Founder and CEO Benita Singh launched Le Souk in 2012 with the mission of creating an online marketplace for sustainable materials. We spoke with Benita to learn more about why she started Le Souk and how the platform contributes to a more sustainable and omnichannel industry overall.
How did Le Souk come to be?
I started Le Souk back in 2012, with Summer Rayne Oakes as a side business to promote mills and tanneries that had a real commitment to sustainability but couldn’t afford to attend trade shows.
Our initial concept was to bring to the surface these under the radar suppliers that have beautiful materials to offer but that were not discoverable via traditional sourcing channels. Today we’re the first digital platform to allow designers to source directly from mills and tanneries around the world – all commission and markup-free. We facilitate more direct and transparent sourcing relationships between buyers and suppliers which is where we feel the fashion industry is headed.
What do you look for when selecting suppliers?
There are four criteria we look for when adding suppliers to our platform:
1. Clear material specialization: All of our suppliers do one thing really well and have truly perfected their craft. For example, we have specialists in pima cotton, silk jacquard, pea silks and fish leather.
2. Commitment to sustainability: Our suppliers don’t necessarily have to be certified organic, but they must have a demonstrated commitment to sustainability in their sector. For example, for denim we don’t work with mills who engage in sandblasting. For dyeing, we only work with mills that use Azo-free dyes as a base level of compliance. All of our are on their own journey to sustainability.
3. Low minimums: All of our minimums are under 600 meters. We really want to be serving the designer of the future – our low minimums enable our designers to work more quickly and nimbly.
4. In-stock program: Our suppliers don’t have to have all of their materials in-stock, but they will have some set aside so that designers can work and experiment with our suppliers and their products.
We also promote wholesalers who abide by our standards simply because it’s not always possible to source from mill/tanneries for quicker sampling for experimentation or last minute production runs.
How has the industry responded to the idea of Le Souk?
It certainly was an upward climb for quite a bit, but I think that the industry is now at a moment to understand and embrace what we’re doing which is demonstrated by conferences like Remode.
Designers of the future know that Le Souk is a tool that is necessary. We’ve gotten over the hump of designers questioning our utility, and a lot of that is because of our product – we offer the offline component of swatching so that designers aren’t reliant on sourcing based off an online picture.
The climb has really been on the supplier side as age old heritage mills are slower to embrace technology than designers, but coming soon I believe more and more suppliers will realize our utility and adopt.
What types of designers and brands does Le Souk attract?
Given that we’re a technology company at our core, we reach thousands of designers. We’re currently at 27,000 active designers who sample and source via Le Souk. At first it was the smaller, up-and-coming designers, and now we’re seeing larger brands like Stella McCartney, Katharine Hamnett, and Mara Hoffman. It’s really inspiring to see brands of all types using technology to reach out to mills around the world.
We do really believe that REMODE represents the designers of the future, and our mission at Le Souk is to support those next generation designers who are building omnichannel and sustainable brands that will breakthrough and do well. So we’re really excited to bridge our universe of suppliers with REMODE’s universe of designers that want to do business that way.
I love any chance to be with our customers and see what they’re looking for. Because we’re so in the materials world, it’s also a huge opportunity to get out of see how our materials will actually be applied and used. I was just having a conversation about how for so long trends came from the top down rather than the bottom up. We really think that trends come from our users, so having that dialogue with our users at a conference like REMODE is always extremely helpful.