Having co-founded the 42|54 label with Elodie Ouedraogo, the Olympic athlete is now in charge of a fashion project with big ambitions. After finding great success in Belgium, this pair of designers and entrepreneurs is cutting its teeth internationally.
Five years after the launch of 42|54, how do you view your progress?
I would say that Elodie and I threw ourselves in head-first. In the beginning, we felt out way a lot. We needed time to figure out what we wanted to create in terms of brand identity. Today, the results are very positive. In five years, we have managed to develop a mature product. Today, 42|54 revolves around three axes: the knitwear line, which is one of our strong points, the logo items and the more couture clothing. Our aim is to present a strong and coherent lifestyle brand, but also to create a large community around the label.
Your philosophy has not changed in any case.
Right away, we started to search for quality fabrics. We wanted to offer traceable, sustainable and innovative materials, but also a very high-quality finish. We were lucky to find factories that were ethical and beyond reproach. Moving forward, we obviously intend to go further in improving our products, in terms of both sustainability and recycling materials.
Sportswear and leisurewear have experienced a major boom in recent months. Did you expect such enthusiasm for these kinds of clothes in 2015?
As women in sport, we were sure that comfortable clothing can bring joy. And while the trend, which is very noticeable in the United States, where there are sports clubs on every street corner, has taken a while to reach us, Belgium is catching up. We’re delighted, obviously. In particular, because we strive to encourage women to take care of themselves through sport. With 42|54, we want to offer our customers an experience that conveys the real art of living.
Developing a brand also involves allowing it to evolve based on the reality of the market. That is truer than ever today.
When the Covid crisis began, we enjoyed great success internationally. All of a sudden, presenting our collections twice a year at showrooms in New York and Paris was no longer in question. Right before lockdown, we landed three new vendors in the United States. Those projects are on stand-by. As a result, we had to react quickly, by focusing on our online distribution. In order to satisfy our requirements in terms of digital presence, we hired three people to the team. Elodie and I oversee the artistic direction of the brand. I am also in charge of linguistics, while Elodie manages communications. Our employees focus on marketing and social media.
So your export strategy is omnichannel.
In addition to the boutiques that distribute our goods in several European countries and Asia, where we have a presence in several major retailers, we are developing our e-shop, which is already running very well in Belgium. In 2021, we will open it in new markets: France, England, the Netherlands and Germany. In order to consolidate our presence in these countries, we are planning to open temporary boutiques and launch collaborations with influencers.
You have also created a programme to support women in sport, your ambassadors.
For the past two years, 42|54 has been supporting athletes who have been selected to compete in the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo, as well as future talents who the major equipment brands are not yet interested in. We provide clothing and, when necessary, we develop sports uniforms that are adapted to the needs of their chosen discipline. Just like Elodie and I, there is a real competitive spirit between these girls and us. We help each other, support each other and grow together.