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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.

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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! 

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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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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 May 2018 · neubau eyewear