The fashion label WE.RE is known in Munich for its minimalist mantra. What many people don't know: these high-quality items are created in their own studio. We spoke to the two designers about the topics of sustainability, the value of clothing and Munich as a fashion hub.
It all started with a pop-up idea in December 2014: Katharina Weber and Theresa Reiter knew each other from university and wanted to create a single, contemporary collection with their label WE.RE – but it was so well received that a pop-up idea suddenly transformed into the dream job of being a fashion designer. And from a small shop in Munich, the two set out into the big, wide world: Now the two designers' clothes are available in stores from Copenhagen to Zurich. However, the concept behind the young label has remained unchanged to this day: handmade fashion made from sustainable materials and produced in Munich. We met the two friends in their own store studio located in the Glockenbachviertel (quarter).
So what is typical when it comes to WE.RE?
Theresa: Many of our pieces are oversized and revolve around the theme of volume – for us the architecture of a garment always plays an important role. And then, at an unexpected point in the fabric, there is a fold, or a slit in the fabric. We play with classic shapes and exaggerate them as desired. It is also important for us to generate fashion that doesn't seek to dress up women and men. I think, our key to success, is that we design things that we like to wear ourselves.
Designing collections – is that as romantic as you might think?
Katharina: Therefore you have to manage your day-to-day business as a small label, you don't sit there for hours while meandering on an inspirational journey. There are two different ways for us to creating a new collection: One is that we first choose the fabrics and seek inspiration from the materials themselves – or there is something outside of our space that inspires us, like an artist we like, or colours and cuts from decades gone by. Although our collections are very different, everything bears our signature and you can combine all the items as you like.
And how long does it take to create a collection like this?
Katharina: We always take two months until a collection has to be ready. Of course, all craftsmanship takes time, not only the design – until the fits are right, samples are produced, the fitting on a model. We are currently working on the winter collection for next year. We’ll be revealing the collection at the Fashion Week in Copenhagen and the retailers will be brought on board a year earlier.
"Every garment has its price and if it's too cheap, someone else will be paying for it."
Making clothes yourself: How long does that take anyway?
Theresa: The first time you sew something, each and every piece takes a little longer. A pair of trousers can take three and a half or five and a half hours, whereas a coat takes two days. But the items in our shop are only available once in each size – they are only post-produced once they have been sold. And for the retailers, we make exactly the quantity that is ordered. This is practical because it means we don't have to go into advance performance, don't produce too much and therefore don't throw away too much.
Topic longevity and sustainability: What's important?
Katharina: Our local on-site production in our own studio or together with a manufacturer in Munich. In addition, we work almost exclusively with dead stock materials, i.e. fabrics from overproduction by renowned designers, so they don't end up in the bin. This is not only good for us because we have the finest materials to choose from, but also because it's sustainable. Moreover, almost all the fabrics originate from Europe.
What do you want from the fashion scene in terms of sustainability?
Theresa: What really gets me wound up is the discrepancy between image and product. Everyone wants to become more sustainable – and then everyone gets all excited by a new sustainable collection, where a top costs just EUR 14. If customers stop and think about that for a moment, they know that the sums just don’t add up. Sometimes, I still get asked by friends why WE.RE is so expensive. I then ask: How much do you think a pair of trousers should cost? Do you know how much work goes into these?
Katharina: Every garment has its price and if it's too cheap, someone else will be paying for it. We both wish that the commercial fashion industry will eventually grow a conscience. To put a positive spin on things: Sustainable collections from major fashion chains at least increase the awareness of sustainability. The first step is always to give it some thought. You don't have to buy five items a month when one is enough. A fact known by many, but they don't want to implement it yet. People still want more.
"Many people in Munich want to fit in at all costs, but it would be much nicer if you asked yourself – how can I stand out?"
How do you experience Munich as a fashion city? What makes the city special?
Theresa: The people of Munich who come to us appreciate high-quality clothing. They like to invest in fashion that also has a history and identity. Just as you want to be well-dressed and stylish, you want this to be done by the skilled hands of the craft – that's a factor that makes Munich what it is. It doesn't matter whether you come to us, where it's stylish and minimalist, or whether the people of Munich go to a long-established menswear store or even a long-standing purveyor of traditional clothing. Quality is always important.
How do you perceive style in Munich? How would you describe it?
Katharina: Rather calm. It's not as fancy as in other cities, you have to say, but that's not meant at all in a negative way. If you like fashion, you can easily dress in style before hitting the city.
Theresa: Many people in Munich want to fit in at all costs, but it would be much nicer if you asked yourself – how can I stand out?
What inspires you about the city?
Katharina: I live and work in the Glockenbachviertel and I'm inspired by the attitude to life here – that you step out of your door and the city is right in your face. That Munich feeling: Everything is close by, you greet your neighbours, it's almost rural. That is also the basis of our work. In the summer we often sit in front of the shop and talk to almost everyone who walks by, because we have known each other for years. Some of them are also regular customers. A lot of people don't think it's “big city” enough, but we like it.
Theresa: I live in Sendling, my apartment before that was located in Munich’s Central Station area. On my way to work, I drive through various quarters – past Theresienwiese (square) and the Schlachthof (quarter). With our work, we make a little contribution to keeping the city diverse. That's nice, because then you know what you're earning your money for.
Do you also work together with other creative people from the city?
Theresa: The nice thing about Munich is that the creative scene is quite manageable – you get to know each other well and synergies are quickly formed. When we feel the tingle of inspiration, we always take a step away from fashion – even in our collaborations. One collection we made together with the Munich artist Max Fesl: his canvas works printed as prints on our fabrics.
"The nice thing about Munich is that the creative scene is quite manageable – you get to know each other well and synergies are quickly formed."
Katharina: That was also in connection with the Sommersalon, which was also a milestone in the history of WE.RE: Thanks to a tender from the City, we were allowed to spend three months in the Ruffinihaus (group of three houses) in the middle of the Altstadt (old town) where we created a pop-up shop together with other artists, creative individuals and musicians. Every Thursday there was a different programme – from jazz concerts to vernissage. Bringing different genres together is tonnes of fun.
The summer salon wasn't your first experience of dealing with the City, was it?
Theresa: After founding the label, I was nominated for the Munich Fashion Award with my graduation collection. That won us plenty of attention back then. And in 2018, WE.RE was nominated by the City – for the promotional award in the field of design, in conjunction with a large exhibition in the Lothringer13 Halle. Time and again, it’s moments like that, which make you realise: We are noticed and our work is appreciated.
The Munich Fashion Prize is awarded every two years by the City to create a stage for young talents from the fashion scene. Applications are open to students from the region's renowned fashion schools. A professional jury of designers, experts, journalists and fashion companies chooses the winners – and, of course, there is also an audience award. The next award ceremony will take place in March 2020 during the Munich Creative Business Week (MCBW).
Also interesting: Sneakers produced in Germany, silk blouses sewn in the own studio, jewellery from the local goldsmith – more and more sustainable fashion labels and designers can be found in Munich. Good fabrics, local production and best of all: You can shop their clothes right here in Munich.