By Vivien Schmidt
This week’s interviewee is Marco dal Lago, CEO and Co-Founder of CLARA Swiss Tech Sagl, a Swiss brand, producing cycling apparel for commuters. Marco is a young entrepreneur who was born in Italy and studied in Lugano. In this interview, we asked him some questions about his business and his viewpoints on the fashion industry.
Can you tell us about your business?
CLARA is a wearable technology startup from Lugano, incorporated in September 2015, and we are merging fashion with technology. The main objective is to make people visible and to save their lives in dark conditions. Our targets are especially cyclists and commuters that ride to work every day, because usually they leave early in the morning when it’s dark and come back in the evening when it’s dark.
CLARA incorporates ultra-bright turn signals that are activated through a remote that you put on the handlebar of the bike, which is wirelessly connected to the garment. Once you press the right turn signal, the indicator is activated which enables you to show your intentions to car drivers behind. This is meant to avoid city traffic accidents.
Would you consider CLARA as a fashion brand?
With CLARA I work with fashion designers and apparel manufacturers in Europe. We don’t collaborate only with fashion manufacturers but also for example bicycle brands, I guess some could be considered as a fashion brand or at least as part of the luxury industry, like the bicycle brand Taurus, which is a luxury bicycle brand. And next to this we try to make our products let’s say as fashionable as possible in terms of for example elegantly embedding the electronics into the garment.
Lugano is a small city but has a pool of super talented people that want to work with you.
- Marco dal Lago
The reason I am asking is that we can observe that outdoor fashion and sports fashion, in general, has become trendier and more mainstream in recent years. It would be interesting to hear your opinion about if and why sports or outdoor brands are increasingly considered as fashion and if this could be the case for CLARA, too.
So, for me, it’s a way to differentiate by let’s say standard products that are around, like vests you can buy for ten bucks if I have to give a value to customers I give the value through different features. That can be designed for example or technology or whatever. To differentiate by those, I try to be a little bit more focused on fashion details like for example lights embedded elegantly, so that when you turn them off, you don’t see them anymore. I think that generally speaking, brands like The North Face feel themselves more as a lifestyle brand than a fashion brand, in my opinion at least. Moreover, we at CLARA are probably also try to be more lifestyle than fashion. This we try to do by addressing a target and a community by well defining who are commuters - the guys that are going to work, not professional cyclers or so. We are there for commuters, to save their lives and, so probably it's more lifestyle than fashion.
What is fashion for you?
I think fashion is, saying from an economic point of view, an asset that you as a company intangibly and tangibly have and with which you differentiate yourself from competitors. For me fashion is branding, I develop some features, I aggregate those features, such as design, allocation or sampling, in a way to make a product more fashionable than another one. So, features and the way I position my brand amongst competitors allows me to be more fashionable than the others.
What is in your opinion the most challenging part when combining digital innovation with fashion in your opinion?
You have to connect two industries that don’t know each other at all. You have to go to a manufacturer who knows nothing about technology. They do have machinery, but they usually don’t try to embed technology into garments. So, you have to find super innovative companies that want to try to make some research and developments and that want to invest in innovation because they see a future for that innovation in the market. Then you have to convince them that you have this kind of innovation potential and then you have to develop this technology to be merged with textile which requires adapting the super standardized manufacturing processes.
So, before you can start manufacturing, you have to teach the manufactures in the industry about the electronics and explain what kind of innovation you need. Then you have to align with their needs and not vice versa, that’s very important.
So, there is a lot of communication involved?
Yes, it is a lot of communication. Moreover, it’s the kind of communication that made me move from China, where I was starting to look for manufacturers because of lower costs, back to Europe to communicate better and spend less money. In Europe, I was spending more money on prototypes, but I was making fewer prototypes and also losing less time.
What are your plans for the future?
I like to be an entrepreneur and start stuff. I don’t like optimizing and analyzing. I want to create and start things and always move on to new projects. With CLARA now, I want to sell as much as possible and then I will move to another subject. We will develop a lot, but we want to exit with these products soon through licensing agreements, etc.
We can observe that the fashion company digitalize much more and I think in 5 years fashion companies will be much more connected with the surrounding environment.
- Marco dal Lago
Lugano seems to be great for companies due to its location and tax reasons amongst others. Where these factors also part of your choice to found your business in Lugano?
Lugano is a small city but has a pool of super talented people that want to work with you. It is a super business friendly. I could find funding here, all the good contacts, fashion brands to collaborate and so on. Of course, you also have the Italian pool of talents and can also build your supply chain in norther Italy because it is close. At the same time, you have the assurances of being in Switzerland which bureaucracy wise is much easier than Italy. Zurich and Lausanne, which are big cities are also not too far away, and then many big headquarters are very near. Personally, for me, it is a very good location because my family lives nearby and Lugano was better working wisely than Milan. It is like getting the Italian lifestyle but in Switzerland
What in your opinion will be happing in the fashion industry 5 years from now?
In my opinion, the fashion industry is going to be touched by other industries, as we can observe with digitalization for example. Those industries were not connected before, and now we have startups in for example artificial intelligence that are developing products to analyze consumer behavior online. Then we have startups that try to merge fashion and technology and so on. We can observe that fashion companies digitalize much more and I think in 5 years fashion companies will be much more connected with the surrounding environment. There will be more connected garments as soon as costs of technology production drop down which will probably have happened 5 years from now.