The idea of the company came to Helle one day while sitting on the metro in Milan. At the time, he was an exchange student taking his M.B.A in Economics. As the end of the semester was approaching, he felt pressure of having to figure out his next step. He always knew he wanted to do something creative, but did not yet know exactly which path it would be. One thing he knew for certain was that he wanted to use his degree as a tool to better execute an entrepreneurial endeavor.
“I never really dreamt of going into the fashion industry, though,” Helle says. “But I always enjoyed the visual aspects of using my hands, whether it was building and fixing our cabin, or knitting and crocheting.”
While on that train, he says he was thinking about life at home in Bergen, Norway and how it often was a stark contrast to sunny Milan. He realized there really was a lack of stylish looking rainwear out there, particularly pieces you not only wanted to wear but also could wear when the weather acts up.
After returning home he decided to take the bold step of approaching the well respected Norwegian designer T Michael with his idea. Helle had admired T Michael’s design as a teenager and thought his craftsmanship would be perfect in making his vision come to life.
In the beginning, T Michael was not interested, but the young man was persistent. Eventually, T Michael became intrigued and entered the partnership on one condition: They would never use any plastic or cheap materials in their products.
T Michael created a name for himself shortly after he graduated from tailoring school, more than ten years before Helle came to approach him. Originally from Ghana, he lived in London before earning his degree in Bergen.
“London was a great place to observe culture and the arts,” he says, “but nothing really came together for me creatively until I moved to Bergen.”
Starting off with a tiny studio, he opened a small business of tailor-made suits and shirts, that later turned into his own line of menswear now known as T Michael.
“There really wasn’t anyone but T Michael I would want to work with since he has all the talents I was looking for in a designer,” Helle says.
Being an economist, but still having a creative side, he felt he was lacking the sartorial skills to compete in the world of high fashion.
In addition to achieving flawless style and functionality, they both share the same desire to only use environmentally friendly materials in their design. It took them a while to find the right textile, they finally decided upon a unique choice from Japan that incorporates recycled polyester and organic cotton. The fabric was robust enough to keep you dry, even in the most extreme activities such as sailing, but still maintained the softness and texture of a “normal” coat.
The company started to receive attention from the press before the official release of their first collection. Helle says the early success can be attributed to a journalist from the British style magazine Dazed and Confused, who stumbled into their pre-launch party located on a backstreet off the beaten path in Bergen. Impressed by the design, the writer eventually featured their collection in an article on the magazine’s website.
“Since that article was written, everything started to snowball,” Helle says.
Shortly after, they were invited to a fashion show in Milan where Italian Vogue announced them as the next most talented newcomer of 2010. This invitation came as quite the surprise for both Helle and T Michael. Never had they imagined to be personally invited to a gala by Franca Sozzani, the magazine’s renowned Editor-in-Chief, before having even launched the company.
Three years later, they keep expanding and receiving recognition for the design and philosophy.
“You have to put all your energy into focusing on what you can control, as opposed to what you cannot control,” Helle says. “It’s really important not to dwell on what’s negative, but rather brush it off and shift that energy to what you actually can do.”
T Michael adds that it actually helps to be a little naïve in the process: “Looking back, I see that it was a really bold step,” he says, “But at the same time I also realize it was the right thing to do.”