Design talks: valentine witmeur lab
by Seiyeon Park '21
Valentine Witmeur is the Belgian designer and founder of the brand Valentine Witmeur Lab. She creates beautifully designed knits, which are produced in Portugal by a small family-owned studio with the highest quality of fabrics. Her products are loved by bloggers and fashion influencers across the world for their versatility and eye-catching color schemes. She is an advocate for fighting against fast fashion and strives to design clothing that will last their wearers a lifetime. W.Collective had the wonderful opportunity to interview Valentine Witmeur to discover the process behind each collection. To learn more about the launch of Valentine Witmeur Lab and preview her SS18 collection read on.
SP: What were you doing before the launch of Valentine Witmeur Lab?
VW: I was working for a renowned Belgian fashion group that sells the highest and highly-coveted fashion brands such as Tom Ford, Peter Pilotto, Saint Laurent, Victoria Beckham, Balenciaga, etc. They have one store in Belgium (Brussels) and several smaller ones in Luxembourg (high-end too). This store (Smets) has a strong international image and is referred to as one of the best luxury stores throughout Europe. I was in charge of the marketing, events, and communication for the group. After two years at the head of this department, I decided to quit to dedicate my time to my personal projects. Launching my brand wasn’t a priority back then. It was something I was strongly thinking about, but I had no experience in the production and development field.
SP: Before starting Valentine Witmeur Lab, you were with a Belgian fashion company, and before that, you were running your own blog. What prompted
you to switch from blogging to now launching your own brand?
VW: My “blog” was something very light and small I decided to launch while studying fashion in Milan. Nothing big, it was more for fun, something I considered as an extra. Nothing to do with the girls nowadays that makes it a full-time job. It was also six years ago. And I have to admit it’s something I don’t want to be referred to. Launching my brand was something I dreamed about since a long time. Blogging didn’t bring me there. Though, I have to admit it helped me to acquire support from the Belgian press, directly from the beginning. After that, I decided to put this “blogger” image aside and to focus my time on the launching and to be considered as an entrepreneur.
SP: What has been the most challenging part of creating Valentine Witmeur Lab?
VW: We launched VWLab 2 years ago. More recently, we decided to present our collections twice a year at Paris fashion week. This means we have to stick our schedule to the fashion calendar; preparing the collection a year in advance, to be ready six months after to present the collection to the stores and six months before it is delivered to the stores. It’s super challenging to follow this strict agenda. It also involves a huge necessity of cash-flow before even thinking about being profitable on the collection you present. For example, I have to prepare my SS19 collection in Feb 2018, showcase it at fashion week in September 2018 and start selling in Feb 2019. It explains the necessity of cash-flow and the uncertainty we confront.
Another factor that is super challenging is the advent of fast-fashion. They do not respect this calendar and are simply copying what designers do. They can be ready with a collection in only 2-3 weeks including drawing, production, and delivery in stores. Further to that, most of them have their own factory and have full control of their production system.
For us, it takes a year (as explained above) to be ready. We have to fight against that or at least try. You also have to face their unbeatable prices which don’t represent the market’s reality. Given that they create a collection in only a few weeks, it also means they can constantly adapt their collections (depending on the weather, demands, what works or not...), the thing that we aren’t able to do! It’s the reason why Tom Ford tried to revolutionize the fashion industry last year. I wanted to create the “See-now, Buy-now” system. Unfortunately, stores and the fashion sector aren’t ready for that.
SP: How did you first become interested in fashion? Was there a figure in your life which significantly impacted your journey in the industry?
VW: I have been passionate about fashion since a very young age. I don’t recall something special that made me love fashion. No one in my family works in this sector, so I learned it by myself and then decided to study fashion (I studied communication in Belgium and then went to Milan for a master in Fashion and Luxury brands marketing).
SP: The pieces in your collections are simple but eye-catching, clean but simultaneously striking. Who or what is the inspiration behind your designs?
VW: Honestly, I have no special inspiration. I would say that I find inspiration in architecture or music, but I’d be lying. I just want to bring bright colors combined with a geometric aesthetic. My main focus was to bring a product that makes a look by itself. Something easy to wear and easy to match with casual items like jeans, off-white pants, or black leather pants. So, I started with the product, unique oversized sweaters, and then decided to give it a strong identity. Now, the challenge is to reinvent it season after season.
SP: In a previous interview with Orta Store, you said that one of your aspirations was to “launch a high-end clothing brand with a real chic and relax identity.” How does it feel now that you’ve achieved your goal?
VW: I am super happy that our brand awareness is growing, especially abroad. But we still have a lot of work to do. It’s a constant re-assessment and having good communication doesn’t necessarily mean an extreme success. It takes a lot of time for a brand to settle and to become profitable. I think we are headed in a good direction, but it’s not always easy. But it is a choice I made and this I why I wake up every day willing to make this project work and last. Selling a product isn’t easy, it takes a lot of time and energy for a client to place an order and to buy finally. You have to be pro-active, understand the market and the needs of your clients. Sales don’t fall from the sky. You have to work hard for it, and you only notice it when you are confronted with it.
SP: Do you have any advice for students who want to pursue a career in fashion?
VW: Hm, I don’t have any advice in particular, but we live in a society in constant evolution. Be aware of what happens in this industry is super important to me. Be curious, try to know more: how it works, who makes it, how it evolves. My other advice for those who want to launch their own business is to surround yourself with the right people. The best move I made, is partnering with my (now) associate Arthur. We have the same objectives and energy, but we don’t do the same thing (he manages the financial part) which is why it works!
Thank you so much, Valentine Witmeur. It was amazing to learn about your journey to starting your brand and to hear your insight on the current state of the fashion industry.
To purchase your own cozy Valentine Witmeur Lab knits, check out their online site and follow their Instagram: