Undressing the Industry: Q&A with Daan Ubachs, Founder of Unrobe

Founded in Amsterdam in 2017, Daan Ubachs’ Unrobe produces ethical apparel using 100% organic and recycled materials sourced from accredited suppliers. With its stated mission of “dressing people by undressing the industry” the brand provides consumers a detailed breakdown of the cost of every aspect of each garment’s production including raw materials, labour costs and transport. Unrobe operates a ‘limited order’ model with capsule collections exclusively available to order for seven days.

What are the Origins of Unrobe?

I’ve worked in fashion for over 12 years in product design and buying. After close to eight years working as a buying director for a major Dutch brand, I decided to resign. I took a job in Indonesia as I wanted to live and work abroad. Working for one of the largest production agencies as a business unit manager, I handled production for a number of premium global brands.

The brands that I worked with were very price-driven and constrained by their business models against raising prices. Fearing they would lose customers to lower priced rivals, they would look to save a penny wherever possible. When my brands started squeezing me on prices, I then had to go and squeeze my suppliers in order to keep my margins. This would often end up with us squeezing these companies to the point that they would not be making any money.

However, we had worked on sustainability here starting with the introduction of a fully circular laundry. This showed me it was possible to do something positive in the industry. This led to the Idea for a highly transparent and fully ethically produced brand.

How do you accredit suppliers?

We produce clothes near home, in Portugal, only shipping product by truck; never using planes. Here I can travel quite often to the factory to check the production line at least monthly. My main supplier uses GOTS certification, which carries out regular audits on factories. This supplier produces high quality and Unrobe is in production queues next to luxury brands.

We have had some critique about the risks of giving away the names of our suppliers and factories on the Unrobe website, but I believe that full transparency means taking the risk of exposing the recipe for the brand. Our bigger mission is to improve all production of fashion, so this is just part of the business.

Who should ethical fashion brands target?

I believe Gen-Z will be very important in the coming years. For them, sustainability is much more the standard. Millennials on the other hand are willing to change, only when it does not become more difficult for them. Everything must be at the same level of convenience and price before they will be willing to change to a sustainable lifestyle. They will choose good steak that is organic and sustainably farmed but it can’t be double the price.

I believe millennials demand a lot of storytelling. Older generation does not really care as much. In social media and marketing, millennials tend to want everything to be picture perfect, while Gen Z engage more with authenticity. Gen Z is looking for more transparency and honesty in storytelling.

What is one gap in the sustainable fashion market?

Typically, the market only offers either cheap clothes and cheap quality or high quality and sustainable for a high price. This was the proposition that we saw was a gap. The direct-to-consumer model was intended to keep Unrobe affordable and to keep margins away from retailers to avoid the cycle of price squeezes I had seen before.

What are the biggest challenges faced by a brand seeking to become more ethical and sustainable?

I think the biggest challenge is price and the willingness to change the model. Sustainable and ethical production costs money and many companies are not willing to pay that, unfortunately. But we believe in educating consumers. By teaching people how fashion actually works, it will show them that if one pays EUR 3.00 for a new t-shirt, the fabric used is most certainly of poorer quality, and some suppliers down the line might not have been paid fairly.  I’m hopeful that by changing consumers’ perception of price, we can change the industry.

Daan Ubachs’ Unrobe was featured in Euromonitor’s piece “Ethical Fashion: From Niche to Riche” available to read in full on the Euromonitor blog.

For more insight on the strategies behind becoming a more sustainable brand check out Euromonitor’s Whitepaper: How to become a sustainable brand