al-mixes. Fur­ther, our deve­lo­p­ment and pro­duc­tion is ful­ly taking place in Euro­pe: We deve­lop the collec­tion with pat­tern makers and tailors in Ger­ma­ny. The tailo­ring for pro­duc­tion is being done in Bul­ga­ria and Roma­nia, while the pie­ce dyeing is taking place in a fami­ly owned com­pa­ny clo­se to our stu­dio. When we star­ted our work with our Ger­man-Bul­ga­ri­an part­ners we spent two weeks at the fac­to­ries and were very hap­py about the fami­li­al working cli­ma­te. Then Sabi­na, being born in Bucha­rest, had the deep wish to give some­thing back to her birth­place by shif­ting part of the pro­duc­tion to Bucha­rest. This is gre­at, as through her Roma­ni­an skills we have a gre­at con­nec­tion to the fac­to­ry. A nice side-effect is that after our mee­tings with the fac­to­ry, we always get a nice meal at Sabina’s grand­mo­ther. For the dyeing it is important to us, that we can jump over to the dye-works easi­ly, as this pro­cess is very com­plex and needs a lot of syn­chro­niz­a­ti­on which is har­der to con­trol from afar. 

Our shoes are hand­ma­de in Ita­ly, our bags hand-stit­ched in a sin­gle-per­son stu­dio in Greece and our jewel­ry is hand made by our lovely friend and jewel­ry maker, Katha­ri­na Gei­ger, in Berlin. 

We know the peop­le we work with per­so­nal­ly from the boss to the tailor and we know about their fair working con­di­ti­ons, which is very important to us. 

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Pal Offner Blog 08

How do you ima­gi­ne the future of fashion?

We would like to add one word: How do you ima­gi­ne the future of fashion business?”

Becau­se we think that while we can have lots of crea­ti­ve ide­as of how we see the future of fashion, we also need to make sure that they get the chan­ce to be shown to the world. The way of how fashion busi­ness works is some­thing we should have a deeper thought about. By now pro­bab­ly ever­y­bo­dy stumb­led over the dis­cus­sion of fast-fashion” — big com­pa­nies diver­ging from two sea­sons (Spring/​Summer and Autumn/​Winter) and pro­du­cing new styles from mon­th to month. 

We won’t talk about the eco­lo­gi­cal effect that the­se mass pro­duc­tions have on our world and socie­ty, becau­se this is being dis­cus­sed in many other pla­ces. But we also like to point out the effect this has on crea­ti­vi­ty and the appre­cia­ti­on of craft­s­manship. One thing leads to ano­t­her: Designs of last mon­th are old”, so they are being redu­ced quick­ly, which peop­le know about, so they wait for sales. Which is surely frus­tra­ting for shop-owners. Which natu­ral­ly makes them have to fight for their busi­nes­ses. Slow­ly they push each other to ear­lier and bet­ter’ sales-cam­pai­gns making it even worse. Us, the brands, are being pushed to deli­ver ear­ly in order for our cus­to­mers to have more time to sell the clothes full pri­zed. Which makes all labels pre­fer­a­b­ly deli­ver sum­mer collec­tions in Janu­a­ry, when it’s just star­ting to snow and win­ter collec­tions in June, when we have 30°C. Which leads to the fact that labels have an extre­me­ly short peri­od of time to crea­te and pro­du­ce. Which again means that you dri­ve all your sup­ply­ing part­ners nuts in order to make it hap­pen as quick­ly as pos­si­ble. At the same time, peop­le do, howe­ver, expect the most crea­ti­ve designs and best qua­li­ty. This is just a rough over­view, the­re is much more to it. But we think it shows qui­te well the grie­vence: The result is that the actu­al craft­s­manship, the work of the desi­gner and the many peop­le that put their back into the crea­ti­on and imple­men­ta­ti­on of each pie­ce and the appre­cia­ti­on of the garment just peters out. 

If we want to crea­te good working con­di­ti­ons for ever­yo­ne in this cycle and keep the diver­si­ty in fashion through small brands that bring new crea­ti­ve ener­gy, all of us – fashion labels, fashion lovers and retailers – should rethink this cycle. 

Which neu­bau eye­we­ar frame would fit best to your costumers?

As sum­mer is com­ing, they’d best go with Sig­mund Carl sun­glas­ses. A clas­sy base-form framed with a strong state­ment. We like the play with the thin and thick frame parts – as you can see in our own logo! 

Pal Offner Blog 07
25 Mai 2018 · NEUBAU EYEWEAR
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