Coup d’état attempts, national strikes, gang warfare, kidnappings, and crime were the norm growing up for Edouard and Andrea Leret and for anyone else living in Caracas, Venezuela 20 years ago. If Edouard wasn’t home by 7pm every day he got a nervous call from his mother.
Edouard never liked school, and when he finished high school he was eager to explore the world. He’d spent family vacations visiting extended family in France (his father is French), and he distinctly remembers his “first taste of freedom where it was safe to just walk and go get bread in the morning.” He began to plot his gap year move. “I took that year very seriously.”
His parents run EPK, a successful children’s clothing brand with partners throughout Asia. When a business partner based in Shanghai offered Edouard an internship he immediately packed his bags. He enrolled in Mandarin language classes, made friends in the international community, and began visiting factories throughout Asia, learning about manufacturing. “That was a good year for me. It opened my eyes a lot,” he says.
When his gap year in Shanghai ended Edouard headed to New York to attend business school at Marymount Manhattan College. “I wasn’t feeling it,” he told me, so he took a stab at a career in theater. “I did theater off-Broadway for about four years. I realized how hard the acting world is, so I decided to finish my business degree. Also, since I’m not American, going back to school let me keep using student visa. It was very day-by-day.”
With school behind him Edouard returned to the fashion industry and began working at the linen brand Alex Crane. Working there was “like earning a master’s degree for me. It was just four of us in a loft in Fort Greene, Brooklyn fulfilling every order, seeing every side of what an ecommerce business is like. That got me thinking “I can I do this myself.”
The timing aligned with Andrea’s career, too. After earning her degree at Parsons she spent two years at the fashion incubator Luxcartel and was considering her next move. The siblings began contemplating their own venture, and with help from their parents’ experience in the fashion industry, landed on working with cashmere. “We’ve always been fans of cashmere; we were always taking our Dad’s cashmere sweaters from his closet since we were kids,” says Edouard.
I spoke with Edouard and Andrea about forming Leret Leret and what makes Mongolian cashmere so special.
Chris Force: Was it fate that the two of you would end up running your own fashion business?
Edouard Leret: Our parents have owned a kid’s clothing brand, EPK, for 30 years so we’ve always been surrounded by it. Our parents are also very involved in this project as well. We have a group chat with them where we’re constantly talking and brainstorming things. They have 30 years’ experience dealing with Asian factories. We couldn’t have done this without them.
Andrea Leret: I’ve always been drawn to art and knew I would go into arts or fashion.
What did you think when you were introduced to the factories in Mongolia?
Edouard: We got connected with a specific factory in Mongolia and instantly ordered some samples. When we saw the product in our hands we knew we had something special.
They had the technology to knit graphics into cashmere, which isn’t something you see every day.
A lot of cashmere brands are mostly a single color, but we had all these crazy ideas about doing graphics. That’s where we saw the opportunity.
Were there other brands you admired or who inspired what you’re doing with Leret Leret?
Edouard: We’re huge Loro Piana fans. We knew Loro Piana sourced their cashmere from Mongolia so we knew they were the best of the best.
Were you concerned at all about factory conditions in Mongolia?
A lot of brands will say that they do their cashmere in Inner Mongolia, but Inner Mongolia is technically China and most cashmere that is made in China is just not the same quality. They’ll mix it with other things.
It’s definitely cheaper to make things in China. I went to countless factories in China, and it’s not great. It’s not somewhere you want to wake up every day and go. It’s just not the same when you walk into a factory in Mongolia. You can see the energy is way different, so we wanted to do the entire production there, to stay 100% in Mongolia and have the entire process there to support the herders; they don’t get the credit they deserve. They really don’t.
You’ve both been to Mongolia to see the process?
Andrea: Yes, we both went in May of 2019. We wanted to see the factories, the process from the beginning to end. And we wanted to meet people in person, to connect with them and see the factory conditions. We really loved Mongolia and their culture.
Edouard: We stayed for a week in Ulaanbaatar, working on getting that perfect cut so that (the sweaters) would be a universal cut for everybody. We wanted the brand to be for everybody.
Cashmere is associated with an older generation, but we wanted it to be universal. That trip to Mongolia was really, really important because we also went to stay with the nomads in their yurts, which was such an incredible experience. We saw how they directly comb the cashmere out of the goats.
The goats have a layer that they grow for the winter to stay warm, so come spring that starts to shed, and they comb it out. There’s no shaving process; it’s very artisanal.
An aim of the brand is to work with interesting collaborators. How else have you been promoting and getting your work out in the world?
Edouard: When we started the brand everything was very organic. We weren’t doing any paid advertisements; we were just gifting around to people we knew.
We did a popup on Elizabeth Street in 2019 and then the lockdown happened. We got lucky in the lockdown, in a sense, because people were spending and the ecommerce side of things was working really well.
We also partnered with God’s Love We Deliver during those months to donate 25% of our sales to help fellow New Yorkers get the meals that they couldn’t. That was also positive for us commercially because at that time people were trying to post fit pics for a good cause. It gave us some good momentum.
From there it’s really been a process of constant collaboration, working with artists we admire, a musician, a filmmaker, a photographer. It’s really cool. Otherwise we would just be making sweaters.
How is it working with your sibling? Have you always been close?
Edouard: We’ve always been close, but we’ve always been very different at the same time.
We’re three years apart, we have different friends, we dress very differently, we like different authors. When it comes to the designs, Andrea will design some, I’ll design some.
Do you have any favorite Leret Leret designs?
Edouard: Every design is very personal.
When Andrea saw the Mongolian sky for the first time, that was big. That was the inspiration for No. 1.
Andrea: The same for No. 11, that was inspired by the land in Mongolia.
Edouard: No. 11 is a very special sweater because it’s undyed. It’s the different colors of goats, and those natural colors are beautiful.