Natalie Keeler talks to Akin Onal, co-founder of Mori, to find out more about the babywear brand
With a background in investment banking at J.P. Morgan, as well as an MBA from The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania, entering the world of babywear may not have seemed like a natural choice for Akin Onal back in 2015.
And yet, three years on, the Mori co-founder has transformed a simple concept into an enormously successful children’s brand that’s taken the world by storm, garnering attention from the likes of fashion influencer Chiara Ferragni, blogger Louise Pentland and celebrity Binky Felstead to name just a few.
“It was daunting at the beginning,” Akin says – recalling the days when he and business partner and long-term friend, Cam Miller, decided to launch the project. Like Akin, Cam didn’t have children of his own, so it proved to be a learning curve for both of them.
“We did a lot of research, and focus groups with parents taught us the real pain points. I also remember spending my time on flights reading baby books, and receiving so many supportive smiles and compliments from cabin crew, assuming that I was about to start my parenting journey!” he laughs.
The idea behind Mori was inspired by a gap in the market, which Akin spotted while shopping for a gift for his young niece.
“I realised there was a lot left to innovate in terms of fabrics. Baby’s skin is exceptionally sensitive, and they find it difficult to regulate their temperature. By overlaying innovative fabrics with minimalist Japanese aesthetics, Mori was born.”
Babies spend most of their time in bodysuits and sleepsuits, so in Akin and Cam’s view, the need for super-soft essential clothing was irrefutable.
They got to work on crafting breathable, thermo-regulating products of the highest quality – from lightweight garments for hot summer days to super-cosy pieces for sleeping, as well as snuggly hooded towels made from fast-drying micro-cotton.
The concept was an instant hit with parents, and has even managed to attract a significant celebrity’s following. “When Kim Kardashian was expecting her daughter, we were the first baby brand she spoke about on her stories,” explains Akin.
“Then when Chicago was born, the first story she showed to the world featured our front-opening sleepsuit, which was huge for us.”
Since the brand’s launch, Mori’s bestselling sets have proved a sensation, too. For new customers, there’s the starter set, which comes with front-opening sleepsuits, yoga pants, swaddle bag, blanket and more.
The supreme set, meanwhile, is almost a one-stop shop for babywear – available from newborn to 12 months, it comes complete with 32 beautifully crafted products.
While a great deal of thought goes into the materials and practicality of each design, “fickle fashion trends,” as Akin calls them, are only a very small part of the process.
“Aesthetics are an important aspect to us. We want to achieve perfect simplicity, so we work constantly on improving existing products; removing elements and adding new ones.”
Their love for the environment is also a large factor, as only sustainable resources and organic materials are used. The word mori even gives a small nod to nature, meaning forest in Japanese.
“Clothing brands tend to have a big impact in terms of their carbon footprint,” Akin adds. “We believe in looking after the environment and doing everything we can to be as sustainable as possible.”
There’s further evidence of this in the brand’s Kindness Project, which aims to help the environment while supporting children in London who live in poverty.
“We decided that by giving clothing a new lease of life, we could not only recycle clothes, but also help people who are in need. So, we reached out to a local charity, Little Village, that accepts donations such as clothing, pushchairs and so on, and gives these to families in London who may not be as fortunate as others.”
Evidently, Mori’s a brand that’s always thinking outside the box; in ways few babywear retailers have ever considered before. Its Clever sleeping bags, for instance, have been enormously popular, providing safety and comfort as well as ease of use. Is it any wonder that parents can’t get enough?
“We have exceptionally loyal customers who absolutely love the softness of the products, and also that we’re a brand that offers support and information,” says Akin. “We’ve even had dads asking us if we can custom-design adult sleeping bags and pyjamas, as they want to surprise their wives for Christmas! All this reassures us that we’re doing something right.”
“Sleep Club is one of our newest projects, and one we’re very passionate about,” Akin adds. “We’ve created a membership so that we can continue simplifying parents’ lives, and give them rewards, too.”
To sign up, parents simply need to input their baby’s birthday online and Mori calculates the size they need. They’ll then have a different sleepsuit delivered every month for a small subscription fee.
“As a gift, it really helps new parents and takes away that worry of constantly having to think about buying the next size up.”
That close bond between Mori and its customers is something he and Cam evidently still cherish, and Akin still takes the time to read almost all the emails he receives from people.
“It allows me to know how we’re doing as a brand, and if our customers are happy with our products,” he says. “I used to write back to some, but as we’re growing rapidly I have less time to do this.”
With so much to juggle – Akin tells me he’s a “very hands-on CEO” – it’s amazing that he has any time left for himself at all. But the co-founder still finds opportunities to engage in one of his biggest passions: travel.
“The nature in Milford Sound in New Zealand is magical. Another place I found captivating was the Scottish Highlands, which are stunning and actually very similar to New Zealand.”
Back on the subject of business, the next few months look to be an exciting time for Mori. “We have a limited edition design collaboration with Central Saint Martins coming out,” Akin tells me.
“And we’re expanding in the US and focusing on community-building activities. We’re also doubling our product range. Next year is going to be even bigger!”