It was after seeing thousands of meters of fabric go up in smoke in South Africa that Valentine Robin decided to create Akho. The brand seeks to create timeless clothes made with natural materials — exclusively from dormant stock — without impacting the planet, and considerably reducing the waste that contributes to making fashion one of the world’s most polluting industries.
The fashion industry needs to find ways to reinvent itself in order to reduce its environmental footprint. This has been happening in recent months through second-hand resale schemes, the use of low-pollution or non-polluting fibers, but also through recycling. In some way, it’s the latter route that Valentine Robin decided to follow when creating Akho. The brand concept is based on the notion of circularity: giving a new lease of life to meters of fabric relegated to storerooms, or even burned, because of defects, unsold stock, production surplus or order cancellations.
“Last year, I co-organized a round-the-world trip to meet committed entrepreneurs who are fighting for more responsible consumption in very different industries and ecosystems. … In South Africa, I had the opportunity to visit a textile factory. The day before my visit, the workshop had seen a large order from France cancelled and was therefore left with hundreds and hundreds of rolls of freshly made fabric on its hands. For lack of space and money, they were burning all this material out the back of their premises, causing some impressive black smoke," Valentine Robin told ETX Studio.
It was then that the young entrepreneur decided to found a brand with strong social and environmental commitments. “Seeing the disappointment of the employees faced with the ordered destruction of weeks of work was a real trigger. I wanted to get involved and invest in a circular and virtuous system that would put expertise, humanity and respect for the environment at the heart of its concerns," continues the Akho founder.
No new materials
The Akho brand — which means “no new material" in Zulu, nodding to the country in which the idea for the concept came about — and its shirts seem to have already won over a significant number of fans in search of a more responsible wardrobe. The Ulule campaign, which is about to end, is about to reach 400% of its initial objective, highlighting genuine public interest in a more circular approach to fashion.
To limit its impact on the environment and reduce waste, Akho has chosen to use dormant stock from major European houses or fabric production workshops, focusing on high-quality, natural, chemical-free materials, such as linen and cotton. Manufacturing takes place in a family workshop located in the Porto region of Portugal.
No waste, upstream or downstream
Akho’s concept is based on zero waste, with no raw material created. But the brand has chosen to go even further by offering its products as limited and numbered series, produced on demand, to avoid overproduction once again. It’s an idea that’s in total harmony with the initial approach, which is based on limiting waste. But it’s also about proposing garments that last over time, that will be difficult to part with, unlike the “disposable fashion" that leads precisely to this overproduction.
“It’s very important for me to offer real lifelong companions, clothes that we love and keep, that we pass on and that we look at, years later, with minds full of memories. And to achieve this emotional feeling, it is important that the consumer feels that ‘THEIR’ piece is unique, rare and precious. That’s why I decided to produce only a small series of high-quality, timeless pieces, each [individually] numbered, to support this feeling of exclusivity and uniqueness," emphasizes Valentine Robin.
The first selection of shirts on offer, available for preorder now, include the “Phambi" linen shirt in royal blue, with 161 pieces available, the “Emva" shirt in thick cotton, available in three colors — again as a limited series — and the light cotton “Manje" shirt, on sale in five colors. Note that for each model, labels and buttons are also sourced from recycling.
For the moment, the shirts are available for preorder at a reduced rate via the Ulule campaign. The models mentioned above will then be priced €109 each (approx. $130).