A few months ago, Avantūr was nothing more than an idea. Two friends with a passion for design and a desire to create. Today, Avantūr is a brand; it is a product; it is a growing collection. Avantūr is an extension of who we are and how we want to live our lives. Dissatisfied with only a 9 to 5, we wanted to be creators in every sense of the word. We wanted to create beautiful, wearable designs, and we wanted to create a business.
“Dissatisfied with only a 9 to 5, we wanted to be creators in every sense of the word.” @Avantur_Co via @MakersRowClick To Tweet
As my business partner, Wei, explains, his inspiration for the brand was fueled by his desire for the unexpected in life: “There was a time when I was so complacent and bored with life. I had to challenge myself to change my mindset and recalibrate. I remember thinking, ‘What have I done with my life? What experiences and accomplishments am I most proud of?’”
Avantūr was born of the desire to “be bold or go home” and to take risks. It symbolizes thinking big picture, trying new things, being adventurous but not reckless: “It’s about designing your own world and being a creator rather than living in someone else’s and being a ‘maintainer.’” Avantūr is a symbol of adventure and a willingness to change.
Our customer shares these values. She is tastefully bold, thoughtful and unafraid of change. She values fashion as a mode of self-expression and experimentation, and searches for unexpected adventures each and every day.
Our collections embody this way of life. They are minimalist and modern, founded on shape and structure, and elevated by a neutral palette and clean lines. Focused on outerwear as the best expression of the brand’s vision, we launched our first season for Fall/Winter 2014 with a Classic Cocoon Coat.
An adventure, one step at a time
No one ever told us that entrepreneurship would be easy, and it hasn’t been. Launching Avantūr has included many long nights, and even longer weekends. But seeing our idea transform from sketch to a physical sample has been a remarkable experience. The hours and bumps along the way have been worth it. We both have careers that demand our full attention during office hours, so starting Avantūr has really tested our ability to multitask and devote 100% to our day jobs while balancing our entrepreneurial endeavors.
We have made mistakes, but we know that this is how we will grow not only in our designs but in our ability to run a business. Creating something new is all about trial and error, recognizing your mistakes, adjusting your plans as you gather new information, and humbly learning along the way. As Wei explains, a mistake isn’t really a mistake unless you let it sit: “I’m a firm believer that you can will your way to change.” Similarly, for me, how you react to challenges and approach your journey is all about perspective and living in the moment: “You can only make mistakes if you think you know what the right decision is. There is never a ‘right,’ only shades of gray.” Don’t dwell on the past and what went wrong, but deal with the now and make it better. Make the best decision with the information you have at that moment, and move forward.
Adventure and Innovation: #LiveAvantur
Through our designs, we encourage our customers to #LiveAvantur. More than a hasthtag and more than a phrase, #LiveAvantur is a way of living a more fulfilling life. All too often we get drawn into the mundane and lose sight of the adventure. The essence of #LiveAvantur is to do things differently in order to lead you to new and unexpected experiences. Big or small, these experiences are personal. They could be as drastic as moving to a new city or as simple as as saying ‘hello’ to that stranger next to you. #LiveAvantur means doing something you typically wouldn’t do.
Creating a Product
We decided to start with outerwear because we found it to be a less crowded space within the market to experiment and from there we chose the cocoon as our first inspirational architectural shape to pursue. The cocoon is a popular shape today, but years ago when we first started wearing it, it was a bold shape only for the bravest of women. It is forgiving on all body shapes but not all heights, and it’s more for the woman who loves experimenting rather than the woman who follows the crowd. Drawing on our history and our love of this shape and what it represented, we began sketching and drawing ideas from our favorite brands and stylish friends.
Once we settled on an initial design, we looked at similar styles across many, many brands and many, many price points. We knew we wanted to produce something more interesting and of higher quality than the average, mass market retailer, but we also wanted our product to be accessible. We decided to place ourselves squarely in the contemporary luxury space, creating a cocoon coat that was sophisticated and timeless but not so fashion-forward that it would be intimidating. We took the same approach with materials, investing in top-of-the-line wool imported from Japan; a weighty, luxe lining; and a Swiss-made zipper usually found on the most expensive garments. Our Classic Cocoon Coat is top of the line but still an accessible investment piece.
We kept this first piece simple, choosing only two colorways: black and heather gray. We like these colors for investment pieces because of their simplicity and versatility. We then added special details to distinguish the coats as uniquely Avantūr–a matte, navy lining and navy fabric for the cloth around the zipper, while the zipper itself is gunmetal gray–leveraging the colors of the brand.
Here you can see a prototype of the coat in muslin, which is the first step in the production process. Muslin is a cotton fabric that helps us test our pattern to ensure it’s the best translation of our original design. Once we felt good about the shape of the muslin, we made our first sample and put it into fabrication.
Touching and holding that first sample was thrilling but also overwhelming. As new designers, we knew it was critical that every detail was 100% right, but with minimal garment production experience ourselves, we weren’t totally sure how to do it. In the end, we just went back to basics. We pored over every detail of the sample–sleeve length, top-stitching, the way the sleeve was sewn, the lay of the lining–and tried it on not only on ourselves but on our friends and a fit model. We were lucky we didn’t have to make too many adjustments thanks to all the time we spent up front creating a detailed sketch. We made a few small tweaks around sleeve and coat length and then sent the garment into full production.
We couldn’t have moved from sketch to sample without Maker’s Row. As fashion industry outsiders, we had no contacts and didn’t know any manufacturers. A Google search led us to Maker’s Row, and a few meetings and emails with the team led to successful searches and trips to 10+ NYC-based factories.
Armed with a concept and a long list of questions, we visited several manufacturers. Some did everything–making patterns, suggesting fabric houses, creating samples, and managing full production–while others only did a portion of these activities. Given our newness to the industry and commitment to our day jobs, we narrowed the list down to only those who would do it all. The final decision criteria was of course quality, and our last factory visit was undoubtedly our best. The samples hanging in the studio were not only modern and well-designed but the construction was top notch.
Several weeks later, inventory stashed in our apartments, we launched our first item collection via e-mail to family, friends and other subscribers.