Matt & Nat: Bursting at the sustainable seams

3 minute read

As chief executive of popular vegan fashion brand Matt & Nat, Manny Kohli knows better than most how consumer tastes can shift. Two decades ago, the apparel industry was struggling with the concept of vegan leather. But then consumer interest began to pick up – especially among young people – and the sustainability trend exploded.

Today, Montréal-based Matt & Nat, known for sleek and modern designs, is a rising star in the world of cruelty-free fashion, itself one of the hottest categories in the apparel industry.

With 200 employees and customers across North America, Europe and Australia, Matt & Nat’s revenues hit $40 million last year – thanks in part to a strong omni-channel retail strategy. The company sells direct-to-consumer through its e-commerce channel, has wholesale customers in more than 100 countries ranging from independent fashion boutiques to major department stores, and operates a small chain of 14 Matt & Nat branded stores that are key to Kohli’s strategic vision.

An omni-channel balancing act

The main function of the branded stores, Kohli explains, is to remind consumers that Matt & Nat is out there, just like a billboard. “The stores pushed us to a different level,” he says. “But we don’t want to be in every mall. Imagine, if you could get any item in our collection in every corner store? There’s nothing special about it.” Still, the appearance of the shops caused anxiety among some wholesale customers. They feared their business might get eroded, despite Kohli’s assurances that the move was all about brand building. “I told them, ‘We’re here to help you. Your business is going to get better if we have more brand awareness.’”

The company uses social media to help keep that promise.

The stores pushed us to a different level. But we don’t want to be in every mall. Imagine, if you could get any item in our collection in every corner store? There’s nothing special about it.

Manny Kohli

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Strategic social media

“We never push our stores on social media,” Kohli explains. “We never say, ‘This bag has just become available at our own location, go pick it up.’ Instead, we tell people to go to the closest store (of one of our wholesale customers).”

This social messaging is firmly rooted in the company’s Instagram channel, where it unveils news about its collections and interacts with customers and influencers.

“Instagram is incredibly important,” says Kohli. “Whether you’re Prime Minister of Canada or a bank, everybody is on Instagram today.”

They’re also shopping online more than ever, which has elevated the importance of Matt & Nat’s direct-to-consumer channel.

Adapting to COVID-19

As COVID-19 hit and malls shuttered in much of the world, the company was left almost wholly reliant on e-commerce. Meanwhile, social distancing rules meant it had to reconfigure staffing at its headquarters and warehouses. Some staff were sent home to work and a smaller proportion were laid off.

“It definitely hurt,” says Kohli. “But it helps that we have a very strong brand. We’re starting to see things coming back.” However, some of the changes could be permanent.

For instance, plans to build new offices have been shelved, probably for good. “We don’t need a new location anymore,” he says, adding that the COVID-19 situation proved productivity doesn’t suffer when employees work from home.

So where does Matt & Nat go from here? While the company is still dealing with the disruption caused by COVID-19, the big picture remains bright, and Kohli has no plans to give up the reins anytime soon. “This company is my passion.”

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