By ADAM WRAY l The Business of Fashion Sept.4, 2013
BERLIN, Germany — You’d be forgiven for not knowing much about Acronym. The company never advertises and with no public relations strategy to speak of, its founders are tough to reach. They prefer to let their designs speak for themselves and whether you know it or not, they’ve been pacing the vanguard of technically-focused fashion for nearly two decades.
Founded in 1994 by Errolson Hugh and Michaela Sachenbacher, Acronym is an incredibly lean and agile operation. The founders are as likely to refer to themselves as a guerrilla unit as a clothing company, but since 2002, they’ve produced their own apparel label. It’s sleek and futuristic, tough, functional and undeniably cool. It’s so brim-full of performance features that they offer a glossary to help customers interpret them. And though the technical nature of the garments is a selling point in certain markets, you needn’t know the difference between Gore-Tex and Super Composite Skin to appreciate how well they function.
Acronym began as a design agency offering contract services to larger firms. Their first job was with a German snowboarding company called Protective, which they quickly parlayed into a role with Burton Snowboards. Their relationship with Burton was a resounding mutual success that lasted nearly 14 years. Hugh spoke fondly of the partnership: “Burton was great because they were so irreverent. Snowboarding’s inherently technical. You need the protection, you need the performance for the activity, but it’s got such a punk rock spirit to it. There was never an idea that was too crazy.”
Working heavily with sportswear and military technology, Hugh and Sachenbacher developed an interest in applying them to everyday attire. For Hugh, the impulse to marry technical performance to formal elegance is deeply rooted. “I started karate when I was 10, and I was given the traditional karate uniform, the gi, which is a very Japanese form of pattern-making. Right after that I realised, ‘Wow, I can do things in this suit I can’t do in my regular clothes.’ That’s always informed Acronym.”
Hugh and Sachenbacher pitched this notion of form-meets-hyperfunction to several of their partners. None were interested in pursuing it. According to Hugh, they were puzzled by the concept: “They all said, ‘Why would you want to do that? It’s so difficult, it’s so expensive. We don’t get it.’ So, out of frustration, we decided to do it ourselves.”
Acronym’s first collection, dubbed Kit-1, was released in 2002, in an edition of 120. Nearly three years in the making (“It almost killed us,” says Hugh), it consisted of a jacket, a bag, a soundtrack, software, catalogues featuring concept art, and few other small items. Not exactly a typical first offering. The response was strong, and the concept resonated with industry fixtures. Their first full collection, released in Fall 2003, was carried by tastemakers like Colette in Paris.
With zero marketing besides word-of-mouth and a handful of magazine features, the best explanation for Acronym’s immediate success was the work itself. “Because we came from a design background, our entire business model, such as it was, was purely product-based. The whole structure of the company was set up to build exactly what we wanted with no compromises.”