We continue Highsnobiety Visits with a trip to Onia’s New York headquarters.
Following our presentation of Onia’s Summer 2014 lookbook, we pay a visit to the brand’s headquarters in New York. Founded by Nathan Romano and Carl Cunow, the duo’s combined experience has brought them from start-up swimwear brand to leaders in innovative beachwear. Using materials sourced from all over the globe, Onia‘s products are consistently forward-thinking without being subject to the fickle nature of fashion. Take a look into their New York headquarters above and read our interview with Nathan and Carl below.
You spoke about working at your parents’ manufacturing company, is Onia associated with this or is it on its own?
N: Self-financed. Straight out of my and Carl’s pockets. We didn’t take any money from them. I was very hungry to start a business and I saved all my money to start a business. I remember when Carl and I started I literally dumped my bank account into this.
Most people have dreams but they end up succumbing to their backup plans.
N: I couldn’t do 90%, 95% – I don’t even think 100% was enough. You have to put 110% into everything.
It seems like you both have a background on the production side of the business. Many brands do not understand what they are getting into, which can ultimately lead to their downfall. What impact do you think your background has had on Onia’s growth?
N: Everyone has dreams, like I want to start my own fashion label. There’s a lot more details you have to deal with other than distribution; you have to deal with the product knowledge and seminars with retailers. And now, especially with e-commerce, not only are you dealing with distribution to retail, but you have to make sure you’re constantly pushing your vision visually on web and newsletters. You are not just shipping a product from Onia.com, you are receiving an experience. It’s a lifestyle.
C: You need to have the operational, logistical, financial backbone. I think that that’s something that a lot of people really don’t understand. A lot of people understand the creative side, where to buy fabric and how to make samples, and that’s great. From the outside, it’s hard to see the difficulties of operating a business on a day-to-day basis in terms of financing and cash flow and budgeting and distribution and logistics.
When you were founding Onia was your initial intention to revamp the aesthetic or functionality of swimwear?
N: Onia’s purpose of existence is to basically reinvent and also push the envelope of what we are capable of coming up with. Within our Summer 2014 collection not only have we created a crossover between a walk short and a swimsuit but we also added an element of working out, of being an athlete. Taking our product wherever they go.
C: Especially a lot of the innovation we are doing now. Look at the bonded style we created. You can get that same visual effect from a regular cut and sew sewing machine, buts it’s a very unique process that was done in order to make that short. It has a very strong tear strength and color fastness like 6x higher than the average acceptable range. That just makes it that much more special.
N: Just so you know what bonded is, it’s not a typical Onia short or standard in the industry by yarn. What we do with the bonded shorts is we laser cut the panels and then we fuse them together. There are literally no stitches.
Could you explain some other details in this collection or the upcoming collection?
C: It boils down to the details; from the trim to the eyelets to the drawcords that we use. The metal tip is actually a pretty standard-looking metal tip – it’s not a logo metal tip – buts it’s a patented technology that our Japanese manufacturer has, where that tip never falls off. So I think it’s just these little things that make our product so special and I think a lot of customers recognize it after a while. Hence why we have so many repeat customers.
N: We are going to start pushing in 2015 a lifetime guarantee. We are going to guarantee our product via e-commerce. If something happens to the product we always swap them out for the same or something similar.
So typical surfwear is a mishmash of patterns and vibrant colors. How do you decide upon your color palette for different seasons?
N: Our brand is not really inspired by the surf culture. We are more inspired by the jet-set traveler that goes from New York to the Hamptons or from the Hamptons to Miami from Miami to Asia. He is more of a traveler so he looks for the multi-functionality of our suit hence why we are constantly making it a crossover between two worlds. Following the guy throughout his day, adding to the lifestyle factor of our brand. From the street to the beach and from the beach to the gym.
C: More specifically to answer your questions about the color palette, it’s not based so much on trends. Our brand DNA doesn’t focus so much on market trends but rather on core colors that we believe are wearable and timeless to our consumers.
Is it a lot of in-house designing?
N: When we launched Onia in 2009, we were mainly offering solid swim trunks. Then we started with prints and working with Liberty Art fabrics. Then we quickly started designing patterns in-house. It took time, it wasn’t something we could do right off the bat. Pattern-making is a skill set that you bring on. Now there is a mix of both.
You mentioned the use of different fabrics. What other fabrics are you looking to utilize in the coming seasons?
N: We spoke about the bonded, which is a highlight for Summer 2014. Pushing the envelope further for next season, we are expanding the lifestyle perspective through a variety of new items such as a terry beach short and light outerwear, and coming into 2015 we are working towards offering more accessories – shoes and bags, and continuing our growth with more categories within the mens and boys collections.
C: We go to Italy to find shape-memory fabric, we go to Portugal and Spain to look at yarn-dyed cotton nylon blends, we do a lot of printing in Korea. Now we are pushing the limit even more in 2015 working with a lot of jacquard synthetic fabrics, a lot of 100% nylon with jacquard impressions in them, a lot of gradients and shape memory form. We are working on a lot of linens, where the yarn is from France and the fabric is woven and dyed in Japan. We are working towards offering more fabrics from Europe and Japan.
I remember in an interview you said 2013 is the time Onia expands globally, what would you say 2014 is?
N: E-commerce internationally. Right now we ship domestically and going into this summer, expect to see Onia.com offer shipping to Europe, Asia and the Middle East. We are pushing the e-commerce envelope even further. We finalized our mobile site so our consumer could be anywhere, on any device, and still be able to capture the Onia brand experience.
Anything you would like to add?
N: I think I gave a gist of what we are working towards as far as product. Going into 2015, the focus will be more accessories – from the shoes to weekend bags to totes to furthering the apparel categories.
C: I think I said it all. Integrity of the product is number one.
N: I think the word I always like to keep in my head when I pitch the product is innovation. You have to constantly keep pushing yourself and the envelope. You have to constantly challenge yourself and not get too comfortable. It’s good to make a shatter every now and then.
Check out Onia’s latest offerings here.
- Photography: Thomas Welch for Highsnobiety.com