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Vilebrequin is one of those brands that inspires aspiration. Views of sunny St.Tropez, glamorous celebrities, and luxury getaways immediately come to mind when purchasing a swimsuit from Villebrequin. What people don’t know is that beyond the glamour, Villebrequin has been steadily working with various marine protection associations in the last eight years— protecting sea turtles and raising awareness about their natural environment. 

We chat with Vilebrequin’s charismatic CEO, Roland Herlory. From his gorgeous estate in St.Barthelemy, Roland discusses his latest collaboration with Cecile Gaspar and the Te Mana o Te Moana organisation. An organisation dedicated to protecting sea turtles and the marine environment of French Polynesia. What began as a pair of swim-shorts has now resulted in a program that has educated over 7500 locals on ecological preservation, and welcomed forty-four sea turtles into the world. Together with Te Mana o Te Moana, Villebrequin goes beyond  simple luxury, as they take their next steps towards a more sustainable future. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background, talk us through a day in your life as the CEO of Vilebrequin? 
I was born in Lorraine which is a north-eastern region of France, before moving to Paris for university. I was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to work at Hermès at a very young age. It was such a wonderful learning experience; and I met extraordinary people who were masters in their respective fields. I learned how to live and defend essential brand values such as quality, respect, and beauty. I joined Vilebrequin in 2012, and I am constantly traveling. As CEO, I feel the inspiration when visiting the stores; and I can see the big picture when I am on site. I am not the type of CEO that you would only speak to on e-mails. I need to speak and to see the people who work within the company. I moved my home to St. Barthelemy almost twenty years ago; and this is where I get the best ideas for Vilebrequin. 
Inspired by the luxe surroundings of St. Tropez, how has Vilebrequin changed over the years? 

Vilebrequin was born in St.Tropez back in 1971. At that time, St.Tropez was just a little harbour where many artists and icons gathered. It was a time when carelessness was allowed and freedom was in the air. Brigitte Bardot, Gunter Sachs, Françoise Sagan, were just a few of the many icons who came together in St.Tropez. The vibe was very rock and roll! Mick Jagger actually married Bianca Jagger in St-Tropez in 1971!
Even though times have changed, Vilebrequin still clings to its St-Tropez roots. Over the past few years, we have extended our line to womenswear, ready-to-wear, accessories, and even a ski collection. We are always driven by the same St-Tropez spirit; and a commitment to making the best products. Our goal is to perfect the art of living under the sun.

Vilebrequin has had some pretty interesting collaborations as of late, including Alex Israel and Karl Lagerfeld - how do you go about finding the right people to partner with? 

Collaborations give new perspectives to our brand spectrum. It’s a great way to bring in new inspiration and to work with amazing and talented designers, artists, and brands that share our vision of the world. We mix our identities to find a common path, and it is very exciting! The response from our clients to each of our collaborations has been very positive; and I’m sure we’ll keep on doing them in the future. In order for a collaboration to work, we don’t need to be identical but we need to share something. Whether is through fashion, environmental protection. It just has to make sense with our history and identity, and help show a new and different side of Vilebrequin.


Speaking of partners, tell us about Vilebrequin’s Te Mana o Te Moana Collection? In what ways does this collection help protect the marine environment of Polynesia? 
We have been partners with Te Mana o Te Moana since 2015. It started with the creation of the Mappemonde Dots print on a pair of swim shorts which were made available for both father and son. Every year, we launch a new edition of these shorts in a different colour. For each pair sold, $10 goes to the Te Mana o Te Moana association. Today, we have raised almost $90,000 for the association all thanks to the success of the Mappemonde Shorts!
These funds have helped welcome forty-four turtles in 2017; and raise awareness about the Polynesian environment to over 7500 people. Te Mana o Te Moana was also able to create a sentinel program called Hei Moana. This program teaches local Polynesians how to monitor and take care of the turtles, even when outside of the perimeters of the association. 
What inspired you to partner with Cécile Gaspar and the Te Mana o Te Moana association?
The turtle has been our symbol for over fifteen years; but beyond that we have been partnering with marine protection associations for the last eight years. Te Mana o Te Moana was recommended to us for its transparency and amazing work across French Polynesia by Planet Finance, a charity founded by Jacques Attali. When we first met Cecile Gaspar and witnessed her charisma and strength of commitment, we knew this would be a long lasting partnership. Their work began with school children, as it is important to show them that the sea turtles are worth protecting.
Today, sustainability is more important than ever, with fashion brands becoming more and more concerned about their carbon footprint. What role does the fashion industry play in the effort to minimise our environmental impact as a species?
I think we, as an industry, have to make the effort to initiate the Eco-production process. The Te Mana o Te Moana swim shorts are sold at our boutiques all over the world. We produce it in a bio-sourced polyamide, and we are also looking to develop more Eco-friendly materials for our other products. Its long, expensive, but absolutely indispensable work; which is modest but very, very important to us.


As consumers, how can we make a difference in protecting the future of our planet?
Oftentimes people don’t know where to start, because it is very hard in the fashion industry to distinguish right from wrong. Start with simple gestures. Cecile Gaspar always explains that the biggest threat for the marine life is still pollution. Plastic bottles have a huge impact on the ocean because they are often mistaken for food. So making an effort to decrease your plastic consumption is a good first step. 
At Vilebrequin, we developed a very high quality stainless steel water bottle, as a gift with purchase. It was made to last for a very long time; and help reduce our customer’s daily plastic consumption. These small steps all count to make big changes, all you have to do is start right now. 


Interview by Hannah Tan-Gillies