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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.

Pal Offner Blog 01
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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