Interview with Alfredo Orobio, founder of Away to Mars

By Lígia Carvalho Abreu (2016)

Away To Mars Runway Photos: Rui Vasco/Moda Lisboa

 

Alfredo Orobio is the founder of Away To Mars, a brand based on the participation of anyone into the creative process, regardless of their background, place of origin. At the 4th edition of the International Fashion Business Conference held in Porto, based on the theme of Fashion and Technology, I spoke to Alfredo Orobio about Away To Mars and its aim to affirm itself as a brand to create desire and represent a global community of creativity, the challenges faced by young designers and brands regarding production and the affirmation of their identity towards the consumer, as well as the need to create an innovative, inclusive fashion system which respects labour and environmental rights.

 

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law – WFMFR): How did the idea come about to create Away To Mars and to what extent is this project based on a revolutionary and democratic vision of the fashion design creative system?

Alfredo Orobio: During my postgraduate course at the University of Lisbon, I researched into how people share creative information on social networks, like fashion design, inspiration... and I began to realise that this information is scattered and mostly ends up being lost because, as you know, the fashion industry is very inaccessible, the production process is expensive, getting publicity in the media is also very expensive and being financed is very complicated. So the idea of creating Away To Mars was to gather all this scattered information, to allow people to collaborate with each other and earn money by selling the products from these collaborations and to constitute a global community of creative people, this is because Away To Mars has a commercial end. Away To Mars is not inventing something completely new within the fashion system. In any fashion house there’s a creative direction, but the ones who create the pieces are the team. What I want to create with Away To Mars is a global creative collective, that is, a fashion brand that can mix different cultures together. For example, a person from Kazakhstan can work on the same piece of clothing with a person from the United States, thus achieving a common goal. I think the fashion industry hasn’t yet been able to make the most out of the technological revolution. Regarding production, creation and marketing, all kinds of technology are used, but the industry is still focused on the same idea dated back from the 40s or 50s, which is the idea of the French Maison, the need to take a fashion design course in order to create and so on.... Dior didn’t go to Fashion college to create what he created. I see no need to attend an academy just to be able to create. My grandmother, my mother, and a 14-year-old child can work on the same product. Ideas and creativity don’t come from education. It’s impossible to teach creativity. Obviously there are technical needs to be learned, but we can’t exclude other people from joining the fashion industry because of technical training. Nowadays, with the internet, it’s very easy to acquire technical training. On YouTube, for example, I can learn how to cut a pair of trousers in three hours.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law – WFMFR): How do you define Away To Mars? As a brand? A platform?

Alfredo Orobio: It started out as a platform. However, the term platform became fashionable. There’s a platform for car sharing, food, etc. ... it ended up trivialising the idea of platform. Last year I started to think: Away To Mars had two possibilities: Either it would be a market place where people put their ideas forward, interact with each other and create a final product or it would be a fashion brand where people participate in a creative process and create a desirable brand. My team and I have chosen to be a fashion brand, because fashion is desire, people buy clothes because they want the brand, they want the universe that it conveys. I researched many online market places, such as Not Just a Label which offers designers the possibility to sell their creations. Although the idea and concept of Not Just a Label is very interesting, it isn’t able to create desire in the consumer, it’s also unable to control the quality and deliveries of the product. It only bridges a gap between the designers and the consumer. For these reasons we decided to create a brand and have invested a lot of time in marketing to promote it. If you create a brand with visibility, you create desire, people will want to participate in that universe.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law – WFMFR): What style is Away To Mars? 

Alfredo Orobio: I didn’t want Away To Mars to have a specific style. Away To Mars is a multicultural and global brand, not in the sense of it being present all over the world but because it has a global aesthetic. This is why it will never have a definite style. However, it’s based on minimalism, as far as reducing cuts, the colours, or rather trying to make the most out of the minimum.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law – WFMFR): Have you been surprised at all by the talent of the people who submit their creations to Away to Mars online? What else has surprised you?

Alfredo Orobio: Many people who submit their ideas have no experience within the industry and still are very talented. These people listen to critiques or suggestions about modifying their creations. This is surprising to me because, as a general rule, the fashion industry is egocentric, so it isn’t easy for many to hear criticism. In this last call to send in creations, we received 512 designs. Out of these 512 designs, 10 were selected because they were the most innovative. But in the future, instead of receiving 512 designs, I would like to receive 3 million because then there will be a greater possibility of receiving more quality designs.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law – WFMFR): You participated as a speaker at the International Congress of Fashion Business in Porto, whose theme was Fashion and Technology in Production. What is the future of fashion regarding production? and What difficulties do designers, especially young designers, face when it comes to production? How far does Away To Mars represent this future?

Alfredo Orobio: Production is the biggest nightmare of any designer. The conference was very interesting because there were people from the industry, factory owners and clothing companies based in Portugal. They themselves claim that there is no incentive for new creators. Producing a minimum number of pieces is very expensive and everything has to be paid in advance. Away to Mars produces in small quantities and puts the pieces that are produced on pre-sale, offering the consumer the possibility to buy online at a wholesale price, a much lower price than what they would have to pay if they bought a piece of Away to Mars in a multi-brand store. I believe that in the future multi-brand stores and traditional street stores will cease to exist if they don’t reinvent themselves as a place of experience and interaction with the consumer. People are getting used to buying everything online. It’s much more practical. In addition, by selling the pieces online I can offer the same product at half the price and then pay more to the people who produce the clothes. I don’t understand how those who make clothes are so underpaid and this I can’t solve on my own. I’m within this industry, within this cycle. However, my intention is to find ways to pay the team and production workers more without putting the prices up for the consumer.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law – WFMFR): Away To Mars is based on a crowdfunding system. Does this work well?

Alfredo Orobio: All the items of clothing created by the community go to crowdfunding. If an item is to sell nothing I won’t produce it because, unfortunately, everything has a minimum number in this industry. There is a minimum number of fabrics, a minimum number of buttons, of labels etc. I’m required to produce at least 10 pieces, but if we only sell 8 or 7, then I finance the other 2 or 3 pieces that are missing to cover the minimum of 10. My greatest happiness is when I have royalties to share with the person who had the idea for the piece. It’s extremely frustrating for a person not to sell a particular item. I believe that Away To Mars could risk more by creating pieces that represent a true innovation in fashion. However, it’s very difficult to sell these items afterwards. For example, we created a completely innovative and original shirt. It was very beautiful but the commercial appeal of this shirt was zero. We weren’t able to sell any of these shirts. In the next collections I want to have one or two iconic pieces co-created by several people. Even if we don’t sell them, it doesn’t matter. I want these pieces to contribute to the development of the industry.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law – WFMFR): Fashion and technology within production have to be considered from the perspective of sustainability and ecological responsibility. Do you feel that fashion industry is moving in that direction, or it takes much more?

Alfredo Orobio: Yes, it takes much more. The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world. Not only is this shown by dyeing fabrics and the treatment of cotton, but it’s the whole industry itself, the whole system that relies on unsustainable forms of production and waste. Biodegradable fabric is already produced, but this represents only 0.1% of what global tissue production is. The dominant fast fashion model is not sustainable. For example, H&M aims to produce 10% organic production by 2020, but their model of mass production isn’t sustainable. The problem is that producing in a more environmentally-friendly way is expensive. Until the fashion system creates enough scale to support the entire industry in a sustainable way, the price to pay is and will be high.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law – WFMFR):  What do you think of this new trend of "See now, buy now", which has already been adopted by many brands like Burberry and in Portugal by Nuno Baltazar? The publicity of items does not obey the long anticipated calendar of fashion weeks and does not take into account the traditional division of seasons, which in my opinion does not make much sense. Do you think that this solution of not allowing too much time between releasing the collection to the media and public and the time the items are put up for sale can be beneficial to young designers so as to prevent their creations from being copied by other brands?

Alfredo Orobio: As a way of avoiding copying yes, it’s an advantage. But where did the money come from to produce these clothes? What do we do with the clothes that don’t sell? It’s very interesting for Burberry to do this because this brand has money to spend but young designers don’t. To produce a small collection like Away to Mars, you need at least 10,000 Euros. If Away to Mars were to use this philosophy, the investment would have to be at least 100,000 Euros. For a young designer this is impossible. If I knew that I was going to sell all my pieces, I would ask for a bank loan and adopt that philosophy. But it’s very risky. You never know what you’re going to sell. But I also don’t know if this philosophy is only marketing. For example, Burberry can produce 30 pieces and then put them out of stock to say "See now buy now" was a success.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law – WFMFR): What is the biggest challenge for  Away to Mars?

Alfredo Orobio: The biggest challenge is to maintain and develop a global creative community and at the same time to maintain a brand that competes with those who have been on the market for a much longer time. We have to convince the press that this model works.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law – WFMFR): Where can you buy Away to Mars clothes?

Alfredo Orobio: Currently, you can only buy them online. In January 2017 people will be able to create a clothing item in real time, in an art gallery in London and Berlin. A person entering this gallery in London will be able to create a clothing item around the same time as a person entering a Berlin art gallery. It's a way of exposing the Away to Mars concept.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law – WFMFR): Can you talk a little bit about the latest (Spring/Summer 2017) collection?

Alfredo Orobio: The inspiration came from the Away to Mars online platform with nearly 1600 images being sent in by people within the last 6 months. I made a print with the images which had more correlation. This print and its colours were original in the overlapping of all the images. Some looked like dripped paint because of this overlapping.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law – WFMFR): It is a representation of the idea of a global creative community.

Alfredo Orobio: Exactly.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law – WFMFR): Thank you Alfredo for this interview. 

Alfredo Orobio: Thank you.