Lobo Mau: Slow fashion & a family business
I am thrilled to bring you this post about the Lobo Mau collection. Founder and creator, Nicole Haddad, is a close friend and creative business confidant. Along with running her own business, Nicole has been an instrumental part in nurturing the Philadelphia design community. I have worked with Nicole, and a handful of other Philadelphia designers, to put on events that showcase independent brands and fashion fundraisers for national non-profits. Whenever I step into the Lobo Mau studio I know I am going to see great friends, amazing hand-pressed screen prints and an exchange of ideas on how to excite the customer about clothes made locally in Philly. Over the last year, it has been exciting to watch Nicole’s brother, Jordan Haddad join the business and watch how this brother and sister team continues to grow and evolve their business. I got to chatting with Nicole and I am so excited to share this exchange:
GM: Tell us what it was like when you first launched your business?
NH: I started my business while still at Drexel finishing up my Master’s in Fashion Design. My mother suggested the name Lobo Mau (Big, Bad Wolf)—my favorite bedtime story as a child in Brazil. I thought the name could work on many fronts, as I was interested in making daring and bold clothing. Having the wolf as my mascot has been very empowering and has also allowed me to design for men.
GM: What were some early hurdles you had, and how did you grow from that?
NH: There are hurdles every day. I joke that the Fashion Industry is the “Crisis Management Industry.” There are so many variables when you are making clothing for people to wear on an everyday basis. So much can go wrong. It took a long time for me to figure out which fabrics to use and trust, and which silhouettes looked good on a majority of bodies. During the early stages of my business, I worked a full-time job, so I had to use my time wisely. I would work nights and weekends and then have my co-workers as my fit models during lunch break. I got to see my clothing on different bodies, and that helped me hone my patterns.
GM: At some point, you transitioned your business from a wholesale business to a highly designed made-to-order business. Tell us why you switched and what your business is like today.
NH: Selling to boutiques was fun, but I didn’t make any money from wholesaling. If you have hundreds of accounts, then you can make enough volume to make money. I didn’t have the capital to invest in sales reps and trade shows around the country, so I decided to do things differently. I wanted to keep it all in-house. My brother and I moved to BOK in South Philly where we renovated an 1800 sq ft space to include a 50-foot printing table, 6 industrial sewing machines, a large cutting table, and a beautiful dressing room. Customers can come to the studio and see what we are working on, but also have private shopping time one on one with me or someone from the team. It keeps the art alive to have it made in-house. I also love the connection to the customer. I love to see who is buying my clothing.
GM: Your brother Jordan is now a big part of Lobo Mau, how did Jordan first get involved in the brand?
NH: Jordan joined in October 2016, and moved from cutting orders to full-time business partner. He had come from a background in business development so I always thought we’d make a good team. The business is now OUR business, which is a relief to me because doing this alone is exhausting. It feels good now to say that Lobo Mau is OUR project, and that we are putting our heads together to make it happen.
GM: Now that you and Jordan have been working together on Lobo Mau for almost a year what has changed and what are you looking to do going forward?
NH: Having Jordan here has changed everything. We’ve made a team that plays to its strengths well. Jordan is very systematic, for example, he instituted a database to track all of our customers and sales and has stepped into a financial director/business development role so I can really focus on growing creatively. We have streamlined the business to run more effectively. It’s so nice having a business partner that I can 100% trust.
GM: I think one of the signatures of Lobo Mau is the prints, how do you design your prints and what is it like to make your custom fabric?
NH: I work with a lot of fine artists on my prints. We focus mostly on texture—I’m not too interested in traditional iconography. You won’t find flowers on a Lobo Mau piece. I like to keep things abstract and ambiguous and unisex.
GM: While the fashion industry can sometimes be described as cut-throat and very competitive, Lobo Mau seems to be a part of this very nurturing group of fashion brands in Philly. How have you helped to create this space?
NH: I have found a wonderful group of designers in Philadelphia. You have to be a little crazy to want to be a fashion designer—it’s not easy. So it is comforting to surround myself with other people doing what a do. We commiserate, we support one another, we pull resources and share contacts. I don’t think I would want to do this if I weren’t surrounded by all these talented, lovely people.
GM: Lobo Mau has done some super cool things this year, you have been on Beta brand, Popped up at Facebook headquarters, and have your stuff on Alexa Chung's website Villoid. For emerging designer looking to expand their brand do you have any tips on how came across these opportunities and were able to partner with bigger brands?
NH: I think opportunities like the ones mentioned above come to a designer when they are ready. Obviously, you must be tenacious and go after what you want, but if your work isn’t at the level of the places you are reaching out to, you won’t get the response you desire. I think we are finally at that point where we can be aspirational in who we contact or what projects we take on.
GM: You branched into menswear this year and designed some great pieces. What was is like designing for men and what did you learn?
NH: It was definitely a different beast, designing for men, but the fundamentals were still there. Great fit was the number one priority while simultaneously balancing men’s less expansive desire for variety. Men are interested in looking at clothing that is unique, but they are often afraid to wear them. I try to strike that balance of unique but wearable.
GM: Last but not least, you are designing a new collection, what are some of the things that inspired this collection, what are new things you are looking to try?
NH: Because I design practical clothing for every day, I am always trying to anticipate what people want out of their daily wardrobe. This new collection is still in the early stages, but it’s going to keep pushing my secret sweatshirt concept. We are designing new prints right now and testing ideas, so there isn’t too much to talk about right now. I just know that I’m super excited to work with Pia Panaligan and Aileen Bannon again on the photo shoot in April!