How Mon Coeur Created “Conscious Clothing” Brand For “Earth-Loving Kids”

Louise Vongerichten Ulukaya is the founder of Mon Coeur, an environmentally responsible retail and D2C kids’ apparel and fashion brand based out of New York.

Perhaps most exciting about the advent of Mon Coeur is that it empowers kids to start making a material difference in a world on fire. To positively affect the future they’ll inherit.

The traditional fashion industry is infamously terrible for the environment. Kids’ clothes in particular, given that they don’t wear them for long. That’s one reason Mon Coeur offers a discount to customers who send their used items to them for recycling.

And it’s one reason FastCompany ranked Ulukaya among Kamala Harris and Kate Hudson as one of the five most creative women working today.

Mon Coeur, which has been around two years, was in development for even longer. It was inspired by the birth of the first of Ulukaya’s children – her son Miran – in 2018. The new mother searched for baby clothes that would help ensure Miran could grow up in a world rife with thriving fauna and flora—and found the market lacking.

But Ulukaya came from a food background. She founded Food Dreams, a Jean-Georges Foundation, in 2016 (her father is renowned French Chef Jean-George Vongerichten). Her husband is Hamdi Ulukaya, the Kurdish American billionaire, philanthropist, and activist who is the founder, chairperson, and “anti-CEO” of Chobani, the top-selling Greek yogurt brand in the US.

In her early career, Louise Vongerichten Ulukaya managed kitchens and restaurants (one of her two MBAs is in Hospitality). In other words, she was neither a fashion maven nor a manufacturing expert.

But she did know a thing or two about sustainability—it was, at least, where her heart – “Mon coeur – was. “I really wanted my kids, and all kids, as much as possible, to wear a brand that carries that purpose and that vision,” Ulukaya says.

Purpose as the lifeblood of innovation

Ulukaya worked for nearly three years to find the right partners and processes to bring her mission to life. The goal was to make sustainable kids’ clothes that are as accessible as possible, i.e., not overpriced, to as many consumers as the company could reach.

Keeping costs down – starting with manufacturing so as not to pass those excessive costs on to consumers – was a challenge. Shoppers have to recognize that “when you buy an organic blueberry, there’s always a premium associated with it,” she says. But in the case of Mon Couer’s eco-friendly clothes, the premium seems negligible. For example, on sale, onesies in its collection start around $23, kids’ joggers $27, and hoodies $45. That’s on average about 25 percent cheaper than say, designer brands like Ralph Lauren.

Finding the balance among sustainability, quality, and cost “hasn’t been easy,” Ulukaya admits, especially throughout the pandemic, during which time materials costs skyrocketed and supply chains froze. “But we found the right rhythm of doing things sustainably with the right partners,” she says.

All those partners are in Western Europe. Mon Coeur’s entire supply chain is in Portugal, Spain, Italy, and France, a global nexus of innovative material science and regenerative tech.

What’s more, all Mon Coeur’s garments are spun from organic cotton fiber reclaimed from the floors of adult fashion ateliers, workshops, studios, and factories, complemented by ocean-friendly and otherwise environmentally responsible buttons, zippers, labels, tags, and so on.

More specifically, all the company’s “soft and cozy” fabrics are made of 100 percent recycled content (post-industrial recycled cotton [R-CO]). Post-industrial content is created from the scraps generated from some initial manufacturing process.

So, what might have once been considered pure “waste” for disposal is granted a new life, thus conserving resources. Material gaining such a “second life,” along with being completely traceable, was a prime directive of Ulukaya. Hers is a great example of a Lead With We company aiming beyond sustainability into regenerative and circular territory.

As further evidence of that transcendence, all Mon Coeur’s woven labels and decorative and functional embroideries are made of 100 percent recycled polyester (from upcycled plastic bottles [rPET]) and recycled Roica elastane (R-EA).

Though “virgin” PET plastic initially requires extraction of petroleum reserves, rPET is made from post-consumer PET, so it doesn’t require any natural resource depletion. Because it’s 100 percent recyclable, it can be reintroduced into “the loop” over and over—a truly circular “revolution” in industry.

Mon Coeur’s “Natulon” zippers are also made of 91 percent recycled content, not only from upcycled plastic bottles, but also from post-consumer recycled yarns. Its buttons are produced from up to 93 percent content from recycled paper and recycled thermosetting fillers. (Thermoset plastics are melt-resistant. Recycled by mechanically grinding, sifting, and sorting post-industrial waste, they’re versatile, durable, and, again, reusable again and again.)

All of those efforts get the company closer to carbon neutrality, landfill avoidance, and water conservation.

Heartfelt stories

But all that technology and the heady purpose behind it can get “boring” and even potentially “harsh” and frightening for the parents who are customers, Ulukaya argues. So, she says, the company’s external communications educate through mostly simple, “optimistic, playful, and fun” brand narrative with a sweet and childlike visual style full of crayon doodles. Phrases such as “Earth-loving” clarify the environmental purpose without overcomplicating nor overselling.

“Basically, I think the clothing speaks for itself” in the brand’s story, says Ulukaya. “Because it’s very cute. It’s very accessible. It’s comfortable. It’s very essential” – not for special occasions – “So it’s really for kids to play, live, and love, love in every day.”

Why not lead with a sustainability story? Says Ulukaya, “For now, I think that the majority of consumers are not ready to buy only because something’s sustainable. Especially when it comes to kids. As a mom, I want the clothes that I buy to be comfortable and … cute. And then if they’re sustainable, that’s like the icing on the cake.

“So, I put myself into the parents’ perspective. I want to make sure that we position ourselves as a super stylish, cute, and comfortable brand first.” Then, because the line is so “Earth-loving,” “that just makes it even more beautiful.”

On the other hand, Ulukaya’s seeing the same shift in the marketplace dynamics as we’re all seeing, perhaps especially retailers. Since the launch, she says, “our sales increased tremendously, because people want to make that [sustainable] purchasing decision, they want to make that shift.”

In the past year, in particular, more and more shops are reaching out to Mon Coeur because they want to carry an environmentally responsible brand. And that’s because more parents are demanding it.

“Parents are tired of fast fashion,” Ulukaya says. “They prefer to buy less, but buy better, maybe invest into a t-shirt that’s going to cost maybe five dollars more than a regular t-shirt, but that’s going to last longer. That’s going to be made from good material. That’s going to be made in a country where there’s no child labor.”

On that last point, Mon Coeur believes that “being part of a sustainable movement is not only about the material,” says Ulukaya. The company’s committed to fair, just, and safe working conditions, fair wages, and to philanthropy, for example through its 1% For the Planet partnership.

Wearing their heart on their sleeve

“In French, you call your loved one and especially your kids – your blood – you call ‘Mon Coeur,’ my heart,” says Ulukaya. The brand name “really had that double meaning”—named both for little Miran and because the company would become its founder’s heart and soul.

“I didn’t create Mon Coeur just as a hobby or because I didn’t know what to do with myself. Mon Coeur is a brand that’s going to stay, and evolve. I really wanted to create a lifestyle brand, as a leader … in sustainable children’s wear.”

The company lives up to its motto, “Kids’ clothing that lasts, so the planet does, too.”

If you’d like to dive deeper with more purpose-led companies like Mon Coeur, check out the Lead with We podcast here, so that you too can build a company that transforms consumer behavior and our future.