UCON ACROBATICS: 20 years unwaiveringly fair and green
This pioneering Berlin-based company has been committed to “green & fair” since its very beginnings – and also met with a lot of resistance because of it.
Once upon a time in the Allgäu region there were two teenagers – one a professional inline skater and the other a passionate amateur skater. Together they dreamed of one day having their own fashion label. They saved up to travel to trade fairs in the US and were inspired by the coolness of the LRG T-shirts, which served as their style role models. They started out printing their first T-shirts in their basement. Soon this turned into a collection, which they had produced professionally in Poland – under their personal supervision, with a sleeping bag on the floor.
This marked the birth of Ucon Acrobatics exactly 20 years ago. The items Jochen Smuda and Martin Fussenegger sold after school from the boots of their parents’ cars were soon to grow into a trendy brand with an established position in the hottest skate stores.
Their name, Ucon Acrobatics, is the combination of an acronym for urban conquest and the acrobatics of street skating. To this day the brand stands for the “bigger picture” of a world that offers a kaleidoscope of cultures, and it focuses on everyday adventures as well as on balance and ease, and quality and values.
When streetwear burst onto the scene …
Martin, who was then studying product design, created the logo, and Jochen handled distribution and marketing. In mid-2008, when they decided to move to Berlin to allow them to further boost their brand, the two country boys came across a former cowshed in the middle of the city. Although it took a lot of hard work before they could actually use it, to this day it houses the entire company – from the office to the showroom and photo studio.
Thanks to the team’s flexibility in responding to developments in the nascent streetwear market, the Berlin-based fashion label soon made a name for itself around the world and gained many loyal supporters in the industry as well as distribution partners who stuck with it through its ups and downs. After all, looking back, the young entrepreneurs had their backs to the wall more than once in the course of the company’s history. But somehow they always managed to go on.
Sustainability 10 years ago? Not interested!
The biggest challenge for them was always their own ethical principles and the high demands they put on production. Green materials and humane manufacturing conditions were key to them at a time – we’re talking 2010 – when there was little to no interest in sustainability in the broader market. Not to mention the willingness to invest more money in small, consistently fair companies.
The never-ending negotiations regarding discounts and profits finally sucked all the joy out of the fashion industry for Martin and Jochen. In 2015 they launched a small collection of bags and backpacks. And it just flew off the shelves – much to the surprise of everyone involved. The market responded very positively to the minimalist design, the innovative silhouettes, details and unconventional materials.
Cool ad campaigns & collaborations with artists.
All of a sudden their artistic advertising style and their frequent collaborations and charity projects with talented artists, photographers and hot brands were gaining attention. And today their sustainability efforts – i.e. consistently transparent production in line with fair fashion guidelines – are paying off: Ucon Acrobatics products are now sold in more than 30 countries.
Interestingly, the pieces are produced in China. Martin spent months at a time building a team of reliable partners there. Together with these like-minded specialists in Asia, Ucon are able to implement their core values, which are additionally monitored by PETA, myclimate, B Corp and Save the Children.
Indestructible essentials for urban nomads.
The company’s internal fair fashion guidelines focus on fighting corruption, protecting the environment and preventing child labour as well as ensuring reasonable working hours. The small, tight-knit team is also able to nimbly and efficiently respond to the constant upcycling innovations and play and experiment with them. Ucon Acrobatics mainly use synthetic, upcycled PET fibres from which toxins, bleaches and heavy metals have been eliminated. This ensures that these products provide the durability required by urban nomads, who are the company’s target group.
When Jochen Smuda and Martin Fussenegger celebrate their company’s 20-year anniversary this year, they can stand tall as an inspiring example of a small, confident company playing a role in developing awareness in our society. We congratulate the unwavering pioneers in a new generation of green & fair companies. // Uta Gruenberger