When sustainability rhymes with fashion — two Spanish startups leading the way

Gabriela Salord
Jul 1, 2019 · 6 min read

Last June 11th Seb Fernandez from Samaipata and I hosted the first ever FAB event in Madrid. (For those who haven’t heard of the now global Fashion and Beautytech Community initially launched in San Francisco by Odile Roujol, you should definitely check this page). It was an opportunity to gather 40+ Madrid-based founders in the fashion, beauty and consumer spaces — to share experiences, learnings and thoughts about how to build and scale a mission-driven brand in Southern Europe.

In a country that was harshly hit by an economic crisis just a few years ago, you’d think sustainability is far behind any company’s priorities. It is however thriving to see that young startups are leading the way to better, more respectful production and consumption patterns.

For our first get-together, we had the chance to have as speakers Marta Llaquet and Federico Sainz, the founders of Wado and Sepiia.

In a very open conversation, they shared with us their experiences in building two of the up and coming sustainable fashion startups in Spain. Here’s what we learned:

From Wado, classic sneakers for game changers

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Made in the E.U. with organic and recycled materials. €2M+ raised on Kickstarter/Indiegogo. 15000+ pairs of sneakers sold the first year in 67 countries. 2 trees planted for every pair of shoes bought: 37600 trees planted so far, and counting.

“When we started Wado we only had one goal in mind: to make timeless sneakers and use them as a vehicle for change; a change in our people and our planet.” — Marta Llaquet

  • Addressing an untapped market. The sneaker category ($64 billion in 2017) is growing (+5% yearly) but how many brands are actually sustainable? We can name a few, Veja, Everlane, Patagonia… who’ve been able to build loyal communities around strong social values. But with an increasing demand for better products, made with better materials in better working conditions, it was obvious for Wado that there was room for another shoe.
  • Solo founder vs co-founders. Marta Llaquet started Wado as a solo founder. She soon realised that finding the right people is key to the development of a project. Her co-founders Damian Augustyniak and Lizzie Sabin Guerin joined her a few months later. Marta acts as the CEO and leads the overall strategy, she’s also the company’s spokesperson. Augustyniak is focused on product development and operations while Lizzie drives the marketing strategy. Together, they now manage a team of 20+ people in Barcelona.
  • What makes a sneaker sustainable? First, the materials. Wado’s sneakers are made of bio-leather that is chromium-free. After visiting dozens of factories in Europe, it’s in Portugal that Marta found the right partner for her brand. Not only has the owner banned the use of toxic materials, he’s established the highest ethical standards for his workers. Moreover, — for every pair of sneakers sold — Wado has committed to planting two trees in places such as India and Zambia, empowering the local communities to learn how to live from and protect the forest.
  • Crowdfunding vs VC money. The team had about enough to self-fund the production of a prototype. They didn’t want to involve any external financial parties right from the beginning so they decided to launch a Kickstarter page with pictures of the prototype. They used the platform to run pre-sales with a 30% discount. This method allowed them to anticipate the production volume without having to pay anything upfront. The results were overwhelming. They were aiming to collect €11,000. In merely 4 weeks they sold €360,000 worth of shoes — 3000 times the objective. For those interested in this launch approach, Marta recommends to hire an agency to run paid promotions to a targeted audience on social media throughout the crowdfunding campaign (5 weeks with Kickstarter/ unlimited time with Indiegogo). Some agencies are willing to cover the marketing costs and reimburse themselves once the campaign is finished, adding a 2–3% commission. In total, Wado has raised more than €2 million and sold over 15,000 pairs of sneakers across 67 countries. Wado’s main markets are Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and the UK, leaving room for growth in its home market, Spain.
  • From crowdfunding champions to building a DNVB. Marta and her team truly master the art of crowdfunding. It’s a strategy they want to continue using for new launches. However, as they grow, they will be facing the same challenges as any other DNVB (not in this specific order): anticipating demand, managing stocks, building and engaging a community through content/events/surprises/you-name-it, keeping marketing costs reasonable while acquiring new customers, innovating with product/packaging, etc. We surely wish the Spanish trio to continue succeeding in this exciting adventure!

From Sepiia, when tech meets fashion & sustainability

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Made sustainably in Spain. Launched in 2016, €500,000 sold last year. Alumni of Lanzadera’s acceleration program (created by Juan Roig).

“Two years ago, I had a dream to create a functional piece of clothing that was more respectful to the planet.” — Fede Sainz

  • Technology, at the intersection of functionality and sustainability. The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. For years, Federico Sainz — industrial and textile engineer, had wanted to bring his contribution. In 2016, he develops a first collection of smart shirts for men. Thanks to an innovative technology based on micro-threads (every thread is made of 47 micro-threads), 3D tissues, and silver nanoparticles that have antibacterial properties, the shirts never smell bad, get stained nor wrinkled. The patterns are simple yet modern, for the everyday life. The shirts (now also available for women) are made in Spain with materials and processes that have the lowest impact on the production cycle.
  • Starting a business with no business background. Federico came up with the idea of Sepiia while working for AITEX, the Textile Research Institute. Before starting his company, he tried selling the technology he had developed to different fashion companies but they always found it complicated, expensive and long-sighted. They would mainly focus on design and were not always open to the idea that fashion could also be functional AND sustainable. So he decided to launch his own startup. He joined Lanzadera’s incubation program in Valencia, Spain. With their support and a €100,000 grant, Federico got his idea off the ground: he created a DNVB in the fashion-tech space, the first of its kind in Spain. Him and his team of now 8 people have since then been focusing on developing new product categories (ties!) and engaging a growing community of people who describe themselves as practical yet environmentally conscious. Last year along Sepiia sold €500,000 in Spain. The future seems promising.
  • What will the future of fashion look like? While it was fascinating to hear Federico talk about all the options that the wearable tech space can offer (connected textiles that change color throughout the day, can place calls, improve posture or enhance physical performance…), we can wonder if this specific category (expected to reach €57M by 2022) represents the future of the overall fashion industry and if it will indeed contribute to make it more sustainable. One can only hope so.

We’d like to thank Marta, Federico and all the wonderful participants who joined us! Stay tuned for our next event in September.

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