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In the lab with Loutre

There is a never-ending mission all skaters struggle to complete: the search for the perfect skate trousers. The mission is almost impossible, but luckily, the skate world has been granted the gift of Loutre, the – in my humble opinion – perfect trou. The mastermind behind Loutre is Pia Schiele. The day I put on my first Loutre trousers is a day I will never forget. Pia has been a dear friend of mine for years. Her values are at the forefront of her brand: along with 100% sustainable pieces, she is focused on the durability of her trousers as well. These are made for skaters to fall, get up, and try again. Loutre is looking for new ways to make clothing through LoutreLab, where new technologies are being used to experiment and educate in order to find new ways to make clothing in a better way. (by Maité)

Stefan: How did it all start?

I used to work as a photographer and was just traveling to surf. But I didn’t just want to earn my money with advertising product I didn’t believe in, so I transitioned to graphic design and from there to product design. I got an amazing job at an agency in London, but I didn’t have a good work-life balance, so I had to quit after a year, went to Panama for surfing, and had a quarter-life crisis at 25. [laughing] I was at such a low point in my life and really lost, but I needed that to have the guts to do something I believed in. You often have self-doubts about starting something or worry what others might think or whether it’s a good enough idea, but I didn’t care anymore. I came back to London, started skating, met amazing people, and built myself up. A friend of mine wanted to sew, I knew the basics from my product design job, and he gave me the keys to his flat to go over there when he was at work to sew on his machine. I knew how to do everything a bit, so I could start DIY. I upcycle materials that are preexistent because there’s enough material to dress the world for the next many years without making any new fabrics. However, it’s also important to research less environmentally impactful alternatives simultaneously to prevent harmful matter from being made in the first place in the future – that’s where I work on the denims and cotton drill pants.

"I upcycle materials that are preexistent because there’s enough material to dress the world for the next many years"

S: What’s the difference between Loutre and LoutreLab?

Loutre is the brand featuring an upcycled line and a low environmental and ethical impact, and LoutreLab is an experimental and educational platform – it’s a space for thought. LoutreLab comes into place cause it’s the first step to a research and development center. Atlantic Drift and the Carhartt WIP collab are the first two projects that I’ve done with it. The idea is to reaccess old traditional skills with new technology and rethink the design process and its functionality. In the case of the Maité Carhartt collab, we upcycled existing Carhartt garments adding high-resistance fabrics, like Kevlar, to make them longer-lasting and extremely abrasive for her style of skating. Atlantic Drift got its own coded program, rethinking how we can create jellyfish patterns using computer generation instead of print material and photo manipulation. Also, for example, I don’t think people will shop in shops in the future. Almost every phone nowadays has Face ID. You will be able to use it as a whole body fitting room at some point and project 3D garments on. Today I 3D scanned Maité in her outfits to use it as a reference on the website. Depending on her measurements, you can see how clothes fit on you.

S: So with LoutreLab your mainly thinking about new ways and technologies?

Yes, and about connecting craftsmanship and engineering.

Maité: Can we talk about your Atlantic Drift collab? This is sick!

[Pia opens up her computer and a code and moving jellyfish appear] I hired a coder that wrote me a personalized program to generate a pattern. We used video material and computer learning, so the computer knows how they swim. With certain attributes, I now can change the pattern. I can change color, background, number of jellyfish, opacity, etc. So I was able to live-design with the Atlantic Drift guys instead of designing a pattern, sending it to them, and waiting for feedback. It was about rethinking and automating a part of the design process for me.

S: How did the collab come together?

I randomly met Mike Arnold at a carnival party in Bristol. Maité was on a trip with him before, and he was wondering what pants she was wearing. So when we met, I’m like, “I’m the girl with the pants.” A few weeks later, he messaged me and said that we should work together. Then they didn’t see me for five weeks till I came back with an app.

S: How did you and Maité actually meet?

Both: Instagram!

I saw her skating when she was still a little baby. And then I messaged her and she wanted some trousers. That was really early on. We didn’t meet in person for over a year and a half.

M: We just met last year for the first time. We FaceTimed before.

I met her mum through FaceTime as well while Maité was cooking dinner with her. Maité has been through every style of garment that I’ve made.

"Tom Penny is the OG. Imagine if he wore Loutre pants, I would frame them"

S: Does she give feedback?

Oh my god, she’s so picky!

M: Oh no, I’m not! Jordan [Thackeray] is the picky one.

It’s funny cause skaters are not used to clothes that actually fit.

S: Can Maité tell what she wants and you tailor it for her?

M: I just asked for “zoot pockets.” [laughing] Her pants saved me once from the police. My weed was in my pants, but they couldn’t find it, cause there’s a pocket in the inside of the pants.

S: Like the secret stash in the Muska shoe?

I like it when people randomly find the pocket and message me, “Oh my god, there’s a pocket!” As if I don’t know. [laughing] Oh, and Maité is the only person so far that went swimming with her trousers and almost drowned.

M: At the end of a line, I once went in the ocean with them, but they got so heavy.

Maite Pia James Griffiths

Frontside Air | Photo: James Griffiths

S: How can one get Loutre stuff?

Only webshop at the moment, but that might change soon.

S: Do mainly skaters or people from the fashion world buy your clothes?

Skateboarders, but it’s starting to change especially when it comes to the upcycled garments that are a bit more experimental. And funnily enough, 50-50 girls and boys – cause I thought it would just be boys. They all wear baggy pants.

S: For skaters, the perfect pants are kinda unattainable. What are the perfect pants for you?

I’m so selfish, I only make them, so they’re perfect for me. [laughing] Still constantly tweaking them though and trying different details – a passion to make the perfect pants. But I also know baggy pants will not be around forever.

M: What!? They will live forever. I told adidas this.

Everything goes through waves, that’s how we work.

S: Not Tom Penny. He wore baggy pants back then and he wears them now.

Yeah, Tom Penny is the OG. Imagine if he wore Loutre pants, I would frame them. Maybe I can get the app to a point where I can measure him out if I randomly see him on the street and make the perfect baggy pants for him.