This post was originally published on sothebysrealty.com
In a rare interview, Desigual’s Founder, Thomas Meyer, gets candid and optimistic about sustainability.
Thomas Meyer—genial, yet reserved and reclusive—is not the kind of figure you’d picture leading Desigual, the Barcelona-based apparel brand known for its undie parties (more below), picante pattern-mixing, and youthful vibe. Then again, this is a brand with a logo that spells its name backward, and in reverse. At Desigual, which means “unequal” or “different” in Spanish, the unexpected is part of the DNA.
Meyer, 63, of Swiss ethnicity but raised in Barcelona, founded the brand in 1984. Stuck with excess denim, Meyer dreamed up what would become the brand’s “iconic” jacket, one of the earliest examples of upcycled fashion, made from scraps of patchworked jeans.
The brand grew into a global powerhouse, with 500-plus stores in more than 90 countries. Bold marketing, like their “half naked” sales, offering free merch to underwear-clad shoppers, drew scads of young people in skivvies lined up outside shops from New York to Rome to Prague. But soon after the investment firm Eurazeo purchased a stake in the company in 2014, revenue faltered. Meyer reportedly paid $160 million to buy back the firm’s shares in 2018, retaking full control. A year later, he set a new course, unveiling that cheeky logo—like a mirror image, designed to be read in selfie mode on cellphones—and a “Forwards Is Boring” ad campaign.
True to his logo, he’s moved forward by looking back. This year, he launched a new capsule collection from acclaimed designer Christian Lacroix, who has collaborated with Desigual since 2011. And he’s doubling down on sustainability goals; this season’s “Love the World” line features upcycled pieces in Desigual’s signature patchwork, made from secondhand denim and other organic, recycled fibers.
In a rare moment with the press, Meyer sat down with RESIDE®, via Zoom, from his sunny offices overlooking the Mediterranean.
How did you feel about that backward logo when it was first presented?
My first reaction was surprise. That’s not something [most brand consultants] would dare. But when I thought a bit more, I understood it represents the essence of the brand. It explains why we exist, no? Doing things in a different way. That’s the whole idea of “going forwards is boring.”
Was the new manifesto helpful in 2020?
I cannot say it made things easier, but it gave us a sense of what we are doing. We want to bring joyfulness, to make people feel happy…on a deeper level. Obviously, we are only an apparel brand, but that feeling in our campaigns, our products, makes a difference.
You purchase energy from renewable sources in Europe. Your stores and offices have won green architecture awards. You’ve prioritized sustainability. How have the pandemic’s economic setbacks affected that? Will you push back your goals?
No, absolutely not. Sustainability is in our roots. One company can’t do it alone, but you can inspire suppliers, customers, and others in the market. Customers don’t want to pay more, so you need suppliers to produce in a sustainable way under the right costs.
How’s that going?
For 2020, around 25% of our products were sustainable. We think we’ll achieve 50% by 2023.
Hasn’t Covid-19 slowed that process?
I think it has accelerated the process. The consciousness of consumers is much higher. It’s clear we all must consume in a more conscious way. There are a lot of people suffering now, and we are suffering as a company, too. But all the challenges, they bring opportunities.
That sounds pretty optimistic.
I’m basically an optimistic person. [He chuckles.]
You’re also Swiss, leading a brand associated with Spain—and Barcelona’s vibrancy, in particular. Is there something Swiss you bring to Desigual?
For sure, being Swiss and living in Spain has built me. If I started Desigual in Gstaad, it probably wouldn’t be the same. My parents are Swiss. But we moved here 58 years ago, so that’s a long time. One of Desigual’s strongest assets is the idea of mixing fabrics, the patchwork, no? That probably comes from having different cultures at my house. We were speaking in Swiss German; in school I learned Spanish, Catalan, and French.
Maybe I bring some order, doing things in a more Cartesian way, I don’t know. I feel my Swiss roots, yes, but I very much like living in Barcelona. I feel it’s my journey, my culture.
And you raised a family there. Are any of your children interested in fashion?
I have three daughters, ages 23, 21, and 10. My second daughter took this last year off from school and is working on an internship here at Desigual, every month in a different department.
Ah, so there’s someone to follow in your footsteps. That must feel nice for a dad.
That’s true. We’ll see what happens. There’s still a long way in front of her. [He flashes a wide smile.] And a long way in front of me, too.