Paris-based Early Majority designs technical outdoor clothing, but its founder's ambitions stretch well beyond waterproof anoraks. Founder Joy Howard wants the brand to be community focused and for its value to come not just from its products, but from the resources and experiences shared by its members. With that in mind, the team keep an eye out for those with a similar mission who they could collaborate with.
For London-based Athene Club, a female-oriented collective focused on the outdoors, collaborations aren't a given. Co-founder Zaineb Abelque felt there were plenty of opportunities for men to bond with each other through activities like bouldering and hiking but fewer aimed specifically at women. The group has since organized fossil-hunting hikes and wild-swimming classes. It's a community for people who haven't always felt welcome in such spaces, so Athene Club aims to be thoughtful about the companies it works with – if it does at all.
‘We didn't want to align ourselves with any brands for monetary purposes or to give them exposure for the sake of exposure,’ says Zaineb. ‘If a brand wants to be involved, it has to be on the basis of our ethos and morals being the same, that the things we like are the same and the things we strive for are the same.’
A joint outcome
Beyond the expectation that Early Majority would receive images that it could use to showcase its summer collection, it left the creative direction up to Athene Club.
‘Early Majority left us with a lot of freedom and a lot of versatility,’ says Zaineb. ‘They just wanted us to enjoy the products as they are.’
Joy says that was the goal. ‘Most of all, we wanted them to have a good time and to show that. The second thing is that we really wanted to show the functionality of the garment. Everything is a layering system, so we wanted them to capture themselves layering up and layering down in the clothing.’
Letting Athene Club take the reins paid off for Early Majority. The clothing company used the imagery and story in emails and, as for click rate, open rates and revenue, it's been one of its strongest performing campaigns. Joy believes it was the strength of the collaboration – and really nailing down where the two brands' interests and strengths aligned to dictate how best they would work together, rather than a one-way brief – that made it resonate.
For Athene Club, building its community and capturing a different sort of outdoor experience were the main goals. Since sharing the imagery, it's had interview requests and other brands reach out to collaborate – but its work with Early Majority has set the bar really high for any future work with other companies.
‘I think it's really powerful to just put a young female in a space where she's not usually seen,’ says Zaineb. ‘The reaction from social media and the people who reached out to us afterward – everyone's reaction was that it was so refreshing to see.’
Who approached who?
In September 2021, Early Majority's head of partnerships Davina Ebikeme discovered and reached out to Athene Club. Early Majority thought that the brands might team up on a badge – the clothing company features a spot for interchangeable badges on its garments, with wearers able to share the causes and organizations they support. But the brands took it slowly in order to really understand what sort of collaboration would be best for both. It took a few months, with Davina sharing more about the background of the brand and the behind-the-scenes of its design process, as well as conversations between the two groups about their values and their strengths, to decide on the most valuable way to proceed.
‘We just realized that we had a very shared sensibility and wanted to build on that to [tell stories] about what we're trying to do and about who they are,’ says Early Majority founder Joy. ‘When it came time to do a lookbook for the summer, it just seemed natural to ask them to wear us on their next adventure.’
The shape of collaboration
While the two organizations came together because of a shared passion, the collaboration was clearly outlined. Together, they decided that Athene Club would shoot the summer collection while on one of its outdoor excursions. Early Majority gave Athene Club a budget and asked what would be possible within those confines.
Zaineb took her partner and Athene Club co-founder Olivia Jack with two other members on a day of hiking in Dartmoor National Park in south-west England, with the budget paying for transportation and food. Early Majority provided the apparel, which the hikers got to keep. Early Majority asked for images of the trip with the expectation that it would use 10 to 15 to showcase the collection. Zaineb and Olivia are also professional photographers and were paid a fee for their services.
This article was first published in How to Start a Business 2023. To purchase a copy or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.