PlatformE Podcast E02 - Salsa: creating personalised jeans with a personal touch #podcast

PlatformE Podcast E02 - Salsa: creating personalised jeans with a personal touch #podcast

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Welcome to the second episode  of the PlatformE Podcast. In this episode, we'll talk to Hugo Martins, CEO of Salsa about how the brand is creating personalized jeans with a personal touch, combining tradition and cutting-edge textile technology. Salsa was founded in 1994 in a  small town in Northern Portugal,   right in the heart of the local textile industry.

And it has a mission to produce the best personalized fitting jeans in the world. So welcome to episode two  of the PlatformE podcast. I'm with Hugo Martins, CEO of Salsa. Thank you for hosting us, letting us spend some time in this beautiful showroom,   an impressive facility. We've had a tour by one of your colleagues and a lot going on, a lot of people moving around.

And again, thanks. So, before I start getting down to the  nitty gritty and asking you a lot of   questions and finding out more about  the facility and the brand itself.   Could you, obviously I know a lot of people, 99% of our viewers will obviously know who you are,   who the brand are, but could you give us an introduction to yourself in the brand? Yeah. On a quick note, and thank  you for inviting us as well. but a few years ago and what was a very different digital world at the time, in a large telecom media operator, did a lot of strategy and Ops there. I did my MBA in INSEAD, tried some strategic consulting, some private equity in the end, just to come up to Sonae.

So I joined Sonae in 2011. Sonae is the largest portuguese  employers, 7 billion Euro   in revenue company, that  operates mostly around retail. And I joined the company at that time to   actually help restructure and grow the  non-food retail side of the business. Did a lot of strategy there, business development, M&A, and it is within that M&A that I happen to   get to know Salsa and that my  relationship with Salsa begins.

Actually acquired Salsa in 2016 in an endeavour to increase its fashion brands portfolio. I then joined Salsa back in 2019  at a full-time to spearhead its   digital transformation, acted  as its chief digital officer. And since the beginning of the year,  with the departure of our previous   CEO, I've been leading the company and its ambitious transformation and growth plan. Nice. So in terms of strategy that you guys are obviously trying to implement, to become   obviously bigger than you are,  you're obviously a large brand. But in terms of trying to fulfil, what is the mission to be a number one denim supplier or   just fashion brand in general, what's  the strategy going forward for you   and the brand itself? I would say  that nowadays it's increasingly clear.

We say we are approach with a brand that was born and Portugal is proud of it. Denim wear brand that crafts the  best fitting jeans in the world. And how did we get to that statement? It also goes back to when back in  2019, 2020. We were thinking of it,   on how to take what these pants had  best and make it more distinctive. And our roots have always been to create really good, high quality, best fitting of denim.

So we've been around for 30 years now. We operate in the north of Portugal. So our approach to create denim is very unique, in the sense that we are obsessed   with the way we create each fit,  each model, almost each size. So we do all of our product  development internally.

So whenever we come up with an idea for a new model or new fit, we are capable of doing   50 prototypes until we get the correct,  what we really want to take to the client. And then we'll take it to a whole  development process where we   think about the finishes, the  washing, the sewing and all that. The most important thing and we try to summarize   that goal in a simple expression,  what we call the fit and feel. So it's really important that when a client,   and especially because we are a men and women  jeanswear brand, but we are predominantly a   feminine brand, it is important that the fit is good, that the jeans fit the client well. But most of our competitors, they try to do that.

Most importantly for us is that they feel good. So when you put our fits, when you use our fits, and our fits are very distinctive   from the competition, especially because they work in the women jeans wear space. It is important that women feel in a  good way and feel in a different way   with each pair of jeans that we create for them. So in terms of obviously creating these products  for the client and for the clients to enjoy them,   as we know a lot of feedback, a  lot of people within PlatformE,   a lot of staff members within PlatformE, purchase  your goods, wear your goods on a regular basis. In terms of producing these, is it a longer  drawn out process? Are you implementing certain   technologies to achieve certain things within  materials or within the court, within the field   of the materials? What pain points and how do  we get around these pain points to giving the   client what they want? So I think the thing for  us is always to get the right balance between   the traditional way of doing things  and the best technology out there.

So if you think about the life of a pair  of jeans during the production process,   it starts in the most traditional way. So it starts with a hand drawing. So it's a paper drawing that we do back there  with our team that has been working on that,   some of them since the beginning of the company. Then you need to execute that pair.

So the first samples, they will be made in house. So we need to make sure that it fits  and it feels good. To do the production, We have a small network of partners  that have been with us for decades now,   who run that, and then you go to what  I would say it's a bit special sauce   in terms of the denimwear industry, which is the process where you go through the laundry. Okay? There It's really where technology and tradition mix in  the best possible way, because in the one hand,   we are using the most advanced laser  technology, also in washing the sorts. But in the end, most of these jeans, they  will go to our finishing line, where our   technicians will finish each  pair of jeans by hand manually.

So each pair is really unique. So I would say that even for the  future, as growing up, the key   challenge is how do you sustain that balance  between tradition and technology's usage?   Is there, let's say, a real solid foundation, a  solid idea or strategy to stay within Portugal,   to keep producing in Portugal,  to stick with these partners. And obviously, look, working with PlatformE,  being a Portuguese company, obviously   the partnership that we do within  personalization are you looking to   grow other partnerships in Portugal? You're  always looking to stay local. For sure, So if that was an idea   a couple of years ago, I think that now it  must be a certainty. If you put together   both the upsides of doing this within a region  where the knowledge and the accumulated expertise. We're talking about centuries of accumulated  expertise around textile production and finishing   and craftsmanship, and also the proximity  to other complementary sources of industry.

With the shocks that doing and  favouring long distance chains and   spread adult production models have shown in  the past couple of years, the certainty that   we need to grow, our capacity to build and  to produce in Portugal needs to be built up. In that sense, we have in the  works to launch still this year,   a full program to increase  our industrial capacity. So we will fully revise our laundry facilities. And the thing is, we are trying to take the  way we work with these partnerships, like with   PlatformE and with other local producers,  which we've been working for decades now,   to take it to the next level, to actually try  to be as integrated with them as possible.

I would say not in an exclusive way,  because we favour this proximity,   but also the sharing of  knowledge with other brands. We don't need to fully incorporate  these partners with our brand. It's the same way we work with  our launch, with our industry. We also work for other brands because  fashion has always to gain from this. So if we all move in the same direction,  we all be better and better in the end. Touching on the raw materials.

Are you guys sourcing in a different way now  compared to obviously, when you first started out?   Is there a heavy sort of aim or lean  towards sustainability in terms of   the raw materials themselves that you use,  how are you sourcing these materials? Are   you looking at recycled materials? I would  say, I'll split the answer into two parts. When talking about what we  call non-denim and denim,   which have two different challenges.  I would say the key words there, It's not so much sustainability. I would say responsibility and  circularity, which are the two   thoughts or two demands that we  are most focused on right now. So in terms of the responsibility,   our goal is to really increase the usage  of low impact certified natural fibers. But the really important thing and this is  something where we have made significant   progresses in the last year, which we have not  fully communicated, but we will in due time,   is really to understand the  potential of each piece that   you make in the sense that you have to  actually design it in a certain way.

If you want to maximize the time that it  will last, but also the alternative usage,   you can give it to it, after a certain usage time  as its main attributes, as a piece of clothing. So to embed that thinking into the way we  create those pieces, into our operations,   into the services that we offer to our clients,  it's something that we are really pushing forward. In terms of denim, I would say that  the challenge is that and a bit more,   so at least the way we see it, we look  at denim as a very special fabric.

I think it's common to many denim brands. You really become in love with that fabric  and that fabric can be so much more. So we've been trying to   increase the benefits that a pair of jeans through  the denim that we use can deliver the client. So in that sense, we may have water  repellent denim or extra resistant denim,   or denim that makes you warm  or denim that makes you cool. In that sense, if you increase the benefit  that you give the client, and you increase   the number of the opportunities.  The times he's going to wear it,  

if you lose the time that he needs to wash  it, you are allowing the customer to also   be very much more responsible to reduce his  own footprint, but in a very positive way. So not constraining him at all,  actually adding benefits to the piece. What do you think the very broad question, what  do you think the clients looking for? Mostly now,   let's say your average salsa brand  advocate is saying, what's the noise   from the general consumer base? Would  you say that at the moment? Is it more   about sustainability? Is it more around  what you guys are doing with the fit,   making sure that each is perfect? I think  there are a number of layers that have   been there for a while now and maybe with a  recent twist that we are trying to cater to. So the concern about the way brands  are increasingly more responsible,   both in the way that they treat their people, the  transparency of their supply chains, the way they   draw their products, the footprint regarding  plastics and waste and carbon and all that. That has been there and that   has been shared, and it's shared by  denim brands and all fashion brands.

I think that something that is more  recent and that is very close to us. And we like the revolution a lot   is that people begin to see their  clothing increasingly as an investment. So they start to understand that the best way  to actually reduce the impact that they have   with their apparel consumption is actually to buy  better, slightly less, longer lasting clothing. So as long as we, in terms of the way we  make our products, the materials we use,   the added benefits that we give them, the  ability to personalize them in a way to increase   their emotional relation with those items  and the benefit that they get from them. We will be making, if you want,  giving them a better deal,   between blades, not in a promotional way,  but in the sense that we are giving them,   in fact, a piece that they can love  and wear for a few many more years.

I would say that that's probably  what is changing the most right now. Would you say that this is sort of a  financial impact or a financial cost,   for the business, an acceptable one, to  make their goods, to do the research,   to find a better way of operating  to provide these goods? If you think   long term, very long term, I don't  think you have that many other options. You can focus short term if you want,  and maybe next year will be okay. But it's the way the industry is going  and the raw material is going anyway.  

Because you feel now, I think that  directionally, the industry is changing. Not everybody is going to make it. I think that if at your core,  you really believe in it   and the type of product you make are fit for it. If not, it's not going to work. You have a fair chance of being there. It's all about really committing to it.

It's about the way that your guys or our guys,  when they work and they create a new pair of jeans   or a new piece they have that intrinsically,  they are thinking about it when they make it. If we all think like that, it will be okay. Okay. Superb. The two final questions.

I don't want to take up too  much of your time today. We have a couple of questions,  normally at the end of the conversation   where firstly, the first question is, if there’s  someone else, obviously away from Salsa, maybe   someone that you collaborate with, maybe it's a  designer, maybe it's another brand doing something   really impressive that you've seen recently  and you think, wow, I like what they're doing. Is there something of note that you've  noticed? I would say we tracked a lot.

I think the sector has become fantastically open  to collaboration in the last three/four years. It was not very common   in the past and that has created amazing  partnerships and amazing new products. Where I see probably and I am most  impressed by the constant creativity. I would say it happens at two extremes.

I would say the luxury houses. I think the way that the luxury houses have   transformed and rebuild themselves  in the last ten years, it's amazing. So the way that they've lowered their guards  and they open themselves to experimentation at   all levels is really fascinating and  motivating for us to try new things,   and then on the other end in the  new brands that come up every day.

So in the way that a lot of creators and sometimes  people not even with the technical training from   the fashion industry, but they have a very  clear creative idea and they create concepts   that are really interesting brands that you see  as they grow and the potential that they have. So I would say that those two extremes,  we are more fascinated by them. I would say in terms of responsibility,  it's slightly different.

So I think that everybody is  making a clear effort for that. I would say that then we are mostly impressed by  either brands that have been here for a while,   but they have that responsible thinking  at their core, as their purpose. I would say the usual suspect would be  something like Patagonia or something like that. But then also again from the new brands. So a lot of new brands that are creative   and they really do not think it  is possible to act any other way.

We are really inspired by what  these smaller guys are doing. There are a lot, probably too many to list.  The second and final question, there is I wouldn't say a huge percentage,  but a small percentage of our   viewer base or following of PlatformE are  students, obviously guys in education doing   courses, looking to gains fashion, whether  it be design or other areas of the business. Again, another very broad question. But what sort of advice would you give  to aspiring, let's say CEOs of brands or   let's say something that you've noticed  throughout your route to where you are now? Then   maybe what you would have done differently. Just  to be perfectly clear, I never expected to finish  

holding this role in the fashion industry. So as I said, I started in telco and  media, which seemed like a very fitting   starting point for me, very structured. It was going to work. In a way,

I think that fashion is one of the  most passion oriented industries. You either love it or it's  completely indifferent for you. If you love it, regardless of your background,  of your training, you will make your way.

So if you commit, if you find a  company, a brand that you love   and a team that works well with you, that  supports you, you will make your way. I think that's something  that's very beautiful about   the industry and if I think about the people  that are working at our open space just behind   that door, and we have people from all  sorts, from all countries, from all   academical backgrounds that have been working  in all sorts of different companies before.   What they do share is really a passion for  the industry and then a passion for Salsa. So it is an industry, where you really  need to love the brand you work for. If you are capable of that, I  think that anything is possible. Nice.

Well again Hugo. Thanks for your time. Thanks for the beautiful  surroundings and the invite to Salsa. It's been nothing, but a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you.

Thank you. Thank you.

2022-05-21 20:20

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