16 April, 2022 | by The Retail Bulletin
An exclusive Q&A with founders Chris Rice and Ben Hatfield.
This week, TRB talk to ethical babywear brand Marlo & Cole, born out of the love of music and a desire to create a brand that challenged the impact of fast fashion on communities and the environment.
Can you tell us a bit about yourselves?
Chris: Ben and I went to school together and have been lifelong friends really. We took theatre studies together, went on tour, played in bands, and we’ve worked in cahoots for many years in different creative spheres. Prior to the pandemic, I worked in London for an entertainment marketing agency in the film industry.
Ben: Yeah, I’d worked for CBeebies and the BBC. I then worked as an editor for films and TV in the aviation industry – and then the pandemic hit! So, with no planes in the sky, the business was hard hit and both Chris and I found ourselves looking for new opportunities.
Where did the idea of Marlo & Cole come from?
Ben: We were keen to keep our creative energy going and we started spit balling ideas of things we liked and then it just happened really. I was 2.5 years into fatherhood and one of the ideas that really stuck out was that you couldn’t buy good quality, cool, music related clothing for kids. We’re both vinyl loving, music-listening, gig going mid 30’s guys. We came up with the idea to create a design that was based on a lyric and that’s where it all started.
Chris: What the pandemic gave us was not just a huge creative outlet but the opportunity to work with some very exciting designers and freelancers that were in our community that had been made redundant or were starting up on their own. We were able to collaborate with some exciting people in our network and that was the genesis of it all.
Marlo & Coe have just turned 1, happy birthday! Where is the business at now?
Chris: Marlo & Cole are producing beautiful products created in line with a strict eco-conscious, gender-neutral ethos – each designed and manufactured in the UK to support illustrators and manufacturers.
Ben: We were originally looking at lyrics and bands that meant something to us. We are the typical customer that we would be targeting. We went through our catalogue of tracks that we liked and that inspired a visual element from the lyrics. One piece was inspired by Heroes by David Bowie. If you were a fan, you would spot the reference in the design. It’s a bit of an easter egg concept.
Chris: We started with a collection of five designs, and we’ve now produced our second collection. We have several exciting things coming up, and we occasionally release single, non-collection designs when we partner with bands which are more exclusive and unique.
Ben: We’re producing limited runs of each design to ensure no products go to waste and end up in landfill – a common result of overproduction from fast fashion brands. Our customers are getting something exclusive. This is good for our customers but us too – we don’t have stockrooms full of wastage, we’re not throwing things away – this was a very conscious choice.
What are your eco credentials?
Chris: The cotton that we use in our products are Oeko-Tex® certified, meaning that our cotton is rigorously tested to ensure no harmful substances are present, and it has been produced in environmentally friendly and safe facilities with sustainable methods, and socially responsible conditions. This was important to us from the start. The designs are produced in the UK and printed using phthalate-free child friendly ink. Our products are all delivered in full recyclable packaging with compostable tape and stickers too – no plastics.
What have you learnt so far?
Chris: Our website is our primary sales platform and performing well but, it’s been a learning curve. When we started out, we were very focussed on creating a brand with a strong quality product that our customers could hook onto, really understand and love. What’s been interesting is that by creating an ecommerce store, you suddenly become a shop keeper rather than a brand owner and I think that presents lots of different challenges – and even a distraction – neither Ben nor I wanted to be shop keepers.
Ben: This really informed our strategic longer-term plans. We’re now doing more partnerships which means our products are stocked where customers will automatically be going already.
For example, we work with a record store who already have a shop with an established customer base. It’s great because customers can go in and touch and feel the product. Also, these customers are already primed to buy so it just makes sense. Our aim is to go where customers are already going and looking to make a purchase. We’re also looking at wholesale.
So, what’s next?
Chris: More partnerships for sure. Our aim from the get-go has always been to give back to the artists where we could and get their seal of approval. For example, we’ve seen success in the US through selling our products through indie band The National’s own website. The first collection sold out within minutes.
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