Designer Interview

By: FashWire
Dec 22, 2023 11:21 AM

What did the beginnings of OPEN ERA look like? 

Initially, we did not plan to start a fashion label. The idea was to bring white tennis balls back into play. Until 1972, the standard was white tennis balls, which they used at Wimbledon even until 1986. We looked at the pictures from back in the days, to catch the spirit around which we wanted to build our “tennis ball brand” – you know, the Björn Borg / McEnroe times. When we saw the beautiful fashion back then, we thought, “Wow, the tennis balls are not the only thing worthy of preservation.”

Relatively dewy-eyed, with no contacts, no expertise, but high standards and expectations regarding our products, we said to each other, “Hey, it can’t be that hard to develop some fashionable retro tennis styles.” – Guess what? It turned out it was, but we succeeded.

However, finally, we have our capsule collection ready. In the meantime, we are already working on new collections, always following our initial idea: retro, made in Europe, sustainable business practices, and unique fabrics of the finest quality define our brand and our garments.


What inspired you to name your brand?

The open era describes the era in tennis since professionals are allowed to participate in prestigious tournaments such as Wimbledon. Until then, it wasn’t allowed for participants to earn money; it was perceived as bad for sportsmanship. With this change, new athletic standards were set, media interest came up and tennis became sexy overnight.

We, as OPEN ERA, want to set new standards as an antagonist of the fast fashion industry. We make retro tennis fashion sexy again and want to create something enduring, just as the open era in tennis is perpetual. We do not only want to preserve things but also make them contemporarily better regarding the impact on our surroundings, and more relevant for today’s fashion consumer.


“We do not close our eyes, and we spend more energy on improvements than on maintaining a perfect picture.”


Where do you find inspiration?

Our inspiration comes mainly from old pictures, stories, and sketches mixed with modern impressions we get from popular culture.


What made you want to design tennis apparel?

Originally, it was all about the tennis balls. Then we saw the great styles from the old days, as I described above. Somehow, we’ve set to round out the retro feeling with matching garments. In the beginning, only with polos and socks. Since they were very popular, we decided to dig deeper into fashion, launching regular collections in the future.


What sets your brand apart from the rest?

We prove that unique styles and exceptional fabrics made in the EU (partially in the same factories as haute-couture fashion) do not need to cost $2,000 for a jacket. Sustainability does not need to look like sandals with socks. It can be highly fashionable and sustainable at a reasonable price.

There are many luxury brands and there are many sustainable brands. There might be brands that do more than we do. We are aware that we are far from perfect. But this realization is the precondition to improvement. We do not close our eyes, and we spend more energy on improvements than on maintaining a perfect picture.

We’re not just preserving what's good but also making things better in a contemporary way. In this way, we are bringing about a long-overdue paradigm shift. We like to be conservative when it comes to quality, commitment, and the "Made in Europe" standard. With this mixture of progressiveness and conservative values, we remain true to our identity and give clothing value again.


Do you have a favorite piece that you have designed?

Personally, I wear the tracksuit most out of our developments. But I am also really proud of the half-cable, half-rib knit pullover, which I wear for occasions when I need to look a bit “posher.”


How would you describe the style you aim for your brand?

It can be best described as “Wimbledon Style.” To be more precise: it is a mixture of sporty-chic and heritage. Some styles reflect the retro sports style, while others go in a more casual-chic direction. The common denominator is a retro influence combined with a modern interpretation and a sporty touch in terms of comfort and wearability.


What brand values are most important for OPEN ERA?

Well, every value is important. I could go for sustainable sourcing and ethical working conditions, but I will choose authenticity and consistency for a reason. When we thought about what defines us, we’ve split the values into two rows. The first row is what is important to us: 1. striving to be sustainable, 2. ethical behavior, and 3. responsibility towards all our stakeholders and beyond. The second row describes in what manner we want to live those values. Out of this row, I will describe the two most important ones. Authentically means: “We communicate clearly and directly. We mean and do what we say.” We know that we are not perfect yet, but we have sincere intentions and strive to make our footprint better every day. The second value in this row is consistency. To drive change and create something enduring, we need to stick to the core values that define us. Even if that means missing out on business opportunities sometimes.

Don’t get me wrong for not choosing sustainability, but I think this is why the second row is more important: Today, everybody’s most important “value” is to be sustainable. But is it their value or the value they attribute to their augmented product? Our product is our statement towards a more responsible future!


What is the one piece of advice you would give to a new designer?

Be sincere. Start small. Invest in sampling. Take your time to collect orders and tell your story. Give yourself a year to get retailers to reach the MOQ you need. Timing and partnerships are everything, wrong timing can get you into huge liquidity issues, even if you make a profit. If you plan to sell D2C: look for craftsmen, tailors, dressmakers, or manufacturers with low MOQs. I know it is a disappointment, but it is very unlikely to sell 300+ pieces/colors off the cuff.


“It’s not just about winning but playing with style and integrity, fairly and responsibly.”


How does sustainability play a role in your brand? What sustainable measures has OPEN ERA taken to better the environment?

Sustainability plays a huge role in decision-making. Choosing partners that share the same values, researching ecological fibers, FSC-certified packaging, reuse of polybags, and production in Europe. The regulations in the EU play into our hands, as they restrict very harmful chemicals and enhance working conditions. We visit our partners regularly and check if our expectations are met. Last but not least, we focus on quality throughout the product lifecycle, because the footprint per day of the life cycle is way more relevant than the footprint right after production.

There is still a lot of work to do in the next few years: elaborate a code of conduct for our stakeholders, especially manufacturers, generate more data, implement better measurements to take better actions in the processes where the best improvements can be achieved, and supporting NGOs to reduce CO2 emissions and enhance working conditions throughout the globalized world, not just limited to our supply chain. Right now, we are partnering up with a university to work on a framework to measure and manage our ecological impact effectively.


What was the toughest circumstance you overcame when just starting your business?

Getting enough retailers to buy from a young brand to reach MOQs. Plus, conveying the quality and haptic of a fabric in the e-commerce business.


If you could go back and tell yourself one thing before your career, what would it be?

Don’t worry if things don’t go exactly as you imagined. They seldomly do and that’s fine.


Do you have a passion other than fashion or design?

I like to paint, ski, sit in nature, listen to music, and love everything that has to do with water, especially the sea. I am passionate about lots of other things, usually, they change fast though.


What should customers expect to see next from OPEN ERA?

Within the coming years, we will open up a bit more towards other sports; the new collection for instance is also partially influenced by rugby and varsity styles. Sure, tennis is in our roots, but we do not want to limit ourselves too much. In the long run, we want to develop two design directions for each collection: one that is a bit sportier and one that is a bit chicer. We will move throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s. That should give us plenty of inspiration for the next 5–10 years, at least. From then on, we will see where the journey leads us.


What is the most important thing you would like your brand to be recognized for?

We want to be unique and define a certain style and approach to life. It’s not just about winning but playing with style and integrity, fairly and responsibly. That is why OPEN ERA should be recognized as an antagonist of the fast fashion industry. As a brand that triggered thoughts and ideas, that inspired people in the industry. With designs and as a role model. A brand that is trusted by consumers and is authentic and consistent in its values. A brand that offers unique products for confident consumers to express their unique selves, not because they “hop on” a trend. Every brand wants to be trendy; we don’t. Because a trend always ends, and we are here to stay.