Baserange on Growing a Healthy Company
This conversation is available to enjoy on Apple Podcasts.
Baserange founders Marie-Louise Mogensen and Blandine Legait set out to provide women with underwear which didn’t dictate or restrict their bodies. Since 2012, this intention has set Baserange on an unprecedented trajectory, constantly pushing the fashion industry’s preconceptions to build one of the most authentic and courageous ready-to-wear brands.
In this two-part conversation Marie explains how Baserange aims to work in a way that resembles a healthy organism. As such it felt natural to also include the thoughts of one of the brand’s long-term collaborators, Tugba Mert Taskan, the Garment Facility Executive of the pioneering Turkish factory Mert Ipek. By intertwining these two conversations in one we hope to represent a more realistic picture of the many talented and caring individuals contributing to the development of Baserange.
Advance Copy: When did Baserange in its current shape and form begin?
Marie-Louise Mogensen: Baserange in its current form, Blandine and I, started in 2012 and it was really based on friendship. I had three pieces of underwear that I had been working [on] and wanted to grow but needed a partner. We have different backgrounds and the same backgrounds, but we also have different energies. I think we were very aligned, and we agreed on the concept from the beginning. We knew we wanted to work with underwear as an intimate format to tell stories about women. But we also wanted to work with production as a format for human interactions and the environment.
AC: I love what you said about production being a ‘human format’.
Marie: It’s the center of our work and the brand. It’s the people who have touched each garment or fibre. The conversations we have shared, the gaps of knowledge we have with each other or the curiosity. In 2012 there was, and still is, a tendency to work with production in a way where people think that if they pay for a service or pay [for] production they should just get whatever they want. The way it’s approached, it’s not an equal exchange. Production gives us [equally as] much back because they also know a lot about the processes. That’s the most important component of our work: [the] ongoing and constant conversation between everyone. You work with design, you work with people’s lives, you work with sales, you work with production, and you work with resources. Then you weave these together and see if you can make sure that people feel okay. The minute something starts, and someone brings an idea, if people are not completely committed to it […] then you’ll see this halfhearted thing rotate into every single little aspect. And it’s the same energy of half-heartedness that goes into every single joint. Because in the end, people will not be attracted to it. People will feel it. We could save each other a lot of time and bring more love into the things that we actually want to do by eliminating a lot of [other] things. Maybe we have been taught in a system where volume and quantities and a big collection in general, is something that is articulated as a success. That’s definitely not how I would define it. That’s a lost road. Maybe, that’s where we are right now: the questioning of what is success?
“We wanted to work with production as a format for human interactions and the environment.”
AC: As you just explained, Baserange works very closely with manufacturers and it felt natural for us to include the story of one of your brand’s long-term collaborators, Tugba Mert Taskan. In the following part of the interview you and Giovanna Flores speak to Tugba about her family’s innovative factory, Mert Ipek and how it has continued to pioneer natural fibres though thick and thin. By intertwining these two conversations we hope to represent a more realistic picture of the many talented and caring individuals contributing to the development of Baserange.
Giovanna: Mert Ipek is an innovative family business, specialising in spinning, weaving, knitting and dying natural fibres. The factory has over 70 years of experience and premium certifications for its organic and sustainable practices. [Could] you describe the work, your values and the spirit of Mert Ipak?
Tugba Mert Taskan: It’s not just work or a business for us because our whole family, my grandmother and grandfather, they live on this business. And from my childhood to now…I always [thought] we are a brother and a sister but also our third sister is our factory. Like one of my mother’s and my father’s children because it’s that important to our family. It’s not only a business: it’s a way of life, every day. It’s not just to earn money, it’s a very crucial part of life. The silk is a part of our life in that manner.
“It’s not only a business: it’s a way of life, every day.”
Marie: Did you used to have silk in this area?
Tugba: Yes, we used to have silkworms. In my childhood I remember my grandmother keeping these small worms and when they grew, she’d put them in a basket with mulberry leaves and I would see them growing, eating the leaves and then they would become silkworms. It [was] very common for all the ladies in every house in those days, in my childhood they would make their own silk. They would grow the worms and they would get the silk and give the yarn to the local weavers [to] make them into bedsheets and napkins. It was very common but now it’s stopped after my grandmother’s generation passed away. When China entered the market, it became less commercial to make [silk] in Turkey so many people stopped doing it. So, we lost a local tradition like this.
Marie: China and Turkey must have had silk at the same time? Because China has a rich history [with silk].
Tugba: The origin is in China, they invented it. And one of the ends of the silk road, [is] in Ödemis in Birgi. There are many ways to Anatolia – the silk road – and one of them ends here.
Marie: Do you think about that when you do your work today?
Tugba: We see it as a way of living. It has an origin, and a rich history in terms of our family and our territory. It’s good that we [are] still, with my brother, my husband and my brother’s wife, involved in the business as a third generation. For us it means more than business to still continue in this way, in a more technological and modern way, so that we can tell our story to the world and then we can still do the textile business in the [right] way – what we believe is the good way – with natural fibres. Even in 1990’s when there was no ‘sustainability’ or ‘environmentally friendly’, nothing, it wasn’t popular. But my father’s first aim was to always keep natural fibres, he insisted on that. Because in those days China entered the world market and silk [was] not something that made sense commercially. But he insisted on silk, and he added linen and wool expertise to our company’s production line. He tries to make some difference in fabrics, in weavings which China is not providing yet. They are all natural and difficult fibres. They are expensive, and if you ruin the raw material, you get a lot of loss because they’re such expensive and valuable things. So not everyone wants to make them. My father wants to have the expertise in these to [be different] in the market. After silk finished in Turkey most of the fabric producers skipped to polyester or viscose but my father wanted to keep the same [natural] fibres. It was challenging in those days because polyester and viscose were very popular, and people didn’t want silk or linen. My father and mother could only reach the local producers, Turkish producers, not abroad, so it was very challenging in those days, but they continued.
“We just want to be successful and deliver the most beautiful, most sustainable products to the market in our [own] way.”
Marie: What about your mother, her role, and her vision [at Mert Ipek]? Her coming into the family.
Tugba: My mum is a very hard-working lady. If my father didn’t meet my mum, I believe he wouldn’t be this successful. Even though she has no education, and no experience, after she married, she worked very hard to get to this point. She believes that she can do everything. You cannot say to her that there’s something [she] cannot do, she will just say, ‘I will do it!’
Marie: For you as a kid, how was it to see what she did with [fabric] dyes?
Tugba: Yes, it was very inspiring also. But during your childhood your brain acts differently. You want to be with your mum, but she needed to work. In those days I just felt like the work was taking more attention than me. But after I grew, I realised that they give so much effort to exist in the way that they do. They need to give a lot of effort because they made the factory from scratch. We don’t have any investment and in Turkish economy it’s very difficult, very challenging if you think, it’s still a developing country. In those days, in 1990’s, they had no education, no professional education in textiles, they had to learn by themselves, and they had to sell the goods and do a lot of [different] things.
Marie: Sometimes, when we’re talking about ‘developed’ countries and ‘underdeveloped’, I almost feel like what we tend to call the ‘underdeveloped’ is sometimes in [relation] with not producing big volumes.
Tugba: Yes, maybe. But as a company it’s not never our aim to be a very big factory and it won’t be our aim in the near future. Because we want to be successful with what we are doing. We still have a lot of way to walk in this specific area with natural fibres. We just want to be successful and deliver the most beautiful, most sustainable products to the market in our [own] way.
“Brands are saying, ‘this is sustainable’, but they don’t really care if it’s sustainable or not. They just want to do the marketing part, to make it attractive.”
Giovanna: Looking back on these years, and all your family’s achievements that we’ve just been talking about, what have been some of the biggest lessons and turning points for you?
Tugba: Yes, there are many lessons in the daily life. Also, with [everything] we’ve just been through. When the pandemic started, we tried to be optimistic about the situation. We stopped working for one or two months [and] just tried to pay what we owed because there are invoices that we needed to pay to the suppliers and the workers’ wages. So even though we were not generating income because we stopped working, we tried to pay all those things so that we don’t [have a] negative effect on other people. It’s good that you share what you have because it’s an unknown situation and [anything] can happen. At the beginning it was the worst scenario. It’s good that we [could] share what we had in those days with the workers and the suppliers. It’s something I’m happy about.
Marie: What do the workers and the community mean to your work?
Tugba: They feel like family. Family does these kinds of things. We care for them, and we want to show that we care for them. [For example], this Saturday we have a company picnic we go to a lake, and we share our weekend, and they all enjoy being altogether. It increases our feelings about the work also.
Giovanna: How would you describe your relationship and creative process with Baserange?
Tugba: Since 2016, I work closely with you and your brand. I really like to produce your collections and [I like] how you make your designs. I feel like we are a part of it and I’m proud of what you are doing also. With Baserange, we have more creative pieces which we like a lot. Also, how you [pay] attention to the conditions of the workplace and the materials: how they’re done, how we get the raw materials. All these things, you just do it, really do it. I know brands are saying, ‘this is sustainable’, but they don’t really care if it’s sustainable or not. They just want to do the marketing part, to make it attractive. Most people don’t really care about production. But I know with Baserange, from the beginning when you started the business, you do it in a real way. This is very important for us because as a company we also care [a lot] about it.
Marie: That’s nice to hear. I think in our process you’re as much part of developing the Baserange collection. With your knowledge and your thoughts, it’s just as much part of how things are shaped. It’s more of an ongoing conversation.
Tugba: [It’s] very nice to be involved in this period of developing your collection. And I like to be involved with my team because all of their experiences are different from mine, and I always like to keep [asking] them questions. How we can do this, sew this part, or improve this fit, and they give their comments [which] always makes the product more successful. When your team or your partners are involved in something it becomes stronger and more successful and maybe has a spirit at the end. [The] learning process is endless; it will continue until we’ll retire.
AC: Thank you Marie and Giovanna for this exclusive conversation with Mert Ipek’s Garment Facility Executive, Tugba Mert Taskan.
AC: From a business perspective, what have been some of the biggest steps or moments for Baserange?
Marie: After one or two seasons [when] people would come to us at fairs. We saw a response and people were extremely curious about it after a couple of seasons. Blandine and I had a gut feeling [that Baserange] could find a life, it could take a form. That was a milestone for us. And then maybe after two years when we could start having a salary and it seemed more consolidated or safe. The minute you can pay your bills and still do the things that you like doing, it feels very satisfying. Baserange has lived for 10 years now with all these incredible people. I really do feel that Baserange is the people. We are a big group working together and that’s almost a bit unreal, that we have this work that we share together and it’s still living. I think the most important thing is being in a group, and feeling like this living organism seems to be quite healthy. People seem to be joyful in their work and we are building something that maybe we don’t completely know the direction of, but within what we are working on it feels healthy together. That’s what feels really good.
AC: And health means different things to people. Apart from physical, psychological and financial…I think it’s an interesting word that you’ve decided to use because it’s open to interpretation.
Marie: Yes. Health is up for, and should be up for, interpretation of how people want to live their life and hopefully there is space to live differently. Health is also very connected to joy, there is also space for sadness or anger and frustration, but some kind of shared joy that you see in each other’s eyes when you’re working together, and people are listening. Or even going to the factory and [having] time to talk about, for instance, dying processes. These moments of interaction that feel very joyful.
“Branding needs to be challenged a lot by smaller ecosystems.”
AC: Could you reflect on your approach to visualising Baserange? It is so artful and experimental, in comparison to glossy industry standards, but still very approachable.
Marie: The narratives in Baserange, and the imagery are very intentional. The process is very open. But Baserange is rooted in both production as a format for connection but also in an intention to hopefully open narratives around human beings. When we began, our focus was more on women because those conversations, in terms of intimate imagery of women in underwear, were almost always this stereotype of the male gaze that was defining how a woman should look and feel in the imagery. Baserange was very much founded because we wanted to work with images. And then it’s the person who is collaborating with us – their energy and their presence is the focus of the images. We don’t retouch [and] we don’t edit that much. I think the most important thing for us is that we make sure that we create a safe space. That process is very collaborative, it’s never about, ‘We want this and this image.’ Every single conversation is equally as important. Maybe Baserange is listening more than having a voice. Whereas when we began, it felt like Baserange really had a voice because we felt very strongly about something that was unjust. And we still think that the system is very unjust, but it feels like it’s the people who come in and are part of Baserange that bring the conversation in. The process has changed from the beginning to now.
AC: It sounds like you approach the visual side of the brand with the idea of letting go of control.
Marie: Yes, there is a lot to challenge within how we communicate. Even questioning the structure of brands who want to look the same regardless of where [they] are in the world. We have to question whether there can be space for people to interpret and live within these frames, so it becomes real to them. The schooling of communication today is almost like a McDonald’s. Branding needs to be challenged a lot by smaller ecosystems.
“The Copenhagen space is an experiment in terms of what is the relevance of having a brand today.”
AC: Baserange has an inspiring amount of wholesale partnerships as well as stores in Copenhagen, Melbourne, Tokyo and in Seoul. Do you mind telling us how the standalone stores started and how you went about visualising these spaces?
Marie: They all have different lives, it’s not the same process. The first store that was born was because Karina Utomo, who had been working together with us as a distributor in Australia, wanted to open a space in Melbourne for her community. We have known her for a long time, I 100% trust her way of expressing the brand, it’s very rooted in the Melbourne community. And then we have Sachiko, who also started out as a friendship with Blandine and she had a little pop-up store with our brand and then we agreed to also open a store together. We collaborate with Amomento who have opened [two] stores in Seoul.
The [latest] store is in Copenhagen and that store is different. It is not really born out of the wish to sell a lot of clothes because it’s a workspace and a repair space. After Covid, I felt alienated from the clothes and the purpose of having a brand that was putting a lot of products out into the world. The team also had a lot of questions in terms of the relevance of our practice. It was important for us that we could share a space where we could experiment with how to downsize, how to work with growth that was not only financial but also growth in terms of being in contact with each other, having time to try things, and allowing things to have time. The Copenhagen space is an experiment in terms of what is the relevance of having a brand today. And a constant question of why we’re putting out one more t-shirt instead of repairing or rethinking what we already have. The Copenhagen store is more connected to the development of the brand. It feels a little bit like going in and playing and it hasn’t felt like that for a long time. It feels very exciting.
This interview has been edited and condensed.