What does it take to build a brand image in Berlin? How does one start a fashion label? I talked to UY – one of the most conceptual clothing brands based in Berlin.

One of the reasons why I started blogging was to inspire the people around me. For a year now I’ve been teaching myself to sew and discovered a whole new level of fashion. Creating clothes, mending, re-working textiles is my meditation, passion and I dare say I even may have found my calling. Woooh! Since I’m getting quite serious about one day soon starting my own label, I’ve decided to get as much information as possible and in the process inspire everybody who’s reading this – whether it’s to also start sewing/designing, or to become more involved with production rather than just consumption of fashion, or becoming more sustainable with their fashion choices, or to support smaller labels, or even to found their own business. This interview  is the first in this series.

The brand I’m going to introduce and pick their brains about what it actually takes to start and run it is UY. UY’s founders are Idan, who’s originally from Tel Aviv and Fanny, who comes from Stockholm. They both studied fashion at high school but met in Barcelona where they also studied fashion at the university. UY was officially founded in 2013 when they moved to Berlin after graduating. Idan and Fanny have known each other for 5 years. Having similar vision and aesthetic never made them compete with each other. They have always collaborated and were a team long before UY. The ready-to-wear collections in their online shop are made to order, but UY also produces pieces solely for projects and they are never sold. ”UY outlines the mix of the Middle East and Scandinavian culture.” Their crew of 5 are all talented people educated in design and with professional experience.

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We were broke and we didn’t have money to buy clothes, so we would make clothes from leftovers from school projects.

Tell me about your journey. How was UY born?

F: UY was already created in Barcelona, before we moved to Berlin. We moved to Berlin to start the label for real. In the beginning it was very confusing and we didn’t have the tools to do it.
I: We never planned on starting a label and that’s why also the name ‘UY’ is random. People ask us all the time: ‘What does it mean?’ and there’s no reason behind it. We never even believed that this is going to be something. Never. We made clothes for each other. Fanny would make a T-shirt, I would wear it. I would make one and Fanny would wear it. We were broke and we didn’t have money to buy clothes, so we would make clothes from leftovers from school projects. Then people started asking for them and so we said OK, made five or ten and they came to our house and bought them. Then more people asked and so we made a small sale. We made 30 garments and asked ourselves: ‘OK, what should we name it?’ ‘Should we put a label?’ ‘Yeah, we have to put something, to be more professional.’ (*laughs)
F: From the start it was only our friends who bought what we made. Before we had a studio we used to work on 2sq. metres in our room, which we were sharing and renting.
I: We sold more pieces to be able to afford the move to Berlin. At the end we lost all the money when we missed our flight, so we came to Berlin broke anyway. (*laughs) The moment after we finished uni and moved was perfect and everything kind of fell into place. We were doing what we wanted and it was working. We consider the fact that we did not over-think it one of the reasons why we were able to emerse ourselves into UY completely.

Even if the name is random, how did you come up with it?

F: UY is an expression we always used to say. In Spanish it means something gross, but also a sound, something like ‘oops’. At the end it turned out to be the best name, because it can be so versatile. For example UY also represents unisex.

How is it to own a fashion label in Berlin? What’s the fashion landscape like?

I: I hate it.
F: We don’t like to categorize ourselves as a ‘fashion label.’ We are more interested in the art scene. That’s why we are outsiders in the ‘fashion scene’ and we’re happy with that. It’s not appealing to us and it’s not what our brand stands for. We tried trade shows, but now it’s really clear to us that we don’t want to belong in this environment.
I: Also because there’s a lot of it in Berlin. Every little gay guy, who’s 18 years old, is a fashion designer. He cuts a piece of leather and makes a choker out of it. And then two weeks later he already tries to sell it. (*laughs) In Berlin it’s hard to be a designer, because there are so many talented people here and so many people working with their hands. That’s why people here don’t appreciate someone’s handywork as much. What happens is that people see what other people made and they tell themselves: ‘I’m not going to buy it, I can make it myself and make it suit my precise vision and needs.’ UY is minimal and what we sell in our online shop is ready-to-wear – not particularly hard to make. Therefore we made UY about something more than just clothes.

It seems you like to present UY unconventionally. Instead of fashion shows you organise experiences, performances… Can you tell me about the last one?

I: The last performance (*see here) we organised showcased our inspiration for the spring and summer collection, but the main focus was not on the clothes. Otherwise we would have used another type of presentation. From those designs we are currently developing the SS17 collection. The inspiration for the collection came from the current political landscape. We now find ourselves somewhere in between, possibly before war. The concept draws from our feelings, that something’s going to happen and is meant to portray the immediate aftermath of the war.
F: A few months after – what we would look like and maily the working class. The color-palette was something new for us and so were the materials – canvas, raw materials, different cottons specially treated and dyed by us.

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UY products are made by you in Berlin. How are they still affordable?

F: The margin for us is not so big. That’s one of the struggles we have to deal with. Some designs we like so much, that we don’t want to get rid of them even though they might not be making any profit. We don’t want to compromise. Even after being told we should price our stuff higher, we don’t want to do it, because it would make it un-affordable for our main target group. We’re tired of defending ourselves when being nagged about our prices. We stand firm in our principles. We didn’t start UY to get rich.
I: For the one-of-a-kind pieces, art project collections and sample sales we use fabric bought by us during our travels or local markets. We keep them as mementos and don’t sell them. Ultimately, working with the same materials for ready-to-wear would incredibly raise the price.

How is having your studio at your home?

I: A nightmare.
F: It’s good and bad. We’ve always had it like that and we’re used to it, but it’s just now coming to the point where we have to start separating private life and work.
I: Our flat is also the showroom and sometimes you don’t want to open the door, but people don’t care and you have to. We’re now looking for a new space for UY.

Your events, especially sample sales, are always packed. How do you do it?

F: I don’t know. (*laughs)
I: Every time before sample sale we are sitting here and we are like: ‘Oh my gosh, no one’s coming. Oh my gosh, we’re pathetic. We’re making too many clothes. Nobody will buy it.’ We don’t even take all the clothes with us, because we are scared that they won’t sell. And then we find ourselves running home to get more garments to bring back to the sample sale.
F: At the last sample sale it’s reached a point that we don’t know anyone who comes. Before it used to be different. But it suits us – we like to be anonymous and more behind the scenes.

What’s the next step for UY?

I: The main focus is SS17 that we’re working on now. Moreover, we’d like to present UY outside Germany. We are very spontaneous and planning is not what we usually do too excessively. People approach us: ‘Let’s do something in September.’ It’s too far for us to plan.
F: We don’t even know if we’ll be still alive. (*laughs)
I: How we operate is very dynamic and things and plans can change from one day to another. UY is then capable of reflecting the current mood/situation/vibe more precisely. It’s our way of staying contemporary.

What would be your advice to someone who wants to start their own label?

I: Ask for a lot of money from your parents. (*laughs) Or have it saved before you want to start. That will save you a lot of stress. Because we didn’t have this, it took us longer. And I can’t even say it’s done. We are still struggling. But we are OK and happy.
F: But it takes a lot of time, patience and passion.
I: Believe in what you do, no ego. And you need to be very strong. There’s a lot of competition out there and there will always be people who will try to bring you down. We didn’t know anybody when we moved to Berlin, so you don’t have to have a solid base before you start.
F: We met everybody through going out in Berlin. It’s easy here when you like to socialize and meet people.
I: Network is always important and it’s good to have it. Because a brand needs much more than just designers. Network opens opportunities for collaboration. However, we are still doing everything ourselves, apart from sewing – now we have our crew to help us.

What does one need to make clothes and sell them?

I: Depends on your budget. But it’s definitely worth investing in. It’s not good to start with low quality, because people remember. Forever. And this is something that we learned on our own. If you deliver a non-satisfactory garment, the customer will never return. Never.

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F: It takes a lot of time, patience and passion.I: Believe in what you do, no ego.

Thank you, Idan & Fanny for the interview.

UY Facebook * UY web * UY Instagram * UY Tumblr