26 March 2021
Text: Celine Lika
Photos: Courtesy of Mansour Martin
MANSOUR (AND) MARTIN
FROM FRIENDS TO CO-FOUNDERS OF THEIR OWN LABEL
When they first met over a decade ago, Mansour Badjoko and Martin Liesnard got along right away because of their common passion: fashion. In 2019, the Belgian designers founded Mansour Martin: their Paris-based label for sustainable menswear. Our editor-in-chief Martin had a chat with the duo about how they got into fashion, how they first met and later started their brand, and about their commitment to sustainability.
Mansour Badjoko and Martin Liesnard first met in a bar in Brussels 15 years ago. Mansour was Martin’s best friend’s boyfriend. They ‘clicked right away’, as Mansour puts it. ‘We don’t have similar personalities – we complement each other. But what really brought us together is the same passion, the same need to work in fashion.’ After that, they saw each other a couple of times a year, catching up and discussing the challenges they faced working in the fashion industry. That way, they saw how each of them built his career separately, before starting to work together when they founded their label Mansour Martin in 2019. ‘That has given us a pretty good sense of what the other can do and what he brings to the table.’
Both Martin and Mansour were introduced to fashion by their families. Nevertheless, working in the fashion industry wasn’t a given for either of them. Martin’s grandmother was a sewing teacher, and he started helping her with her courses when he was 4. ‘I never considered working in that field myself until I came to London to study entertainment management.’ Someone suggested that he should check out the fashion industry because working in entertainment was similar to working in fashion. Martin then went to the University of Paris to study fashion and design management. ‘That’s how I started exploring the fashion industry more than 10 years ago – totally unexpected.’
Mansour found his way to fashion just as spontaneously. His mother taught him how to sew when he was 8, and little by little he made more difficult items. ‘Then, I realised that people designed clothes as a job. I didn’t really think this could be something for me, I just tried to pass the entrance exam at La Cambre in Brussels. When I got in, I was like, “Shit, now it’s real.” It was a happy accident. If I hadn’t got into La Cambre, I would’ve studied computer engineering.’ After graduating from university, Mansour continued his studies at the Institut Français de la Mode in Paris. Although they were both born in Belgium, Martin had been living in Paris since he was 6, and Mansour moved there to study. ‘Living in Paris was never a dream of mine, but I knew it was necessary: You can’t pursue a career in fashion and stay in Belgium.
When Mansour and Martin started university, they perceived the fashion industry as something out of reach. To Martin, fashion was ‘elitist, something you couldn’t access if you weren’t part of that world.’ He didn’t believe that you could just ‘do’ fashion on your own, by designing a costume, for example. ‘It wasn’t until I was 25 and started working in fashion that I could think of myself as part of that world.’
In 2017, they both had a bit of time before starting new jobs. So, they were in a position to reflect on their future career in fashion. Having played around with the idea of starting their own thing for a while, they decided to create an online shop for sustainable customised shirts. After doing a lot of thinking and discussing it with others, Mansour Martin started as a small project.
Martin calls it ‘a beautiful accident. We simply met the right people at the right time. We’d never thought about making a proper brand, but the idea was just to play, try, experiment – a hobby. With time and because of the people we met, it became a professional, fully fledged brand.’ Their label developed very fast, ‘although we didn’t really know where we wanted to go.’ The duo has kept this way of working until today. ‘Of course, we try to further develop and grow our brand, but we still very much experiment and do what feels good to the team.’
From the very beginning, sustainability was important to Martin and Mansour. ‘It was a complete no-brainer’, Martin says. ‘For us, sustainability wasn’t anything we had to discuss. It was natural. We immediately looked for organic fabrics and ethical innovations.’ Mansour explains what ‘sustainable’ means to them: ‘It is to be mindful of the impact we have. We didn’t just want to add another product to the market. Instead, if we had to use resources, we wanted to do it in the most conscious way possible. How are our pieces produced and transported? What will the second life of the garment be like? You have to consider all these factors before you even start to design anything.’
Organic cotton and wool, cruelty-free silk, natural dye – Mansour Martin mainly uses eco-friendly materials. Therefore, most of their clothes are GOTS and Oeko-Tex 100 certified. They support recycling and upcycling, and their products are exclusively made in France, Belgium, and Portugal to minimise the carbon footprint. Moreover, they only work with studios and manufacturers who share the brand’s respect for the environment and human rights. Overall, Mansour Martin is committed to being totally transparent about the origin and composition of their products.
Looking back on 2020, Mansour told our editor-in-chief Martin that one of the best moments for the brand was getting stocked at The Wasted Hour. ‘I’m not trying to kiss ass, but our first sale was very important to us – being sold somewhere, having somebody trust us.’
In the future, the designer duo wants to continue developing their art collaborations. Mansour Martin works together with a different artist each season to incorporate new ways of thinking and working into their collections. Martin adds that they want to find even more sustainable solutions for their brand. ‘We’re always looking for new partners, new innovations, new ideas. All the while, we’ll continue developing our unique style.’