TEAMM8’S TENTH ANNIVERSARY
Ten years since the launch of iconic Aussie menswear brand Teamm8, we speak with founder and Creative Director, Michal Nicolas about evolution, sex appeal and giving guys what they want!
For ten years, iconic Aussie menswear brand Teamm8 has been giving guys what they want! We speak with founder and Creative Director, Michal Nicolas.
DNA: Michal, congratulations on the 10th anniversary of Teamm8. What prompted you to launch the brand ten years ago? Michal Nicolas: When I launched Teamm8 it was purely as an underwear label. Arguably, the idea of men’s underwear as a fashion statement had been well established by Calvin Klein back in the 1992 campaign with Marky Mark and Kate Moss. That changed the game, and suddenly every brand wanted to showcase men’s underwear. If you look at the market today, it’s hard to even contemplate that there was a gap that I thought Teamm8 would be able to fill – but there was.
That Calvin Klein campaign was a long time before Teamm8 launched, though.
Yes, many years before, but it had a huge effect on me and stayed with me. I love the classic yet hyper-sexy feel of it, and it influenced my design ethos. But ten years ago I thought the big players were all playing it safe and I felt I had something to contribute – without the constraints of focus groups. [Laughs.] I mean, in the second campaign we shot for Teamm8 the guys weren’t even wearing the underwear, they were naked and just holding them!
You went your own way from the beginning. The way I see it, if you have a good product and a strong brand ethos there’s always the possibility to carve yourself a niche.
What was your design background?
I’m not a trained designer but I’d worked in every aspect of retail fashion for years before I launched Teamm8. I’d worked at Country Road in sales and stock control and went on to be a Manager and then Area Manager for the United Colors of Benetton in Sydney. I then entered the luxury market working for Liz Jones’ Arida and was buying her men’s collections. So, although I had no formal design training, for 20 years I underwent a fashion industry apprenticeship! [Laughs.] I felt I knew a thing or two about creating a quality product and, just as importantly, a strong brand.
You also had an earlier career as a singer and performer.
Yes, prior to Teamm8 and interspersed within those years in retail, I had a career as a singer. And although that feels like another lifetime ago, it really was the launching pad for Teamm8.
Back in those days it was all about Myspace – so retro! I had a record deal in Germany and was lucky enough to have had some success and had garnered a significant international following. My strategy was to launch Teamm8 to the audience I already had and, I guess, that’s why since the day I launched the brand it has had international success.
How did the early days go? Who embraced the brand first?
The concept I launched with was the Teamm8 search for Everyday Champions. I had ten local guys who each had a back story and, of course, were easy on the eye! I then created a profile for each of the guys on the site and asked the public to vote for their favourite. The top three became the Teamm8 Star Players and featured in the campaign. Blogs all over the world picked up on it and it went from there; it was huge. So it would be fair to say that gay men from around the world embraced Teamm8 first. I literally launched with a Brief and a Trunk underwear style in three colours each. That’s it.
The brand has evolved a lot since then! Today, Teamm8 is much more than just an underwear brand, with activewear and swimwear being just as important. I feel like every couple of years Teamm8 evolves into something different. We never lose our brand ethos, but we try different things and most importantly give our loyal customers something to look forward to. I’m still blown away when guys tell us they have been a customer from the beginning and still love
Teamm8! In an age where we’re bombarded with so much, I don’t take that lightly and I’m so appreciative of the support and loyalty. What is the brand’s ethos?
Teamm8 was created for the confident guy who was comfortable in his own skin. He is fashion-forward without being a fashion victim and appreciates classic style with a
I thought the big players were all playing it safe… in our second campaign the models weren’t even wearing the underwear, they were naked and just holding them!
definite twist. Above all that, the Teamm8 man wants to look his best whether he’s sweating it out at the gym, hanging out with friends or enjoying the beach. And when all that comes off he’s supported by superior quality underwear that impresses. [Laughs.] The Teamm8 man is sexy but he doesn’t take life too seriously!
From your perspective, how has the fashion retail landscape changed over the ten years? It’s a completely different ball game these days. Fashion has become so accessible and disposable, with the latter making it a tough field for players like Teamm8. We are a boutique brand and very proud of that, but some people don’t differentiate between a mass brand who can manufacture for a fraction of the cost, and brands like us, who focus on quality and uniqueness. Lucky for us, we have a huge market who appreciates that, and doesn’t want to be wearing something that thousands of other guys are wearing.
What have been some of the “hero” pieces over the years?
Believe it or not, a design from our second ever underwear collection called the Super Low Brief is still our number-one bestseller. It sums up the whole Teamm8 brand perfectly. Classic, understated yet super sexy. It’s who we are. So, although we bring out several new styles each year, we still listen to our customers and make sure they get what they want.
What about in the swimwear range?
Two years ago, we did a flamingo print swimwear collection that went crazy. The was the fastest sell-out we’ve ever had. We still get so many enquiries about it that we’ve just launched the new version of the Flamingo and it’s awesome. As Creative Director, I never want us to rest on our laurels and just repeat what has been successful before because I think it’s really important to keep moving forward. At the same time, our customers need to know they can come back and find that cut or that piece that works perfectly for them, so my aim is to provide a little of both.
It about continuing to evolve and being aware of what our guys want… They want to workout and hang out and want to look good and feel sexy. That’s what we’re here for!
Let’s talk about the over-arching trends of the last decade – fast fashion, and the rise of online retail!
Fast-fashion is a by-product of this manic social media world we now live in. Everything is so instant and fast. Millions of people are witness to things as they happen, no longer having to wait for it to appear in the media. Every person is now a broadcaster, whether they are equipped to be or not. As a result, fast-fashion brands are poised and ready to strike as soon as something hits the catwalk and make it widely accessible and affordable. I don’t think it’s a terrible thing, but it has changed the game.
This fast-paced life also means that Activewear is our go-to and I think that’s great. People are more body conscious than ever, travelling more, and generally just jam-packing their lives with as much as possible so, really, it makes sense that we dress as comfortably as possible. When we’re designing Activewear we’re very aware that the pieces we make have to be able to take you from the gym to your everyday life. Our slant is fashion active and it works great for us.
There’s also interesting stuff happening in the technology of fabric making, right? There are some incredible things happening in fabrics being crafted specifically for Activewear that makes them more durable, functional and enhances performance. We have all of that available to us and it’s exciting. You introduced a range of activewear a few years ago; do you have any plans for a readyto-wear or street-wear collection?
We’re definitely more Fashion Active now. The pieces are still very functional but they have a sexy street-wear appeal. It goes back to continuing to evolve and being aware of what our guys want. And they want to work-out and hang out but above all they want to look good and feel sexy! That’s what we’re here for!
Sexy men… let’s talk about this important aspect of the Teamm8 story: model casting and marketing images.
We’ve built a very strong following based on our brand image and that has everything to do with the campaign and marketing images we shoot. Our guy is confident but not arrogant. He is sexy but in a natural, understated way. I know it’s just a photoshoot but we will not work with anyone who thinks too much of himself or takes it all too seriously. I’ve had the pleasure of working with the nicest guys around and most of them don’t even realise how incredibly hot they are. That, to me, makes them the perfect Teamm8 man.
You’ve also worked with some great photographers.
Amazing photographers like James Demetri, Michele Aboud and Martijn Smouter. They’ve helped create our aesthetic and our very unique footprint.
I really focus on our customers and what they’re telling us they want… We try not to be too tricky. Less is more and our guys love that.
Where do you draw inspiration for each collection?
It’s hard to talk about this and not sound wanky! [Laughs.] I truly follow my heart in everything I do in my life. Sometimes with success, sometimes with monumental failure! But for me the biggest pay-off is learning from both and the best lesson is learning to trust myself without being closed off to other opinions. Like most people, I can be consumed with self-doubt, but I think as long as you stay true then either result is acceptable.
Is part of that listening to and trusting the people around you? You’ve always had a tight-knit Teamm8 team.
Absolutely. This is by no means a one-man show. We have a great team and we’re all involved in the design process and brand image, so a lot of inspiration comes from what the team brings. It’s very much a team collaboration but I love driving it. I’m so lucky to work with incredible people who share the Teamm8 vision and we are very close. Sounds like a bit cliché but we are like a family.
For any fashion brand to survive 10 years is a huge achievement so, congratulations! Thank you. I’m very aware of that, and so grateful for it. Every day I see a new brand emerging and I honestly wish them all the best; I think there’s room in the market for anyone doing something great. I also know what it takes to launch a brand and keep it going, stay relevant and survive.
I like to keep abreast of what’s going on out there, but I’ve never spent much time looking at what other people are doing. I really do focus on us, our customers, and what they’re telling us they want. And they love that we listen to them. We try not to be too tricky. Often, less is more, and our guys love that. I believe that’s probably the biggest factor contributing to us being stronger now than ever.
Matthias Franke (and opposite) in the Aerial range
The Nations range featuring Jason Beam for Team USA. Josh Ivory in the Aerial brief.
The Base Brief campaign featuring Thomas and Jan Miedema.