04.11.2016 - Dries Tack

A Belgian success story

This is the story of two athletes who decided to move into the world of fashion. Put like this, the concept might make you cringe, except that Olivia Borlée and Elodie Ouedraogo managed to turn their dream into a success story. Spotlight on an up-and-coming brand.

Olivia Borlée and Elodie Ouedraogo

42|54, the name of their brand, refers to their national record at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. As for the garments themselves, they show a real passion for fashion and trends. When discussing the origin of their project, Olivia Borlée and teammate Elodie Ouedraogo explain simply that it was while talking fashion between two training sessions that they discovered a shared passion for clothes. According to Olivia Borlée: "Both of us were making an effort to dress fashionably during and after workouts without ever really finding anything that suited us, and even if we couldn’t afford designer pieces we were already aware of the issue of ethics in fashion. For my part, I had visited the Delvaux workshops in Brussels for example: the best way to understand what justifies the price of a bag."

A new chapter

As a child, Olivia Borlée had “fashion designer” down as one of her dream jobs, but it was through interior design that she finally came to clothes: "I studied interior design at La Cambre for three years before finally having to stop everything because of sport. When I started to look for a way to express my creativity, I decided to take fashion design courses. It was a childhood dream come true in a way, so I had a basic knowledge of the trade.” When they started to design their first collection without the help of an outside fashion designer, Olivia and Elodie did not take long to define their style. "From the creation of our first mood board, we adopted a resolutely minimalist and pure approach, hence the choice of a simple colour palette based on black and white." And, to find a niche for themselves in a highly competitive industry, the duo chose from the outset to put a real emphasis on materials and cuts.

Olivia Borlée and Elodie Ouedraogo

100% Belgian

Olivia and Elodie obviously tested all prototypes before launching their collection: "We matured the idea for 4 years before starting the project. Many designers are inspired by the world of sport, but their clothes are not adapted to the practice of running or other high level disciplines. The idea was to create pieces that are both functional and have a great look, offering maximum of comfort and real support. To obtain the level quality we wanted, we worked with a Belgian team of excellent designers in Antwerp and a production site chosen with this same concern for responsible manufacturing. We met some great people, including a Belgian who owned a factory in Tunisia. Specialising in lingerie, she offered us the guarantees we were looking for both in terms of quality and ethics. Our fabrics are also Belgian. We source our fabrics from Liebaert, a company that also lives up to our specifications.” As far as image is concerned, Olivia and Elodie have teamed up with partners who are on the same wavelength, including the Brussels-based agency Codefrisko and the Belgian photographer Thomas Switn Sweertvaegher.

Premium spirit

From the outset, the brand targeted the high-end market. "We set out to create attractive products that are both trendy and ethical. The price of our garments reflects this commitment to quality. We chose to focus on stores that are in line with our concept and we wanted to reach out to top of the range customers willing to buy their sportswear along with other branded garments. In the US, women have been mixing sportswear and urban wear for several years. This hasn’t yet taken root over here, but we are getting there slowly." Last October, Olivia and Elodie came face to face with American buyers by participating in their first show in New York, the birthplace of urban sportswear. "For us, it was important to take advantage of this direct feedback." Less than a month before the launch of their second collection, a capsule consisting of two swimsuits and stretch velvet pieces developed in tandem with the Antwerp lab Pelican Avenue, the positive market feedback and excellent press coverage, both in Belgium and abroad, bode well for the future of 42 | 54.


Performance sports bra

Marie Honnay.