To inaugurate or reopen this new space in which the other day we launched that open invitation to participate, today we have Jaime Gil, co-founder of Neutrale. The WUM team has come up, too, to give you an informal interview about the friendship that unites us. Let’s go.
W: Neutrale is a project that on the one hand we love because we are users, and on the other hand, we are also joined by a good friendship relationship, which makes it twice as pleasant to be able to talk to someone you like what they do and, on top of that, there is a good relationship.
Jaime, can you tell us, in short, what Neutrale is?
J: Well Neutrale is a brand of sustainable basics, which is based in Madrid. We started the adventure a year and a half ago and we are focusing a lot on textiles, although we also make other products, such as accessories or candles. That’s more or less Neutral.
W: And how did it all start? What was the germ idea that made everything implod?
J: The idea germ I think arose for the love of products. None of the partners can say that we are fashion fans, but we have always really liked the products, from a good basic T-shirt to a well-designed piece of furniture or chair. We saw this as a way to start using our creativity, which from what we had studied we thought was going to be very difficult to do otherwise. I think it started a little bit like, “We’re going to do something where we can use our creativity, and see where it takes us.”
W: That’s funny. What do you think is helping you most in this adventure? What have you studied or that creative power you had hidden?
J: I think the creative power. After all, the knowledge you gain by studying ADE or Economics are very general concepts; and then to assemble something that has a more creative approach, such as Neutrale, I think the curiosity behind us, that desire to create and learn other things, which are completely different from the ones we supposedly had to have dedicated, that’s what has made us start the project well.
W: And in this line, what would you say to your self when you started?
J: Well, get ready. That it’s going to take a lot of patience. As you can imagine, in any company, in the beginning, you have a thousand problems that you encounter along the way. And you have two options: you face them in a positive way, and you say, “Well, we’ve had a shit, let’s find a solution, let’s see how we can learn from this,” or sink you, not definitely, but see it very negative and spend some time without creating without initiative. Then I would tell my self of the past, simply, that you are going to encounter a lot of problems, but that everything comes out and that you have to have a super positive attitude and face them.
W: Is that what you’ve learned since you started?
J: Yes. I’ve learned a lot. We have learned all the knowledge we now have of textiles, especially materials and production, which we did not have before and have been learning based on research and mistakes. But what I’ve learned the most has been that, to understand that you’re going to find a lot of difficulties, you’re going to give yourself very fat punches, but that everything is in your head and it’s a struggle that you have to have internally with yourself. Go get everything and don’t throw in the towel.
W: When these fucked-up moments come, which are in all projects, what is that internal decision-making process like or facing a problem, or a joy?
J: With problems, like everything else, at first you feel like fucking everything up and saying, “Why is this my turn, me, now?” But then, always, we try to stop and think a little bit and find a solution. Decisions are usually made by my partner, Nacho, and I; and what we usually do is that we each bring initiatives, put them on the table and there comes the time to analyze the idea well. From the time you have an idea that may seem like pear to you until you evaluate and share it with your partner and the people you work with, and you start looking for problems that you may encounter along the way, or opportunities, and once those options have been evaluated, that’s when we’ve already decided whether to take a concrete action or how to deal with a problem.
W: I believe that in that face of problems, or at least to us, when it happens to us, I think that philosophy that develops as a company is very important. What is your philosophy as a company?
J: After all, Neutrale is a business and obviously the result of any business is to make money, but our philosophy from the beginning is to try to do things without breaking our ethics, not harming people. For example, on the price issue, no matter how much Neutrale there are people who see it as a brand a little more expensive than it is used to, we have always said from the beginning that we would never launch a product that we ourselves would not buy. So I think it’s very important at the same time that you’re growing very true to your values, to those values with which you started the company, but at the same time you also have to adapt gradually to the needs and what the market is asking you to do.
W: By linking those values to what we call purpose, I’d like to know why Neutrale does what he does, what’s that engine that causes Neutrale to design a product or make a decision?
J: If I tell you the truth, I think basically, use that creativity that we have inside. We feel like doing things and creating, not that we have any other purpose. Although I’m not quite sure how to answer this.
W: I think there’s also a lot of what you’ve said before, not to deceive people, not to break your ethics. And then I get the question of whether good businesses are compatible with good business, that is, are there business opportunities, can you live from an ethical business?
J: Yes, a great example could be Patagonia. It is a brand that has always been true to its values, is a marcón,an incredible company, with brutal numbers and is a good business and a very ethical business. The reality is, in my view, it’s easier to make money if you don’t have so much ethics behind you. For example we, from the beginning, did not want to make rebates, we are not very aggressive at the marketing level, but we are clear that if we did rebates and if we had a much more aggressive marketing strategy, we would sell much more. Our growth is much slower because of that. And we’re clear about it, but there you have to decide what you want to do. We prefer to have slower growth and lay the foundations for the brand and grow more at a slower pace than start prostitution of our company. It’s those two things: yes you can, there are great examples that prove it, but you have more difficulties 100 percent.
W: Speaking of a little difficulty, what are the main problems you have encountered along this path of creating an ethical and design business?
J: Our main problems have always been with production themes. Also the handicap of the sustainable, many times, you spend days and days designing products thinking that your suppliers can make them and then comes the reality that the production quantities are much higher than expected. Or on the other hand production that have made factories, which for us has been a bit what has marked the route of Neutrale this last year. Mainly these two things. Then also trying to educate people to buy a product, which may not say anything for many people because it is a staple, at a price a little higher than what people are used to paying, this is also a great handicap that we have had. After all, throwing a mark and waiting for people to spend 75 or 80 euros on a sweatshirt, a sweatshirt that says nothing, is complicated. But well, people, little by little, understand what it means to make products sustainably, work with factories that have a lot of certificates at the sustainability level, and understand why things cost what they cost. It is not a pleasure that we want to sell more expensive because we want and want to make money, but because the market forces us.
W: There’s one thing I found interesting. You say your products don’t say anything, and I think there’s an abysmal difference between not wearing anything written and saying nothing. What do you think your products say? What message do you want to convey with them?
J: One idea we always carry in our heads is that people who buy Neutrale are people who like to know that they wear something good without having to prove it to others. I wear a white, basic T-shirt, very good cotton, it’s very comfortable, I’ve spent 35 or 39 bucks, and I don’t care if people don’t see that I’ve spent them, that’s the concept of Neutrale, it’s for people who know what they’re wearing without having to show it.
W: How good, although I think it’s something that’s hard to reach by yourself, what would you say is what inspires you the most or inspired you to come up with such a message?
J: I believe that what inspires Neutrale, and us, to continue making products and develop designs is to travel, without any doubt. The Mediterranean is our source of inspiration at the level of colors, the lifestyle we lead in Spain and the rest of the countries around us. Mainly those two things, travel and Mediterranean culture. And going back a little bit to that, we see how the Mediterranean lifestyle is a very simple, basic style. For me, wearing a Neutrale T-shirt is like having a tomato and oil bread, simple, simple, but it’s good and always will be.
W: What a complicated metaphor, but I think at the same time right and representing it very well, it is very nice. I also believe that Neutrale has lived a lot in that year and a half of life there has been a turning point that has led you from being a brand of family and friends to go on the European market, open a physical store… expand the scope of the brand a lot. What was that turning point? At what point did it happen from being something to friends and suddenly having a physical store, selling in Europe…?
J: Well, I think it’s been all very fast, it seems to have been quite a while, but it’s all been pretty fast. If I tell you the truth, there has been no product or anything concrete that has made the brand explode a little, because we are actually still at the beginning of what we expect to be Neutrale. But I think it could be that we’ve been very true to our values. We haven’t made a print until we turned one, we haven’t made rebates, we’ve done physical actions – that wasn’t very common in Spain, renting a small place and trying to replicate what would be a store in the future. I think those are the three things that have made Neutrale grow. Yes, it is true that Neutrale is still a very small thing, but in the face of many people, they see it as something much bigger, I do not know, for example, some anecdote that I am quite astonished… As long as people in the industry know what Neutrale is, that people at Inditex are watching us… All those things mean that even though we are still very small, people are entering the concept and it is giving a fairly important value to a very, very, very small brand.
W: You said, just before, that Neutrale is still far from what you want to be. How do you see the future? Where would you like to go or what would you like to do?
J: I believe that, both my partners and I, we see Neutrale as the project of our lives. That doesn’t mean it’s the ultimate, it doesn’t mean it’s the only one we do, but, we see a business we’d like to be the business we can continue to have when we’re much older. So right now, for us, we’re just getting started. We are building a brand that people are increasingly considering or discovering, but we have a lot of travel left. At the online sales level we have to grow more crazy, and we know that it is a business that will take a long time to exploit, so I was telling you before, we are not so aggressive at the marketing level because we do not do promotions, we do not make sweepstakes, that is, everything that brands normally do to grow in audience, we do not. Then it’s going to cost us a lot. My partners and I believe we have a lot of online travel left. We have to grow a lot and we’re doing it. And on a physical level, we’d like to keep opening stores. We believe that for Neutrale to understand it is very important to touch the product and enter a store that has a special design and that people are able to understand more the brand through the store or how the products are exposed. So obviously, later on, we’d love to open other cities, but for now it’s time to grow a lot more online.
W: You said it’s important to touch the product, get into that Neutrale design, in that Neutral style. What is design for you? How do you understand?
I think it’s how to reflect creativity in an object, in a drawing, in a product. Just that, there’s no design, in my view, there are no ugly designs. Just like there’s no bad music, depending on a little bit of the perception that the consumer or audience has. That, reflect creativity in different ways.
W: Come on, I’m going to jump a little into the pool, see if you get wet too. What do you think is your best product?
J: This question is fucked because, when we started, we always said “Come on, let’s make the perfect product, let’s make the perfect T-shirt.” Over time we have realized that it does not exist, there is no perfect product, and whoever tells you that is lying to you. There’s no perfect T-shirt, there’s no perfect chair, there’s nothing perfect. What I like the most is, having done enough already, it would be our T-shirts. What we are achieving is, not approaching perfection, because perfection does not exist; but we’re making great strides and we’re getting the best-made T-shirts out. What about you? Which one do you like the most?
W: (laughs) Those personal opinions, we don’t know if anyone will be interested. And a little bit talking about that, that you’re approaching that perfect or better made T-shirt, what are you working on now? What are you going to surprise us with?
J: Several things. Well, with the situation we have now at coVid, we’ve had to completely restructure future productions. It was the first time we were going to risk making products that required higher quantities of production and we’ve fucked it all up. We have decided to go back a little to the origin of Neutrale, so right now we are developing sweatshirts again, with which we started everything, but obviously with a better design, a much higher quality. We’re also starting to do, a bit like the first drop, bracelets and accessories. We’re getting that back. Right now we are developing jewelry, bracelets, necklaces made in Spain by artisans. Going back a little bit to the origins, which I find quite interesting and I think it can be a good point. It’s something everyone should do, consider what their strengths are, at a time of crisis like the one now, and get back to what worked and start doing it again and getting better.
W: I think there is a difficult decision to make between continuing to grow or making us strong in our territory. What do you think was the hardest decision you’ve ever had to make?
J: Well, if I tell you the truth, I don’t think we’ve had to make any drastic decisions yet. We’ve had to make risky decisions, like opening a place. We’re committed to investing in Facebook, which we didn’t do at first, because, after all, they’re expenses that you’re looking at a pretty small company, but I think the decisions of leaders are coming. For now, risking opening a physical place, I think it was the decision, not harder, but it was the one we knew we could stick the milk in.
W: Well, and because of those mistakes, what was your worst time? What about your best?
J: Our worst moment has certainly been as follows. I think I lived it myself in February. We received some of the production, which we had destined for these months, completely useless and invincible. I remember, I think it was a Saturday, that it was coming to Portugal and I got up and went to the store to receive it. You have to understand that when we receive the production it is like for a child on Christmas Day, because after being working five months or four, three, months on a product, in the end it comes to you and you can touch it, you can see it, you can try it. At first everything we’re getting was fine and all of a sudden the last products I opened were completely poorly crafted. It was a pretty tough moment. It’s one of those moments I was telling you, that you say, “I send it all the shit. How, with half the production completely invincible, do we move on?” With all the sales forecasts, we have a local… And well, we’re still trying to fix it, but the truth is, we’re moving forward and we’re fighting a lot, considering that some of the production is stopped and that it can’t be sold. And the best time? I could tell you two. One was the first offline event we did in a store. It was crazy the support we got from people close to us, sales were crazy. And then another is obviously opening the first venue, it’s been a point and aside for Neutrale. For me, without a doubt, they are the best moments of this adventure.
W: I believe that to face those moments, both to face the bad ones and to face the good ones, you have to be prepared to suffer a lot. What do you think it takes to undertake or lead a project like yours? What qualities or attributes are not taught in schools?
J: You have to have an idea, passion and courage. After all, the difference between someone who dreams of becoming and the one who does it is having the courage to jump into the pool, and he knows he can stick it, but he doesn’t care. He wants to fight for that passion or that idea. Actually, you don’t have to be especially good at anything. Having qualities does help, but, after all, it’s dedication, passion, a lot of courage.
W: Did you have an idea that led you to dedicate your life to it. What would you say makes you different?
J: I believe that by continuing to believe in our initial idea, to live with the same values. I think if you keep working and keep growing and keep thinking and considering those values, it’s what makes something authentic. Obviously you end up inspiring in other brands and projects, but you always have to be faithful to the beginning and the initial idea, even if you adapt to what the market is asking for. Be very clear that the values you started with have to continue throughout the journey of a company.
W: You were talking about adjusting to what the market is asking for. What do you think is necessary for there to be a real change in current consumption? So that brands like Neutrale have more presence.
J: Time, after all, people are asking for drastic changes and seem to be asking for them now. Changes take a lot of time. Changing the mindset and way of consuming an entire population takes time. And you’re seeing each other, people are looking for greener alternatives or with a stronger ethic. But that takes a lot of time. I think the new generations are increasingly asking for it and there’s going to be a change. What happens is you can’t ask for such drastic changes, so important at the consumption level, to be made in a couple of years. If we see how people consumed ten years ago and how they consume now and how they will consume in ten years, we see that it is, and will be, completely different.
W: And how do you think we can encourage these changes in consumption across the industry?
J: With communication. We have noticed for every time we launch a product, we have to explain what each product is and what it carries behind it. I mean, an organic cotton sweatshirt, what does that mean? What does organic cotton mean? Why is it more expensive? Why are you helping the planet? It is knowing how to communicate, to communicate well what is being done and what benefits it brings, not only to the direct consumer, but to the general population. We need a good marketing director for sustainability in general.
W: Well, talking a little bit about those other companies, what projects would you like to collaborate with? What brands, with which organizations, which artists would you like to collaborate with?
J: The truth is that I could give you an infinite list of brands that we love, or creative, but right now, with what we are living now, and this “support the locals” movement, I would like… It’s just that the way I see it, in America, all brands are trying to help each other, they try to grow together, there’s no envy. There is a very good vibe in the creative community of brands, even, which are their own competition. However, I believe that in Spain there has not been so far, there has not been that community of we are going to grow together and we will help each other. In Spain I think this phrase happens a lot: “The neighbor’s garden is always greener”. And so, that envy of “I’m not going to help you because you’re going to take customers away from us.” And right now I would like to encourage that, to be able to join brands, such as Ecoalf and be able to do something with them. Those kind of brands, which we’re actually in the same industry, I guess we cannibalized the market a little bit, but I think it’s time to support local businesses and what I’d like right now is to support other brands, other creatives. And create that little community that doesn’t exist in our country.
W: Jaime, we’re going to be done because we’ve been here a while. Then to finish I’m going to ask you three direct questions. The first is: What is your favorite corner or place in the world? A place you never want to change.
J: The Balearic Islands.
W: A book that everyone should read.
J: I’ll tell you two. The first, which I find very interesting for anyone who gets into the business world, is: What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School. They are anecdotes of an entrepreneur who set up the first athlete representation agency in the United States and tells anecdotes. That’s what they don’t teach you at any business school. And then another one, which I find very interesting, that I just read it to me. For anyone who wants to understand sustainability more or wants to undertake in this sector, it is the book of the founder of Patagonia(Let my people go surfing). That you recommended it to me, by the way. I mean, those two would be the ones chosen.
W: Come on the last question. What projects, what creators, what websites, illustrators, records or whatever, do you think we should have on the radar?
J: Design-level artists and painters that I’m quite liking, now, there are two. Their names are Emma Kohlmann and Danny Cole. I find what they’re doing very cool and it inspires me a lot. Then there is a creative program from Barcelona, called Here We Are Collective. That what it tries is to connect brands with social and environmental ethics, fostering design initiatives, for example, an X brand contacts them, they do a study of creativity around a product and then they always give it a social touch with donations. I think it’s very interesting. They haven’t done much so far, but I think they can do some pretty interesting things.
W: And on a musical level?
J: Well, I don’t know what to say, really. This year my records are two, without a doubt. Mac Miller and The Strokes. That’s what we need to hear this year.
W: Thank you so much for peeking into this new corner, Jaime. A strong hug.