Designer Martha J Nieto on Creating the Feeling of Home With The Lulo Project
Contemporary womenswear brand The Lulo Project was created based on four core principles of comfort, diversity, sustainability, and inclusiveness. The brand prides itself on its participation in the slow fashion movement, and is committed to small production runs and having more than half of its fabrics made from natural or sustainable sources such as silk, linen and cotton. The Lulo Project was founded by South American designer, Martha J Nieto, who weaves together the essence of rich cultural heritage and contemporary style, drawing from her own personal experiences growing up in Colombia.
“The brands where I worked were predominately white, so there was always a need inside of me to show and express a different point of view in fashion, one that looked more like me, how I see the world, and the mix of cultures that I have experienced along the years,” she says, citing her expansive years with labels such as Valentino, Roberto Cavalli, and Gianfranco Ferre.
With a meticulous eye for detail and a passion for storytelling, The Lulo Project creates garments that are a testament of research and personal experiences, making prints that give people in mostly urban centers a feeling of home. The brand’s commitment to ethical practices is evident in its support of local artisans and sustainable sourcing of materials.
“Since we are focused on being a sustainable brand, 95% of our fabrics either come from natural fibers or are recycled, and this is a goal that we strive to maintain even as we operate across three different locations – Colombia, US and Italy,” she says.
The Folklore Edit spoke to Marth J Nieto about rooting her Colombian heritage to her brand and creating designs that resonate with a diverse range of people
Martha J Nieto, founder and creative director of The Lulo Project
How would you describe yourself and what you do?
I’m the creative director and CEO of The Lulo Project, and I’m based between Milan and New York. I feel like I’m the puppet master of the company. I’m the one that has the balance between creativity and business, and I work with all the teams to build strategies to make things work successfully.
Could you tell us about your background. Did you always want to work in fashion?
I had always wanted to work in fashion since I was five years old. So I went to fashion school and then I started working with great companies such as Valentino and Roberto Cavalli, and that’s how I started. Now, I’m super excited that I’m working on my own brand.
Could you share the inspiration behind starting The Lulo Project? Tell us about the brand’s name: what does it mean?
The inspiration behind Lulo is laid-back elegance, but it is rooted to my hometown. Lulo is a fruit in my home country. It’s refreshing, exotic and it always brings me a feeling of home, and that’s what I want to give to everyone that tries on Lulo: a feeling of home wherever they go.
What do you think makes The Lulo Project stand out from other contemporary fashion brands in the market?
Lulo stands out because of its prints, of its stories, of its values. It’s not only a brand that sells products, it’s actually a lifestyle brand and a community.
What is the brand ethos and how is that reflected in each collection?
The Lulo Project’s values are comfort, diversity, and sustainability. In each collection, we try to implement every single value. We follow trends but we try to adapt it in a way that the values can still be seen and respected.
Does your Colombian or Latinx heritage influence the way you perceive fashion or approach your designs? If so, how?
Definitely. My Colombian heritage is way rooted in my brand. I grew up in a city where it’s summer all year long. So for me, comfort is very important. It’s part of my everyday life, and you see it in my brand. Even if I do a winter collection, or a summer collection, it always has a tropical, comfortable feel due to the fact that I grew up in summer.
How do you ensure that your designs resonate with a diverse range of women while staying true to the brand’s essence?
I feel that not only my designs, but the brand itself resonates with diverse people and women around the world due to the fact that we are not only a brand that sells products but because we are a community. So people that buy Lulo associate with the brand’s values, and not just the products.
Does storytelling play a role in The Lulo Project’s brand identity? How do you communicate the narratives behind your collections, especially to an international audience?
For me, there’s no collection if there is not a story behind it. We love telling stories with our collections, whether it’s with our prints or the colors, or communicating our values. I feel like people can relate to Lulo, even on an international scale, because we’re telling and recording what’s going on right now.
Slow fashion and sustainability are important aspects of The Lulo Project’s ethos. How do you ensure the use of sustainable fabrics in your collections?
Sustainability is very important to us. That’s why we not only try to be very mindful with the type of fabric that use, and choosing natural fibers or recycled materials. At the same time, we also consider what we produce, to avoid overstock and to avoid buying things that we don’t need.
Expanding into wholesale can be a significant milestone for a brand. What led you to consider wholesale, and how do you plan to maintain the unique identity of The Lulo Project while reaching a broader market?
Ever since we started The Lulo Project, we knew we wanted to do wholesale so we don’t really need to change a lot of things, nor are we afraid we might lose out identity along the way. It’s been part of our business plan and strategy from the beginning, so we always have made conscious decisions to be able to grow in wholesale while keeping our brand identity.
Looking ahead, what are your long-term goals for The Lulo Project? Are there any specific milestones that you hope to achieve?
For us, the sky is the limit. We are going to keep growing in the US and next year we’re going to focus on Europe. Little by little, we’re trying to keep our wholesale business and start growing our retail business. Our strategy is the opposite to most brands: we started with a focus on wholesale and at now we’ll be focusing on retail and our own stores.
You recently presented at the NYFW Showroom and are participating in the upcoming Paris Fashion Week event. What has been your showroom experience so far?
Participating in the showroom has been amazing for us. It is a great opportunity to be able to talk to buyers, really explain what our mission is, and the value of the company. Not only to explain the products – they can get all that from the line sheet – but to have a personal collection with them so they’ll choose our brand from all the millions of brands they see all year-round! Being in this type of space and having the chance to participate in the showroom really gives us a leg up.