At the heart of every company is a mission to solve one of the world’s problems. For Romain Jean de Dieu, the CEO and Founder of UGLOW Sport, he wants to improve the comfort standards of sports enthusiasts and athletes alike. This spurred him to dive head deep into designing sports apparel that met his own set of criteria.
Years of research eventually paid off and UGLOW Sport is the world’s first 100 per cent stitch-free brand. The technology represents the brand’s relentless pursuit to be at the top of its game in this highly competitive market with giants like Lululemon, Under Armour and others. The brand shares that it is always on the lookout for how it could better serve the needs of the market and its customers. This can range from addressing ESG concerns to new projects such as UGLOW Health — these are hallmarks of a progressive company.
Ahead, LUXUO speaks with Romain Jean de Dieu to learn more about UGLOW Sport and what is in store for the company in the years to come.
You are an entrepreneur born in Nimes, France. How did the idea of launching UGLOW in 2015 come to you?
When I created the first UGLOW concepts back in 11.11.11 (the date of our first BR in Hong Kong for UGLOW), I wanted to bring more safety into sports and industrial life. I was General Manager in the lighting business for a Jackie Chan and Airstar international joint venture in Hong Kong. UGLOW was a side project where I researched directions into its design, innovation, technology, and sports. The initial products were quite sophisticated; we were embedding Electro Luminescent technology (EL) to enhance users’ visibility at night under all circumstances. The concept was new and bold yet heavy in research and development fees, very niche.
In 2014-2015, the market demand for conventional sports apparel and accessories became more intense, and the various fairs we attended confirmed the trend. I knew I had to develop a new range, but it had to be conventional clothing yet unique. In the following months, I solved the problem with the clues given to me. UGLOW as we know it today began to take shape and grow in my head. It’s the first 100 per cent stitch-free brand and represents the best in comfort, technology and performance.
You take pride in being the world’s first 100 per cent stitch-free clothing brand. How heavy has been the R&D there to achieve such an objective?
UGLOW is today the only 100 per cent stitch-free brand and apparel worldwide. We are distinctive, so the pleasure and feelings of running in UGLOW are very similar to our DNA; we provide a unique sense of freedom and comfort. Such a level of excellence requires the coming together of price and time to perfect our craft.
Reliability was our most significant challenge initially since we were on something new; not all elements and materials were optimised back in the day. We were pioneering in an area none had explored before, and there were clear signs of why! The technology was costly, and production was taking longer.
Our first three years (2015-2018) were challenging for the production teams, but we still have the same core from 2014, which I am proud of.
We had to evolve with our technology, adapt our skills, and improve our designs to fit what was technically possible throughout the years. It was incredible as it was a period where we defined our style and cuts, which now became recognised as part of our uniqueness.
The materials you are using and your specific production methods provide lightweight, functional, and irritation-free clothes. What feedback do you receive from users of the UGLOW range of clothing?
We mainly use polyamide material which offers premium comfort to the user’s skin. Moreover, polyamide is softer than polyester, guaranteeing a reduction of chaffing and minimising irritations.
Such combinations of fabrics combined with our 100 per cent stitch-free production methods help us raise the reputation for our clothes.
Customers write to us, and I am always impressed by the positive note they can leave; last time, one had the impression she was running naked.
In the quintessence of our work, we want to make people feel free and lighter to the point they feel like wearing nothing. What is better than feeling light as ever to perform at your best, right?
Is your focus more on comfort or performance?
We focus on comfort and all its technological features that can elevate the user’s comfort experience. Comfort is critical nowadays, allowing you to perform well and push beyond your personal best. Comfort is prime, and we like to link comfort and performance since they are interconnected.
You mention the ability of your products to endure harsh conditions. In which part(s) of the world do you test and try the UGLOW products?
We presently sell our products worldwide via our distributors’ network (13 countries) and our online channel. Products are tested mainly in France, Singapore and Hong Kong. We need to explore all terrains and conditions to have them perform excellently in varied conditions.
Has your team been made familiar with ESG requirements?
We are very concerned about making the world and our company a better and safer place. We, as producers, are role models, and it all starts with the right actions. We are responsible for acting exemplary, and safety is our priority and inclusiveness. UGLOW offers everyone a chance to start with us and welcome all differences since they are materials to fuel our personal growth.
As an entrepreneur, I have been meeting challenges while evolving around differences of all kinds, but they are the most extraordinary richness; inclusivity is our key to developing further. I embrace the saying, “United we stand, divide we fall.” I remind my employees the same every day by encouraging diversity to create a unique identity for our company.
Our business ethics are straight, yet our governance is small, making it easier to manage any new directions for the company.
We essentially produce in China within our facilities and are in control of all our processes and actions. Furthermore, we are working very closely with the government to keep a rigorous act of conduct.
We are as fair as possible with our workers, offering social and bonus schemes. Everything is significantly regulated in China nowadays. As UGLOW’s legal representative and owner, I must comply with the local government. They expect foreigners to have impeccable respect for labour law, waste management, and business ethics.
How do you define sustainability? How innovative are your vision and the measurement tools you have put in place there?
Sustainability is our means of reaching a better future with a more conscious approach. Consuming and producing with reason is where sustainability finds its roots. We must lead rightly and responsibly with actions to minimise our impact and traces within our business.
Our recent collections have seen more recycled fabrics in use. Since we are primarily using synthetic as our raw material, we try to minimise our impact at this level; it is one way to quantify our impact easily.
You are bullish about the growth of the sports apparel market — what numbers and research papers do you have on hand which sustain your vision?
Sport has become even more present in our life lately as it has become vital that we stay active.
Sports apparel is an ever-growing market. There is a strong demand for technology, performance and function. If you are the first to hit the market hard with collaborations, fresh colours and new technology, you will succeed. The human psyche has a natural attraction to reach for the best; therefore, it looks to improve its position by adding a new and slight edge to make a difference. The pandemic has put many people on a more regular schedule for physical activities, which we immediately saw in our figures. At the same time, in 2020, everyone wanted to remain fit and healthy. For some individuals, sports have more than just a morning routine. It is a religion.
Look at cycling. Who would have thought it would have become the new golf? It is a remarkable breakthrough in this domain and an excellent opportunity for brands like UGLOW to sharpen their presence with great products.
I like to find my sources from fashion trends experts and running insights. For the rest, we enjoy creating our path and staying loyal to our philosophy: “be the first, be fast, create uniqueness, be outstanding.”
Can you name a few of the early backers of UGLOW?
A close circle of family members and friends were our early backers initially. I am very proud of our humble yet bold start.
I will never forget my first production manager being impressed by our passion for our work and our innovation-driven mind. “Romain, don’t go into expert mode on year 1,” to which I replied, “yes, we will!“
I am very proud of where we are today. It is a great satisfaction to improve people’s sports experience while developing the best and most comfortable gear. This energy fuels me for more innovation.
Jean Luc Diard, currently VP of innovation at Deckers corp, founder of HOKA ONE ONE, and former CEO of Salomon, saw UGLOW’s potential and immediately pushed us to develop more until we finally collaborated on a few secret projects to be released this year.
You have been focusing on innovating and standing out from day one. What was your biggest challenge in production/conception/design?
Unquestionably UGLOW Health is the project that has been the most challenging technically.
Such technology is remarkable and did not exist until we made it. We are embedding three technologies into one piece of apparel: Health magnets, far-infrared and pure silver yarn. It has been the most challenging project together since the inception of UGLOW, with the Active Lighting Gear developed in our early stages.
UGLOW Health revolutionises well-being with the three technologies combined. Long-time usage of the product potentially improves blood circulation, eliminates free radicals, protects against harmful rays, and prevents bacteria/viruses from spreading from the silver yarn.
This is an exciting project I would have like to get more time to push further.
UGLOW has been a profitable company for the past years. Are you aiming for an IPO soon, and where do you see the company in five years?
The industry we are involved in is probably the most competitive and populated. Even with the most refined products, it always takes more to grow further. Our organic growth is a vital asset but always comes with limitations. We are growing at an average of 35-40 per cent every year online and 50-65 per cent on BTB. UGLOW has been profitable three years after its inception and continues to be.
Such growth comes with the challenges of finding more labour and more capital. We need to work on a few things to get stronger. I believe the first is to put together our teams in a similar location. We plan to have our headquarters in Europe two years from now.
So far, we are mostly scattered and were Covid proof, remotely working even before Covid existed. Second, inevitably, we should seek further to open our capital to strategic investors or venture capitalists. I have been thinking about it, and this year, we are actively working on finding the right partners.
In five years, I see UGLOW spreading more and stabilising its distribution with its first small boutiques connected to our online store as a bridge between the virtual and the physical world. Both, to me, are not dissociable and interdependent.
We have a solid plan to continue our existing distribution of the UGLOW range and move further and more actively with a slightly different range called UGS, which is already deploying slowly. We are testing it at the moment. There will be a third range DTC without an intermediary based direct model seen from the largest brands. Our brand and business model have no limitations since we control the design, production, and distribution.
Where should our LUXUO readers go to buy the UGLOW products? Who are your retailers? Do you also sell online?
We invite everyone to visit Key Power Sport in Singapore, which has locations in Paragon and Velocity. We are also reachable on Lazada’s lazmall (@KEYPOWERSPORT). They can also find our products in Hong Kong at CAM2, Action Panda, and others.
We also have our online store, which delivers the world if a product is not available at a stockist.
What is the main quality an entrepreneur should always have?
I always enjoy this question because we develop new qualities while getting older, which brings me to add more to the answer each time I define what makes an entrepreneur.
Being an entrepreneur takes courage, patience, curiosity, persistence, passion, love, ideas, motivation, and rigorousness. It is not a sprint but an ultramarathon; it is the opposite of simple and certainty; you need strong nerves to remain lucid and calm.
Ultimately entrepreneurs are leaders with a considerable understanding of everything in a company while also equipped with more freedom and creativity to steer the business.
Entrepreneurship is real and brutal in the meantime, yet extremely rewarding once you pass certain critical milestones. It is life in the driver’s seat — you embrace all the bumps and must never give up on your dreams.
My advice is to surround yourself with the right people and choose quality over quantity, and you will need help, much help. I was fortunate enough to have the right people around me. My number one supporter has been my wonderful wife, who has always believed in me since day one, and she allowed me to grow and make sacrifices while accepting me leaving for days and weeks for work. I cannot thank her enough for it, or there would not be any UGLOW in some ways. A great family and friends to support are what you need first if you want to expand and grow. I call it the core foundation, and it is critical.
A strong team is essential too, and nothing would have never been made right without their unlimited support.
Would you like to name a mentor who inspires you in your daily work?
I have a few. The first is Steve Jobs, and I love his quote: “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” I can’t get enough of it as it helps me look further into myself to find the energy to keep ongoing. I believe it is already 50 per cent of the job done. Steve Jobs is the source of inspiration, my virtual mentor.
Bill gates is a genius and said this quote, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” And, “Don’t compare yourself with anyone in this world… if you do so, you are insulting yourself.” He is another virtual mentor that inspires me.
Last but not least, a close friend from the top spheres of California. My dear friend/mentor, Jean Luc Diard, I enjoy being around his wisdom and kindness. Our collaboration and connection have always helped me believe more in my projects during challenging times. I know Jean Luc has always kept an eye on me and provided great pieces of advice.
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