It all began back in 1998 at the University of Technology in Sydney, where Ryan Lobo and Ramon Martin – designers and co-founders of Tome – first met. While studying fashion, the two sparked a friendship and mutual understanding of the fashion world – not all of which is pretty. When they launched Tome in 2011 after stints in design, buying, styling, and journalism, they were clear with their intention: to create a brand for the “every woman” that is ethically produced and focuses on essential dressing at its core.
Lobo and Martin pride themselves on only creating pieces that are sustainable, leading them to launch the renowned White Shirt Project and become involved in the inaugural CFDA Lexus Fashion Initiative from 2015 to 2017. Their number one goal was “moving the needle on industry sustainability, and transforming the business into an environmentally and socially conscious vision”. Today, their collections continue to follow this no-muss, no-fuss approach, with the two designers injecting their appreciation for strong form and strong women (and how the two go hand-in-hand) into each stitch sewn.
And talking of strong women, it wasn’t long before the NYC-based label was picked up by the stylish and sartorially savvy ladies of the Middle East, leading Tome to create an exclusive capsule collection that is available at luxury e-tailer Ounass. Referring to their fans in the region, Lobo and Martin say, “We have always been inspired by our Middle Eastern following, so creating a capsule inspired by the women there is incredibly exciting for us. For Middle Eastern women, style is all about enhancing natural beauty.”
Savoir Flair sat down exclusively with the design duo to learn more about their appreciation for Middle Eastern women, why sustainability continues to be paramount for the brand, and more.
Attention to interesting silhouettes seems to be your signature. Where did the inspiration behind this design element come from?
Our goal is to make clothes that the women that we know and encounter in everyday life want to wear – clothes that fit into her life, her day, her wardrobe. We are always pushing for more diversity on the runway, and it is important that what we design works for every woman.
To you, what does the “Tome #EveryWoman” represent?
Quite literally that. Women of all ages, shapes, and ethnicities.
What is it about the Middle Eastern woman that inspired you to create an exclusive collection for Ounass?
There is a duality about Middle Eastern women that we love. One of our favorite artists and past collaborators is Iranian-born artist Shirin Neshat. She and many other Middle Eastern women whom we have met are movingly warm, devastatingly intellectual, genuinely sincere, and also sharply political. The Ounass customer is just that, and she exemplifies everything we admire about the Middle East.
Your designs have been worn by the likes of Giovanna Engelbert and Olivia Palermo. Do you think there’s something that Tome fans have in common?
We’ve been very fortunate to have these really smart and stylish women embrace the brand. I think the women who love Tome are those who are willing to push the envelope and who are not afraid to dress for themselves.
How much does New York City influence your design process?
With New York City being the proverbial “melting pot”, we are able to meet interesting women from all walks of life on a daily basis. That’s really inspiring to us. Art and dance, particularly those created by women, also feed our creativity – and there’s an endless supply of that in the city.
Explain the importance you place on sustainability within fashion.
Sustainability now runs top to bottom throughout our business. We began our enquiry into sustainable and ethical fashion when we launched our first capsule for the White Shirt Project in 2014. We have since scrutinized our internal practices, and now work on reducing waste and using local and renewable resources. We’ve also visited every single one of our factories, breaking bread with the employees to get to know them better. We think of our periodic check-ins at these factories as a way to monitor our supply chain’s practices and safeguard the women who work for us.
Tell us more about the White Shirt Project and how you’re taking it forward.
The White Shirt Project, now in its fourth iteration, supports Katie Ford’s foundation Freedom For All, which fights human trafficking and slavery. The white shirts symbolize a clean slate, a metaphor for the new beginning given to those helped by the foundation. As we mentioned earlier, the White Shirt Project was what first got us into exploring sustainable fashion.
The first few questions that Katie asked us when we began our partnership were: “Is everyone involved in making your clothes paid well? Is there anyone being coerced? Anything that does not meet industry standards?” It forced us to examine our processes and visit our factories. We plan on continuing this partnership as long as there are women who need to be freed.
Does working as a duo aid your designs?
Absolutely. Our various experiences definitely influence how we work and how the business operates. I have worked for some of the most incredible ateliers: Alberta Ferretti, Gaultier, J. Mendel, and Derek Lam. Ryan has worked as a buyer, stylist, journalist, and brand consultant, and his jobs allowed him to travel to Europe for fashion week and trade shows. As a buyer, he learned the realities of consumption – what a woman is willing to spend money on and why.
How important has social media been to the success of your brand?
Social media shatters geographical boundaries and makes art accessible from anywhere. We’ve always been inspired by female artists and have traditionally happened upon their work in shows, both here in NYC and abroad. Now, with social media, we can view art anywhere in the world and share our work with people anywhere in the world. This kind of limitless exchange of creativity excites us.
If you could see one person – in the past, present, or future – wearing your designs, who would it be?
Georgia O’Keeffe, our perennial muse.