With a new partnership and its latest collection already announced, Sol’s continues to fashion itself as a fast-moving trendsetter
Sol’s has been bringing a dash of Gallic fashion and flair to the promotional clothing market for the best part of two decades. Now the brand is extending its creative ethos and approach to bespoke garment manufacturing. At the beginning of this year, Sol’s formed a partnership with made-to-order specialist, Joy Thai. The partnership is more than a simple extension of Sol’s product offering, however: it represents a collaboration between two companies with more than 40 years of collective experience and expertise and, crucially, a set of shared values and ethics – something that has been important to Sol’s since the day it was established in 1991 by Alain Milgrom.
Alain started with textile packaging before moving the company into the promotional clothing market, where it quickly established itself across Europe and the rest of the world. SOL’S sets itself apart from competitors with its Designed in Paris tag: as general manager Laurent Ostrowsky jokes, “France may not have many things left but we have perfume, Champagne and fashion. It’s not only words, we really are designed in Paris, so we have a certain style and a certain touch.”
While the clothes and accessories are designed in Paris, the company no longer defines itself as a French company, but as an international business that is present in 58 countries. Laurent emphasises that SOL’S is a “multi-specialist, not a generalist.” He explains: “In the car industry, a multi-specialist would be the Volkswagen group. In low cost cars they have Skoda and Seat, and they aim to be the best in this category. In the average branch, that would be Volkswagen. Luxury is Audi and sporty would be, I think, Porsche. In every single category they aim to be the best and this is what we are aiming for. ‘Anywear by SOL’S Designed in Paris’ sums up our wish to provide the best clothing for all markets.”
Laurent adds that a big factor in the enduring success of Sol’s is the importance the brand places on its supply chain. With items being designed in Paris and made in Asia, an efficient supply chain allows customers to trust Sol’s to deliver what they need, when they need it. This efficiency is achieved using a combination of insider knowledge and intelligent software to both manage the stock and forecast accurately. The brand’s 22,000 m2 warehouse in Le Havre, France, spans five levels and holds around 25 million pieces, reports Laurent, who comments: “We have a service level of 99.8%. An order that is placed today will be delivered in France and surrounding countries in 24 hours. If we go to the UK that takes two days more because we have the English Channel to pass, but our logistics part will be done immediately.”
New stock collection
Sol’s stock management system will be further tested with the arrival of the brand’s latest stock collection, which has received good feedback from visitors to the various trade shows, Laurent reports. There are 49 new Designed in Paris products this year, as well as an expanded colour palette that includes honey, mint and camo. The new items include something for everyone.
Young ones, for example, have the soft baby bodysuit, the Sol’s Organic Bambino (01192), with collar, cuffs and leg binding, envelope-style neckline and bottom stud fastening. It is available in sizes 6, 12 and 18 months, and in orchid pink, turquoise and white.
Women have a wide choice of new styles, which include the new Sol’s Camo Women (01187) – a round collar T-shirt made from 100% ring-spun, semi-combed cotton, which comes in sizes S-2XL. For men there are a number of new items, such as the Sol’s Ride Men (01193), a light, close-fitting, padded jacket with high collar, two pockets with a zip that matches the lining, and tone-on-tone bias finishing on the sleeve ends and bottom. It is available in sizes S-2XL and in black, neon lime, red and navy.
The design and colours of the new 2015 accessories also jump out: the Sol’s Tribeca (01204), a new cotton canvas barrel bag with inside and front pockets, has contrasting handles and comes in five vibrant colourways: black/neon lime; neon lime/royal blue; red/white; royal blue/orange; and white/French navy.
Ethics and customer care
The company’s clothes are manufactured in Bangladesh, China and elsewhere in Asia. As Laurent comments: “It’s like your iPhone: it’s designed in California but made in China.” Tellingly, any discussion of how and where Sol’s clothes are made quickly turns to the brand’s ethics. “From the beginning, 15 years ago, the founder of the company started – without talking about it, just because it’s part of his DNA – to work with local NGOs (non-governmental organisations). It’s not only about giving money, it’s about valuing the people who are working in this company.”
Laurent recently went on a humanitarian mission to Bangladesh. His trip was part-sponsored by Sol’s and part a personal journey, and resulted in more than 250 people having their vision restored. “This is part of the value of Sol’s,” says Laurent. “It’s not done to sell anymore, because people don’t buy for these reasons. You do it because you believe in it.”
The company also sponsors a hospital and an orphanage, and as well as having all the certification expected, requires that its factories comply with the Fair Wear Foundation Labour Code, of which there are eight labour standards: employment is freely chosen; there is no discrimination in employment; there is no exploitation of child labour; there is freedom of association and the right to collective meeting; payment of a living wage; no excessive working hours and paid extra hours; safe and healthy working conditions; and a legally-binding employment relationship.
This care for the workers is extended to customers. Laurent’s aim is to offer customer care, rather than customer service: “Many companies talk about customer service but we hope that with new IT, competencies and knowledge we will soon have customer care instead. The meaning of the word ‘care’ is to anticipate, to pamper… Customer service is different. Customer service is a call coming from outside: customer care is me calling you and trying to figure out what would be useful and interesting to you. Developing customer care is a really big focus of our company.”
New venture, same confidence
This ethos is shared with new bespoke manufacturing partner, Joy Thai. Laurent explains that the new venture came about in response to the increasing demand for custom-made, personalised textile products, adding that Joy Thai brings the same level of expertise to the made-to-order market as Sol’s brings to the supply of stock styles. “A stock product will be a repeat order to our factories, whereas bespoke might only be one production,” he comments. “The minimum order can be lower and each time it’s a brand new project.” The team at Sol’s recognised that custom-made was a different type of business requiring a different skill-set to that of ready-made, and Joy Thai had this knowledge. “They are extremely focused on bespoke, so we decided to get together and give all our custom-made business to them,” says Laurent. “It’s only the beginning but so far it is exceeding all our expectations: the people, the quality, the knowledge, the orders, and the response from our customers.”
Joy Thai is already established as one of the main players in the field of custom-made promotional textile and workwear. With 20 years’ experience, the company has developed unique skills to successfully handle fully customised knit productions from design to shipment. Joy Thai’s employee-centred corporate culture has allowed it to retain home-grown talent over that period and most of its employees currently boast over 10 years’ employment in the company, amounting to more than 100 years of combined experience. Joy Thai’s new European venture will be headed up by Emmanuel Garcia, who himself has worked for the company for 17 years, in both Asia and Europe.
With the new bespoke service in place, the team at Sol’s is now hard at work on its 2016 ready-made collection – partners will see it in September/October this year, and it will be available by January 2016. The company is also developing new finishes that will add easy ironing properties amongst other things. However, Laurent neatly sidesteps a question about when the new developments will be available to customers by laughingly responding: “When they are perfectly ready.”
He is clear, though, about why garment decorators should use Sol’s: “We do what we say and say what we do. There are some brands that you feel more comfortable with. If you take the computer business: if your computer comes with Intel it’s an additional thing. It’s a product that people don’t buy alone, but you feel proud and happy to buy a computer with Intel. If you go skiing and you have a jacket with Gortex, that means something, it gives trust and confidence. I hope that for our customers it is the same as buying a product made by Sol’s.”
You can discover the full range of Sol’s products on the PenCarrie website. Alternatively contact their customer service team.