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The importance of creating your own brand

Montreal’s M0851 leather goods stores uses its own cultivated identity to sell its ‘slow fashions’

Frédéric Mamarbachi, founder and creator of the brand M0851, is as excited as a kid in an ice cream store when he looks at three-dimensional renderings for his next leather-goods store on a computer screen. With a glass façade, black walls and floors covered with carpets with a traditional Asian design, the location of this store will be Beijing.

“If it works, we will open four to five stores per year there,” says Mamarbachi, who personally designs all the shops and the furniture they need. Founded 25 years ago, M0851 works outside the mainstream. Although he first distributed his products through shoe chains Aldo, Pegabo and Browns he now sells his goods in his own stores.

While some retailers work in so-called “fast fashion,” offering the latest fashion trends, M0851 could rightly claim to be in slow fashion. Much like the slow-food movement, slow fashion favours quality, durable products that transcend trendiness. According to Monique Abitbol, director of international markets for M0851, Mamarbachi  has embraced a discreet branding, which depends on word-of-mouth and close relationships with customers. “Our brand is timeless,” she says.

Mamarbachi says, “We live parallel to the fashion industry. We encourage timeless styles that our customers can take a long time and they can identify with.” As proof he wears a three-quarter-length leather coat that the chain has been selling for a quarter-century.

Headquarters is in Montreal’s Mile End quarter, where 50 employees including designers are at work and leather cutters still work by hand on pattern tables. “There are maybe five people in Montreal who know how to cut leather and we have three of them here,” says Mamarbachi. Some of the employees have worked with him since the beginning.

It all began in 1987 when Mamarbachi founded Rugby North America to make bags and leather coats for men. Ten years later, he changed the name to his initials (MO), followed by his date of birth, 0851 (August 1951). The company later diversified into handbags for women, leather clothing and accessories.

Since then M0851 has undertaken an international expansion, which has accelerated over the past five years. “We opened a shop in New York City before we had one in Montreal,” says Abitol. Now the company has shops in Paris, Tokyo, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Hong Kong, and others for a total of 20 stores worldwide. Six new stores will open by early 2013.

To locate the best places to open a store, company employees will walk the streets, sit in cafes and settle in hotel lobbies to watch the passers-by, their clothes, what they eat and how they live. “Every store is different and must be integrated into the local community, we are certainly not cut and paste,” says Abitbol.

The formula also changes depending on the market. In some countries, there are franchised stores, while in others the shops are corporate-owned. “In the more distant markets, where it would be more difficult to react quickly or to ask us where to deploy resources, we prefer to choose partners who share our values. ” In China, the company decided to go with its own stores, that was not the case in Japan, for example.

Why Beijing rather than Shanghai? “We are not a luxury brand, but a brand that is distinguished by individual identity. Beijing is the cultural capital of China and, increasingly, a fashion capital where new talent is emerging. This co-incides with our corporate culture,” says Abitbol, who is currently studying Mandarin.

M0851 recently acquired huge machine knives from Italy, controlled by computer, which can replace the craftsmen who cut the leather. Is this the end of the craft production? “We will continue with the two methods side by side but it is increasingly difficult to find competitive craftsmen,” says Mamarbachi.

Meanwhile, M0851 plans to open a dozen other stores in the United States, including ones in Boston, Chicago, Washington and San Francisco as well as another store in New York. Then there are plans for more European cities: Vienna, Berlin, Copenhagen and London.

This article was originally published by Business without Borders.

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