Life is too short, so enjoy it while you're at it'. This is one line that really stood out for me when speaking to the founder of fashion brand Erstwhile. The brand is one with an incredible story of loyalty, reality and inspiration. 3 years ago two brothers and a friend launched a brand around sports.
We sat down with Rutger one of the founders to hear more about the story behind the fashion brand.
What was the motivation to launch Erstwhile?
Brothers, friends, teammates, fans. We've always been that since we were born, so founding Erstwhile was bound to happen. Although we've always been connected, we've had different paths in life. Evert and Roelof are brothers, and Rutger is a childhood friend. All of us were raised and still live in Mechelen, the friendliest and most beautiful town in the centre of Belgium.
2009: Roelof started his own company of bicycle stores with his eldest brother Hendrik.
2011: Evert and Rutger started their television production company, focusing on sport and the true stories of life.
Things were boiling for years. We should create together. Let's offer people like us clothes that embody the true values of sports, the joy of togetherness, the amateur spirit, laughter, the urge for a beer after a ride. We wanted to create unique goods that last, goods that tell a story, goods that create a community.
June 21, 2017 - everything changed on that day.
Evert was diagnosed with stage 3+ colon cancer. Things did not look good. But as Evert started battling from day one, the two of us started building shortly after. It's one of the biggest clichés in the world, but it's true. Life is too short, so enjoy it while you're at it.
September 14, 2017 - we sat together and put our dream on paper.
Fueled by our gut-feel, our love of sports and our pure dedication to make goods that stand out, we started our journey. What followed was a year of trial and error. We talked and listened to loads of people, learned about designing and crafting clothes, travelled a lot, made lots and lots of mistakes, got inspired by the smallest things and the kindest people, sampled lots and lots of clothes and foremost we rode our bikes for miles and more.
November 5, 2018 - Erstwhile started pedalling.
We took the jump, and we did it. We started Erstwhile. Our goal was clear from day one. Creating sport-loving goods that are unique, tell a story and are unmatched in quality. We met Davey on the way, a great guy who worked in the fashion industry before but started his own carpenter company, and we started creating our first collection.
The moment we pushed that button, our cheeks were clenched together, but it was confident clenching. Shortly after the first domestic orders came through, retailers started to order, and people began to like and talk about us genuinely. Not long after France, UK, Denmark, Japan, Spain, USA, Germany, Australia, Sweden, Singapore, Hungary, the Netherlands.... well all parts of the world followed.
And the response and messages were nothing short of amazing and encouraged us to keep going. So the dream became a little bit more real.
Where did you start when you decided you were going to launch your own fashion brand?
We started digging through old sports magazines in Davey's garden, and immediately we got tons of inspiration. We started drawing things on paper and kept on drawing for days and days. Those drawings lead to final digital mockups. Next, we put all of our favourite clothes on a big pile, took the best colours, fits and knits and visited some companies here in Belgium to pitch our idea. One of them matched us up with a clothing factory in Portugal, and we ordered our first samples.
How deep is the connection between the brand and cycling?
In Belgium, we take cycling very seriously. But in the Flanders region of the country, it's closer to religion. As we like to say, Belgium is like Brazil of cycling. We had so many great cycling heroes in the past: Merckx, Van Impe, Maertens, De Vlaeminck, Van Looy and many, many others. When the classics season kick-offs, everyone is going crazy. So the connection between Erstwhile and cycling is very profound. And of course, we take our bike for a ride every 2 or 3 days. Last year, we started our own cycling team, called Erstwhile Vélo Klub.
It's clear to see the brand is ethically conscious. How important was this to you? Also, how important do you think this is becoming to the consumer?
It's crucial. We seek for partnerships with a shared culture of putting happy people and a clean environment at the centre of their business. So we visit our factories in Portugal every two months, and we are very sure their employees are treated correctly. We wouldn't want it any other way. It's clear to us that our consumers find it very important, cause we got many questions about how we produce our clothes.
How would you say Covid-19 has affected your business?
It wasn't easy, that's for sure. Portugal had some major breakouts, so the production had a lot of delays. We couldn't visit the factories like we usually do. We attach great importance to all the details, and it's way easier to discuss them face to face then by e-mail or video call. Also, the shops in Belgium were closed, and they couldn't sell anything. Luckily, we could sell online. We survived thanks to our customers, but we look forward to a world without covid, that's for sure.
Is there anything you can tell us about any new collections or designs?
Sure! For the first time, we're going to have a women's collection, and we are very excited about that. We got tons of questions from super enthusiastic women about Erstwhile, so we hope they like our first collection. We have some new cycling designs for our men's collection, and we'll launch a capsule collection with a big nostalgic vibe, called "Home before dark", named after what our mom's yelled at us when we were playing outside with our footballs, BMX or gocarts. And in May, we'll launch a unique cycling shirt.
Rutger, thank you for your time
No problem, thanks for the interview!