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Another Tomorrow’s Radical Approach to Luxury Fashion

Vanessa Barboni Hallik, a former managing director at Morgan Stanley, did something radical: she created a luxury clothing brand made for women, by women on the condition that it would be truly sustainable and invested in transparency.  What does this mean? She not only would know how her textiles were made, but where the cotton was sourced, where the water for milling that cotton would run off to, and the labor conditions of that cotton. In her bid to solve the inherent problems of polluting supply chains, cruelty to animals, unfairly treated workers, and her uncompromising vision, she opted to build a supply and production chain from scratch. Along the way, she hired industry veteran designer, Jane Chung, a former designer of Donna Karan and DKNY, to produce a line that takes seriously what we need and will get the most wear in our wardrobe. 

 

We met with Vanessa and Jane to understand the impetus to start Another Tomorrow, the hard work of creating a transparent and sustainable supply chain, and why education is transformational for designers and customers alike.

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Frontlash: Vanessa, I’d love to start with you. You haven’t always worked in fashion, can you tell me what were you doing before? And, why a clothing brand? 

Vanessa: I spent almost 15 years in finance, focused on emerging markets. I took a sabbatical with the intention of pivoting to sustainable finance. When you're in finance, you're really flying at 40,000 feet, and you're looking at the aggregate impact of things, but rarely the root causes. I thought that it would be a really good opportunity to step back and take a really curious perspective. What really were the driving forces of this mess that we kind of collectively find ourselves in?

And by “mess” you mean?

Environmental degradation, abuse of animals, the fact that we have vast disparities in wealth, and people still working in factories in dismal kind of modern slavery type conditions. I was really surprised, just in taking a critical look at different industries, how problematic the fashion industry was.

What other industries did you look at by comparison?

I mean, certainly energy, which is, I think, a little bit more understandable. Food. Transportation. It was really taking sort of an industry by industry look at things. The one that really was the most shocking to me, partially because it had been off my radar, was fashion. 

So, you were originally going to go into sustainable finance, and then you discovered how terrible fashion So, then what? How did you get to, “I’m going to launch a fashion brand.”

I thought I found it remarkably difficult, as a customer, to get sound information about most things in the industry, and certainly at the product level. Then I found that if you actually spent the time doing the research to try and find the t-shirt that you wanted [that matched your ethics], you oftentimes didn't actually want to buy it at the end of it, because there wasn't that aesthetic alignment.

I mean, no one's going to spend the time in the first place [to find the ethical option], and then they're going to be incredibly frustrated at the end of that journey. It really became this thing I couldn't unknow.

I certainly didn’t want to start a brand, because there's no better way to burn a pile of cash than to start a brand, and there was already so much product out there. I thought that there could be another way to approach it, whether that was a platform, and then aggregate a product that was both ethical and values aligned and adding the education piece into it. 

I started looking at it from a platform perspective, and then I very quickly figured out that this idea wasn't new. Other people had tried to do it, and it was kind of struggling. I was like, why is it struggling? Fundamentally, it's a product first business. It's a product with an emotional attachment. So, it was clear that, actually, if you wanted to really connect from a product perspective, that it was really important to actually own that brand. That was why the approach shifted.

Then, of course, I hadn't the faintest idea of how you actually start a brand and make a product. I was used to numbers on screens, and hired a consultant to help me just understand the industry and how to build the foundation of the brand. [I] brought in two people who are now our sustainability and production team to really help me understand what is the practical application of sustainability and ethics to fashion, best practices, et cetera. Did a really deep dive there, and then did a bunch of research to talk to women that I thought were underserved in this sort of values aligned product to see what they were looking for. Then started looking for a partner in design, and that was where the magic happened with Jane.

Jane, can you tell me a little bit about your background?

Jane: I've been in fashion for a long time. I was part of a big company, Donna Karan and DKNY, for about 25 years. After that, I took a sabbatical — it didn't last very long.

I want[ed] to go and learn to make furniture, learn how to tattoo, all the other stuff but fashion. At the end, I realized this is what I know how to do, so I opened my own company, a little one. That was so different from the big company where I came from. I wanted to use the best of everything, best fabrication, best factories, best stuff, and [design] not a big, huge collection, quite small. Of course, it wasn't as easy as I thought it would be, right? 

I was doing that and sort of enjoying it, but not enjoying it at the same time. Coming from a really big company to doing everything on your own is quite different, as you probably can understand. All the emails, every communication to factories, to the mills, to stores that you're selling to. I learned so much doing that, like never take anyone for granted ever, ever again.

As I was doing that, I met Vanessa through, actually, a really good friend, someone that I worked with for a long time. They said, "Listen, you need to meet this woman."

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What was her pitch?

She had such a clear vision. Conviction and commitment, and almost with no compromising on anything, which I love, by the way. I don't like compromises myself. For me, that was what attracted me. 

Her conviction, her commitment to that ideal was really important, and the fact that it didn't exist yet. I love that, because you feel creative.

What was the “it”, very specifically? The “it” that didn’t exist?

Vanessa: I think “it” was two things. One, there was a way to make clothing that truly aligned with one's values because no one would want animals to be harmed or killed to make their clothing. No one would choose that. No one would choose for dyes to be dumped in rivers for their clothes to be made. No one would choose for the steppes in Mongolia to be subject to mass desertification just for cheap cashmere. 

These are not the intentional choices that people would make, so I thought there's a way to design and create a collection, that mirrors a set of values that I think are shared. Looking at the industry with fresh eyes, if you didn't have to untangle all of these existing supply chains, how would you approach it? It was very important to me that we would have a direct relationship with our customer, so applying that direct to consumer model was really critical.

It was also important that we create a new intersection between price and quality. That really came up, in terms of what the need was. Another $3,000 jacket wasn't going to serve a lot of people. While [our] things aren't inexpensive, we also thought that we could adjust that paradigm. How would you design a values-based collection from a clean slate, with a really defined aesthetic? That's where I think Jane and I are also really connected. You can be really clear on the values, and still end up with a product that looks like a mess, right? 

Can you describe to me the aesthetic and how you came to the look and the feel of the brand?

Jane: We love tailoring. I think it says strength without being mannish—that contradiction of masculine, feminine. How do we put it together, and how do we wear it together? For me, the quality was quite important and, going to the right factories for the right product. 

To me, it was important that aesthetic came through from who we work with and what we think of as quality aesthetic, and silhouettes that are flattering to a lot of women. I felt like there's so much out there, from a fashion point of view, from high to low, mass fashion to really high fashion. When you really go look for something that is wearable every day, that you could wear for the next five years, or 10 years, still with some attitude.

 

I think what's so great about Another Tomorrow is that it's from scratch. We started that way. It's not catching up. It's not like changing. It's a good role model, to be honest, for a lot of other companies that are just thinking about it.

 

You just described a little bit of the process of how you put those pieces together. How different was it for you, from a design perspective, to create this type of collection, this fully transparent, sustainable, ethical collection, compared to previously?

It started from fabrication. We thought sustainability has been around for some time. Everybody talks about it. This designer's doing it. That brand is doing it. We thought, “Oh my God, we're going to find great things out there!” We couldn't find anything that I thought was good enough, whether it was a wool suiting or a proper shirting. 

What was the criteria? When you went and you were like, okay, this is the criteria. Show us this fabric. What was that checklist?

Vanessa: The first things were a process of elimination. Anything that required killing the animal was out, and that actually ended up including more things than we anticipated.

Jane: Yeah. I was like, wait a minute, silk?

Vanessa: So, that took silk out of the equation. It became clear that, from an environmental perspective, no virgin cashmere, just given the supply demand imbalance. For cotton and linen, it was organic only. For wool, initially I thought maybe it's good enough to just have an RWS certified farm, but then the more I read about the issues in animal welfare, I was like, I actually need to know the farm. We have to source directly from the farm. That became, okay, we'll use wool, but it has to be our own wool supply chain. That defined, then, the mills that you could work with, because you had to convince a mill.

Jane: I didn't know that, actually, after six or seven years, they go to die.

The sheep?

Yes.

So, this was a big learning curve for you?

Jane: Oh my God, absolutely.

And you've been a designer for 25 years?

Jane: Exactly. More.

Why do you think that is?

Jane: Because I think that when you're on the side of big fashion, you care about so many other things. When it was the 90s, everything was excessive. Everything was more and more and more. It was about, margins, margins, margins. From a designer’s point of view, what's new, what's new, what's new.

So product versus process?

Jane: Absolutely. I've learned so much and I've got so much more to learn. I think that's what's so interesting about working on this project and being part of this team right now is that you're learning something new all the time. I think it also makes you think about it more, how can we do this better? How can we do it differently? 

Given the way you learned about fashion, how do you think that other designers could kind of come in with the right knowledge set, and do you think they should?

Jane: We know what's happening today: climate change to plastics in the oceans and the shorelines. If we knew that we have a lot to do with that, and why shouldn't we change if we can? Younger designers, I have hope for, because I think they're open to that. They know that it's an issue. 

I think what's so great about Another Tomorrow is that it's from scratch. We started that way. It's not catching up. It's not like changing. It's a good role model, to be honest, for a lot of other companies that are just thinking about it.

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I know, Vanessa, for you, it's important to have education baked into the brand message. Could you talk a little bit about that and what that means to you?

Vanessa: It's really kind of threefold for me. One, transparency is critical. I mean, a lot of the reason why people maybe didn't design or think about these types of things is that the information is largely hidden. If you're looking at a fabric header [the fabric description affixed to a fabric sample], there's no information about how it's made, so you really have to dig for it. A big part of the education piece, for me, is just putting it out there in an understandable way. Transparency is critical, and we do that at the garment level.

How does the customer get that information?

Vanessa: We'll show you.

It's amazing. You just put your phone over [a QR code printed on a tag inside the garment.]. You just need the camera. You don't need an app. It just reads the QR code, and then you can see the farm where the wool came from, where all the components were sourced from, and every single step of the journey of making the jacket. Then how it comes back to our principles, so how does this connect with animal welfare for us? How does this connect with human welfare for us?

How does this connect with the environment? Then why does it matter, some basic stats. I think that that's where we can probably make the largest impact in terms of customer expectations. The second piece is having the information on the website. It makes me crazy when people talk about sustainability, and then you go to their website and there's a paragraph. I think people really need to be able to unpack the information, and unpack it in layers so that there's a way to dig as deep as you are interested in or feel comfortable with.

Then the third part is really stories and narrative. I think that the fashion supply chain is so spread out. The impacts are often so far away that I think that's a big part of the problem. I think the way that humans communicate through time and space is through stories. When I was first talking to the initial focus groups of women, what became clear to me is anyone who really had an ingrained understanding of just one element of sustainability or ethics within fashion, they learned it by accident. It was through some long-form New Yorker narrative or it was through an experience at a farm.

We've decided to also have a totally editorially independent magazine part of the site that tells these supply chain narratives that we think are quite hidden from view. I think different people respond to information in different ways, and we kind of hope that we give somebody at least something to hold on to.

How often will you release collections?

Jane: That's another thing that we felt compelled to do a little bit differently. A regular fashion calendar would be spring, fall, winter, and then holiday. Then they do spring, summer, like three, and sometimes four. We would love to do one [collection] for the year, because we think of this woman as: what does she need for the year? She doesn't change her sensibility from fall to spring. She's not a frilly girl and then all of a sudden a masculine girl, right? We wanted to give her the whole collection for the year, and maybe just do a little bit of a drop at the end of the year as a refresher, and keep it really tight and small. That's another way of being sustainable—we don't need a huge collection. Do we really need that much clothes?

I'm sure a lot of women are going to appreciate that. It's quite radical thinking to consider—  having worked on the media and styling side for most of my career—what does a woman need from me as a designer versus what am I going to tell a woman she needs. That, alone, is opposite to the way that fashion, especially high fashion, luxury fashion, usually functions.

Vanessa: That's what I learned from my previous life. I ran a very client-centric business. You're constantly adapting your business to the needs of your client. That was totally missing, I agree, from the industry.

I mean, we will have to, of course, adapt a little bit over time. We know who we are. We want to have a relationship. We want to listen and continue to serve that real need. That's the only way that we're willing to do it, because as soon as we start to say we need growth, growth, growth, growth, growth, you go into that exact same mindset that's a total trap. The only way we want to grow is to respond to a need and to have a positive impact. 

Jane: I think that's another thing that I really appreciated about what Vanessa had to offer is that, unlike other companies that are all about X amount of growth every year. I think that holistic way of growing rather than you have to grow because you're a public company or because you want to grow for the sake of growing, I think that's another reason why I really responded to it, because I came from that. This is so authentic to her thinking and sort of what I appreciate as a designer. 

 

I also really want to continue to be a resource and a platform for change. That education piece and that activism piece, I think, is going to be really critical for us

 

You also have the resale element. Can you talk about that real quick?

Vanessa: Yeah. That's definitely coming. The way that we envision the collection is that these are pieces that should stay with you for life. We hope that the jacket stays with you for 20 years, but if it's time to move on, we want that to move onto somebody else, right? I thought it was really important to have the resale component from the get go. Obviously, because we've just launched, we're not in the process of reselling anything. We want this customer to know that there is a long term relationship, so we thought that we would articulate that off the bat. 

It's really a pledge of quality.

Vanessa: Exactly. 

The other thing, talking about the quality, I don't know if we mentioned or not, is that we actually developed all the fabrication from scratch.

Oh, you didn't mention that. Please tell me.

Vanessa: Except for one, everything's custom.

Jane: From the beginning, as I said, we thought there were going to be a lot of choices to be had. No, actually. Not even a cotton, like a shirting. I wanted a certain quality for this brand because of everything that we talked about. It just didn't exist. I was shocked. I mean, we must have looked at how many?

Vanessa: Oh, hundreds.

Jane: What I looked at were thousands of swatches from wool, to cotton, to linen, to everything. Honestly, I couldn't find one shirting that I thought was good enough to make a shirt with. We started from scratch.

What does that mean exactly?

Vanessa: Jane has her quality standard. We have our sustainability standard that covers both the sourcing of the raw materials, so organic, GOT certified, ideally traceable to the farm, as well as all the chemicals and water management parameters that also come along with working with a mill. Then we had to take the universe of mills that Jane thought were good enough from a quality standard...

To create the fabric?

Vanessa: To create the fabric. Then, do an initial vetting process on the chemicals and waterfront, because-

Jane: And the factories, and the mill itself too.

Vanessa: Labor, everything.

We had to say, okay, here's this realm of mills that Jane thinks is good enough, which is already not a big universe, and further cut that back.

This is just a story of filters.

Vanessa: It sort of is. We had to then further cut that back to those who had sound practices from a chemicals and waste water management, and then have the conversation to say, "Okay, are you willing to work with us on sourcing the raw materials and these organic yarns in the way that we need?" We landed on one. We make custom poplin with this one mill.

So you really built a supply chain from scratch?

Vanessa: We really built a supply chain from scratch. The hardest one, I would say was wool, because we insisted on using our wool that was totally traceable back from our farms that we personally selected. Ultimately, our mills took some convincing, but if you show up enough times, they'll know you're serious.

It really just goes to show, though, I think this is such a good demonstration of ... I think customers get really frustrated, understandably, of, God, why do I have to look into this? Why is it not just fine?Why is this so hard? This shows why. It is really hard.

Jane: Basically, it took two years.

As frustrating as it is, and as much as we want the industry to move swiftly, and we do, the challenges are real. The limitations are real. Maybe one could argue that if large companies were throwing their weight and their money behind it, then-

Jane: It could change.

Vanessa: Really, from my lens, it made it super clear how critical regulation is. Even though we've put this supply chain together in this really precise way that we did, once we were kind of done and I look at it through the lens of what were the determining factors of what worked and what didn't, a lot of it really came down to regulation as the core enabling infrastructure for all of this. We tried to find more manufacturing here in the [United} States, trying to find factories at that quality level who also wanted to pay living wages. Frankly, they just weren't interested. There's that infrastructure in Europe, which we still had to audit the heck out of, especially given the sub-contracting issues. There's enabling legislation that allows for payment of living wages in Europe in a way that doesn't exist even in the United States. That was a big one.

Jane: Which is kind of crazy, when you think about it, no?

Vanessa: It's incredible. I think that perspective for me was yes, the customer can change things through how they spend money. Yes, we can all be better educated. If we want change at scale, I think it's going to come through regulation and transparency. That's where the transparency piece is super critical, and then having this activism part of the site that's based on petitions and people actually bringing their voice to issues that I think will lead to more systematic change, I think is important. It's not about supply chain vanity, because I think you can kind of end up in that conversation. Look how pretty and perfect my supply chain is. The end goal is not for everyone to source from Sweden. That doesn't work. You know what I mean?

Where do you see Another Tomorrow in ten years? What is the master plan or the hope?

Vanessa: From a growth and product standpoint, I know very clearly how powerful large companies are. Insofar as we can grow in a way that scales positive impact, I'm happy to do so. If we can't, then we won't. That's just the hard stop.

I just think, if this were about money, I can tell you 100 easier ways. I do think that, if we can scale with positive impact, then I think that that's something that could add a lot of value. I also really want to continue to be a resource and a platform for change. That education piece and that activism piece, I think, is going to be really critical for us. Ideally, we want to stay exactly the same, just more meaningful. That's the goal.

 

Images: Another Tomorrow

Words: Laura Jones

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