EspritEstablished by the founders of the famed clothing company The North Face — Susie Tompkins Buell and Douglas Rainsford Tompkins — Esprit is a fashion brand which first operated out of sunny San Francisco in the late-1960s, producing a range of clothing and accessories for local hippies and bohemians.
Inspired by her new role as a mother, Susie decided to design and make clothes while her husband, Douglas, was away on climbing expeditions. Calling her brand "Plain Jane", Susie first concentrated on snug dresses with both colourful and pastel fabrics. These were all sold from the car boot of Susie and Douglas' VW Camper, giving the brand its radical and nomadic roots, before the boutique store Joseph Magnin took on orders and increased sales.
Renowned for their alternative West Coast style and easy-going image, the brand's philosophy is progressively rooted in these late-1960s origins despite having evolved much farther today, using natural materials and brightly coloured fabrics. The brand itself means "mind" in French, reflecting their burgeoning and positive "body and mind" philosophy as reflected through clothing design. This spirit was reflected in their very first factory which maintained a stock of healthy food for its workers.
Esprit grew and became the global Esprit Far East Group when Susie and Douglas met the businessman Michael Ying in 1971. Ying would go on to become the chairman of Esprit amid a large expansion of the brand throughout Europe, and particularly within its two new headquarter markets located in Germany (under Jürgen Friedrich, 1976) and Hong Kong. By the late-1970s, they took on their trademark logo under a genius design by John Casado and exceeded $100 million in turnover, becoming a darling of the fashion market. Branching out through footwear, house wear, lifestyle and jewellery products, Esprit now has a presence in some 40 countries with over 700 retail stores and many more franchise and department spaces. By the 1980s, they were one of the most popular global fashion lines in the world. Famously drawing attention to the AID epidemic in 1987, they crafted a philanthropic image during a politically conservative period in American and Western history. Since the 1990s, licensing became a strong point of the brand, with license holders including Lancaster (in perfumes and scents), Falke (under stockings and socks) and Versteegh Modeaccessoires (under jewellery), among others. Projecting an eco-friendly motto and a healthy lifestyle, they were one of the first companies to promote organic cotton and responsible sourcing in clothes production, particularly as a global operation.
Today, China has overtaken Japan and grown into one of the largest markets for Esprit, with continued investment for growth, particularly in accessories and clothing. The brand image itself has evolved over the decades, consistently retaining its laid-back stylings and reasonable price-points. Eye-catching yet understated, they evoke a bubbly 1960s spirit with the cool modernism of contemporary fashion. Floral, feel-good designs and loose fitting dresses remain some of their most celebrated fashion pieces, all responsibly sourced. Throughout the decades, through the 1970s until today, they have managed to encapsulate the spirit of the era whilst retaining an integrity in design and spirit.