Life is constantly changing and you often enter a new phase with new needs. The timeless clothing by TONI CORE can be worn in many phases of life, they are adaptable and accompany you for a long time. “*pregnant or not, *nursing or not.”
“With our brand, we want to put women and their different lifestyle into the spotlight.” tell us Felicia Hommel and Jackie Paloma Paul, the founders behind the sustainable women’s brand TONI CORE. The young label stands for confident women and essential pieces that can be created into multiple outfits. Their garments show us the perfect mix of contemporary classics and fresh looks and prove that style and sustainability can go hand in hand, and that sustainable fashion and maternity clothes do not have to be located in the vicinity of boring and old-fashioned. In our insightful chat we get to know more about why it is so important to start doing what you really believe in, finding sustainable solutions for their first collection and their goal to empower women to feel confident in any stage in life.
Your brand name is very catchy and you already told me that TONI stands for a confident woman and CORE stands for focusing on „the core“; on the essential. What defines a confident woman in your eyes?
A confident woman to us, is a woman who knows who she is and how she wants to spend her life. She is very determined and strong-willed, yet remains curious about herself in who she’d like to become. As women, we evolve, we adapt as we go through new phases in life; we do this unapologetically and preferably with a grin on our faces. A confident woman wants to be part of a bigger, impactful journey and inspire others to pursue their individual take on life – however it may look. TONI can be confident by standing center stage or by remaining behind the scenes – but either way, her confidence is visible and encouraging to other women.
How did the two of you initially meet and what was that trigger moment where you said: Let’s found a label together?
We, Felicia and Jackie, met at a previous employer of ours in Cologne in Germany and during a birthday gathering of one of our colleagues, we were seated next to each other. It only took about 20 minutes until we realized, we both were on a mission to change the world for women for the better. We both always knew that we wanted to found a company that in some way creates a more equal world and uplifts women in their undertakings, but we never thought that we’d find someone else, in many ways, so alike as ourselves. Also, Felicia had already been working for a few years longer than I had, and so she said to me, I should found a company sooner rather than later [once comfortably stuck in employment]. About 2 months after the birthday dinner, we had a phone call and decided to found our brand together! Since then, we have become wonderful friends to each other and great business partners.
“As women, we evolve, we adapt as we go through new phases in life; we do this unapologetically and preferably with a grin on our faces.”
Was it clear from the beginning that you wanted to do a sustainable women’s label?
Yes, for us fashion can be a very important factor in how you go through your day. And since particularly when you transition from womanhood to motherhood, your silhouette continuously evolves, the way we dress can really help us to continue to feel confident. That we want to create a sustainable brand in the long-run is inevitable, if we want to protect our environment. From the very first visits to the fabric trade fairs, we were focused on finding sustainable solutions for our first collection. We were taken by surprise, when suppliers usually only offered about 10% of their collection in sustainable materials. We sometimes got a bit frustrated and questioned why bigger brands weren’t yet focused on sustainable materials. Slowly, we are seeing a shift, but it is taking a long time. With our brand TONI CORE, we try to be transparent about the way we address sustainability. Our CORE collection is, in fact, focused on the capsule wardrobe principle, which helps you to create a sustainable wardrobe. We focus on CORE pieces that you really need and that are timeless, and we design them in such a way so that you can create multiple outfits. Further, we focus on high quality fabrics, to make sure that you can wear and love your COREs for a long time. Some of our COREs are from limited leftover designer fabrics that were overproduced. We make use of those fabrics, which can be much more sustainable than producing a new fabric.
One of my favourite designs of you is the twistable dress. Can you tell us a bit about your work process based on this dress – from the design inspiration to the finished garment? (also where you purchase your fabrics and where your garments are being produced…?)
Thank you! THE TWISTABLE DRESS has also been a favourite by many women in our community. Particularly, THE TWISTABLE DRESS in rebellious red has been our TONI CORE signature piece. We love the color red, it feels so empowering when wearing it.
We designed our first collection with Kari Landen, who previously had been the senior designer for the women’s wear and accessories collection at COS in London. She herself is a mother of two, which is helpful when designing clothes that can also be worn during pregnancy and nursing. When designing THE TWISTABLE DRESS, we wanted to create an easy, yet chic dress, that you could dress-down or dress-up, depending on which shoes and accessories you’d pair it with. Also, we wanted it to fit different female silhouettes, so it actually has an oversize cut, but the belt allows you to wear and style it many different ways. A very uplifting design feature are its sleeves, because you can open them up. When it gets warmer in the summer, you can play around with them, it’s very fun. Actually, a few weeks ago, we came across a photograph of Lady Diana, also wearing a red-and-white pin-stripe dress for the semi-finals in Wimbledon in 1984. Although this photograph hadn’t been an inspiration prior to starting the design process, it felt very reassuring knowing an icon like her shared a similar style of fashion.
“With our brand TONI CORE, we try to be transparent about the way we address sustainability.”
For our first collection, we focused on sustainable fabrics like cotton and virgin wool from manufacturers in Italy, Spain and Portugal. We also sourced limited designer fabrics that had been overproduced and made use of those. So some of our COREs are actually limited editions. When deciding for a manufacturing partner, we visited multiple suppliers in Portugal and in Eastern Europe and decided to create our first collection near Bucharest, Rumania. We visit our manufacturing partner regularly and hope to build a long-term partnership with them. Focusing on productions in Europe helps us to re-order garments quickly and make frequent visits to our partners.
*It is important to note though, that manufacturing in Asia can also be a sustainable solution. It very much depends on whom you work with! So for us, it has always been helpful to get to know them personally and to make sure working conditions are complied by.
Currently your favourite piece out of your collection?
That is very difficult to say! We took a lot of time in designing each CORE with care and thought. Each CORE has multiple wearing options and enables women to wear it no matter what phase they are in [maternity, nursing and beyond]. We are very proud of THE PANTS – to get the pattern just perfect was definitely a challenge, and now, with its very fine virgin wool fabric, they have become a very chic and comfortable CORE in our collection. We do very much love THE TWISTABLE DRESS too. It’s a classic and no doubt it will stay in our capsule wardrobe for a long time.
With founding your own label and business you also want to inspire and encourage other women to try that too. Felicia I love a quote by you: „If you feel this spark of energy to do something, just try it out, everybody out there puts his pants on the same way as you do too.“ Did you both go for this feeling of spark straight away or were you also too afraid at first and procrastinated? (and if so, what encouraged you?)
We both were never really afraid to start our brand, since it just felt right to us. It’s definitely important to keep an open mind and embrace the “roller-coaster ride”. There will be moments when you do feel doubt, but as long as you are generally happy with your choice, continue to ride! We really believe that being determined and putting in the effort, will always lead to something greater for you. If you happen to found your company with someone else, then it’s great to take turns in encouraging the other when moments of doubt arise.
“If you feel this spark of energy to do something, just try it out, everybody out there puts his pants on the same way as you do too.“
It also really inspired me when you said that there is never the right timing, so you just have to go for it and take up all the challenges that come along the way. I think that applies for so many things in life. What has been the most challenging thing so far since you founded TONI CORE and how did you deal with it?
The biggest challenge has been starting a fashion brand during a time of a pandemic. In March 2020 the textile suppliers actually called us and said, if we want to place an order for our first collection, then we have to place it within the next 48hrs before they close the factory, since they could not tell us when they’d be able to return. It really challenged us and at the same time pushed us to start our brand nonetheless. In hindsight, we are very proud that we managed to launch our first collection in light of what was happening around us.
Where do you see TONI CORE in about 5 years?
Our purpose in building TONI CORE is to empower women to feel confident in any stage in life. In 5 year’s time, we want to have created a community of women, who inspire and motivate others to pursue their goals. We want to have built a profitable business, expanding TONI CORE to new countries. With our brand, we also have a motivation to improve the financial and societal situation of midwives and create better conditions for parents’ work-life-balance. Yes, the goals we set ourselves might seem like a big stretch, but 5 years is a long-time to get things done. Ha! Let’s role and let’s act!
“Each woman has something to tell and it is our responsibility to learn from and get inspired by each other.”
With your new series „Spotlight“ on instagram you want to show different kinds of women and share their experiences. What do you want to achieve with it?
Life is filled with male successes, despite so many women making great achievements. With our brand TONI CORE, we want to do our part in building a more equal world. By putting the “Spotlight” on diverse women, we seek to inspire others to pursue their individual take on life. The “Spotlight” series is also an important part in voicing societal issues and discussing taboo topics. Women often don’t shy away from speaking the truth, and that takes a lot of courage; yet, it also requires a platform, a stage. Spotlight is just a way to make our voices even louder!
Who are your personal female role models?
We both don’t really have a specific female role model. We both read up about multiple different personalities. Each woman has something to tell and it is our responsibility to learn from and get inspired by each other. One comment we’d also like to make is that it is also important to see more male role-models stepping in and using their visibility to discuss issues on gender-equality. Emma Watson has been a great advocate for UN Women’s HeForShe campaign. Because we understand that it takes both women and men alike to create a more equal future for all of us.
Why are the two of you such a good team and what did you learn from each other since starting TONI CORE?
We are both driven by the same values, which is important when founding any company. Felicia is very keen on business analytics, performance marketing and finance, while I, Jackie, love product management and building our brand and content marketing. We definitely learned to trust each other and give each of us our space to focus on our respective areas. We are both very determined, which definitely helps us to get things done and rely on each other.
Success means… when women and men are represented, valued and respected equally.
Shop the collection on tonicore.com
Susanna Paul for TONI CORE THE TWISTABLE DRESS