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That Julia Lang launched a brand during the pandemic is nothing short of a triumph. To have that brand, VEERT, seen on everyone from Alicia Keys to BTS’ J-Hope, just proves how powerful her vision and reach is.
A play on the French word for “green,” VEERT’s green hues and oppositional key details have become one of the most recognizable accessories to grace the bodies of celebrities, extending to the likes of Stephen Curry, all the way to Meek Mill, Luka Sabbat, Swizz Beats, Westside Gunn, and Giveon. Indeed, VEERT is a triumph.
“We don’t just want to birth another product,” Lang tells Rolling Stone. “We want to be the catalyst of empowerment, healing energy, and unity.”
Perhaps that’s why the brand has been so successful. Lang, and VEERT co-founder Leontinus Arnolds, have turned her decades worth of A-list clients—The Weeknd, Westside Gunn, and Kareem “Biggs” Burke—into advocates for a brand that breaks gender norms and calls for equal representation. Designer and artist Kailand Morris starred in collection two, dispelling binary codes while studded in pink and green floral stones; Maluma and Meek Mill debuted selects from collection three, casted in strings of pearls and mixed amongst their traditional pieces.
But who could expect anything less? Growing up in East Africa, moving back to her families’ home in Germany, traveling Europe, settling in London and then eventually New York, Lang has experienced life through the lens of a million different people and cultures. “I think it instilled this sort of out-of-the-box mindset,” she begins in our discussion. There was no specific path set before her, so she absorbed it all with an open mind and became the catalyst that she is today: confident, determined, and hungry for more.
As collection five launches, highlighted with mother-of-pearl shell pearls and available at SSENSE, Saks Fifth Ave, and Selfridges, she reminds me that it has only been two years, “exactly 24 months this week” since the brand debuted its first designs. To say she is a force would be understating the woman before me, so I’ll let her own words make the point.
I want to go back to your beginning. You were born in East Africa and moved to Germany at an early age. Do you think those cultural shifts have influenced your work?
I think it instilled this sort of out-of-the-box mindset. There wasn’t a path dictated by society for me. I was always just hungry to think outside the box and follow my own idea of what was right. There was never an “Oh, this is the path you should follow.” I moved to London after I graduated, and then I figured out how to be in New York, so I always just followed my gut and whatever felt right.
I think it also goes back to my parents. You know, back then, it was unusual to leave Germany and move to a different country, then birth your children there. It was very brave of them, and it definitely opened my eyes early on to see the possibilities. You just have to follow whatever’s right for you.
Now you’re in New York, and at some point, you start working with Kareem “Biggs” Burke, co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records, along with Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Damon “Dame” Dash. What was that like, and what came out of that?
So, at this point, I had been running my agency for 10-plus years, and Biggs was one of 20 clients I had at that time. He was just one of those people who made it so public and put me literally in every interview he had. He put me out there and promoted me constantly, and we traveled the world together. It was a very special and monumental work relationship, for sure, which I will always look back on and be grateful for.
In that 10-year span, at what point did you stop and say, “Okay, now it’s time for me to start thinking about myself?”
It was just getting to a point where it was actually getting exhausting. I do have staff at my agency, but clients… the best example, Biggs… they really hired me to be personally involved. It became such a thing that, in the end, it was so exhausting and almost not doable anymore. I knew I was going to run myself to the ground. I also knew I wanted a brand. But it had to make sense, and again, I had zero time. I was already flat-spread with my agency, and I could barely handle it anymore. I had to make up my mind.
In January, it actually just clicked in my mind, not knowing that there was going to be a pandemic. Which, in retrospect, was a blessing because it gave me even more time to develop. But I just knew that I wanted to have a big genderless movement.
Let’s dive in specifically about the origin of VEERT. What was it that led to the brand as it is now?
So one of the core elements for me is always to stay authentic. People have known me over the past decade as the girl who wears a lot of green. When I was with my boyfriend 15 years ago, during the first months, he gave me this green dress and I never felt more beautiful than in that moment. So people became to know me for the girl with the braids and the green clothes. I’m also big on holistic influences, green standing for the heart chakra—It’s hope. It’s money. All of our gemstones have holistic healing intentions. They’re all real, genuine stones. I was just looking for a way to bridge the gap between an unexpected lounge, which is like jewelry for men, with home fragrance and self-care. Which we quickly started to focus on the jewelry part of the business because it blew up
And it just felt really close to home, because I wear jewelry every single day. Also, I just knew our visual language needed to make a point of how it’s actually very acceptable and sexy to be a very masculine man and still rock those somewhat feminine pieces.
Talk a little bit more on that point because the men’s sector for style, especially in Black cultural spaces, is traditionally harder to penetrate when it comes to gender-bending. But you have done it so successfully in a way that it doesn’t feel forced. What do you think was the key to unlocking that demographic, and getting your work in those spaces?
We are received so well because of our visual language. We make a point to include every skin color in our photo shoots and campaigns. That’s the purest beauty to me. Even collection five, you see a white and Black hand holding each other, you know, tying the knot and having all the necklaces hanging on their arms. That was always a big part of VEERT.
Personally, I think various cultures are beautiful, and it’s just a visual aspect very dear to my heart. I was born in Africa. Not in South Africa, East Africa, Tanzania. My family was one of the only white people there. It’s just what I saw and experienced when I grew up. And back to my agency, I had so many clients in the music industry. It goes back to them supporting the brand and buying it. Those people were and are very influential, and then their following started to pick up on it.
I want to ask about the floral embeds because I read a quote from you about the power of flowers, and how they’re universally accepted. Can you explain that a little bit more?
So that was collection two. We had pink and green flower elements with the freshwater pearls, and we shot all the pieces on male figures. It was very unexpected, but then it became one of our best sellers with a 90% male customer base. I just believe that, you know as a heart is universally understood, so are flowers. I don’t think there’s anything wrong about even gifting a man flowers, because it’s just a sign of joy and love. We wanted to emphasize that you can be masculine and strong, but still wear something somewhat feminine. It’s so sexy and empowering, and it’s allowed.
It was reported in Forbes that within the first year, you amassed net sales of over $1M. That was just year one. Now that you’re in collection five two years later, where do you see the brand heading next? What are your goals and what are your aspirations?
Just to be clear, that was a net number we accomplished in year one. You have to understand as a new brand, the expenses you have and the money that goes back into developing is unheard of. A lot of people assumed that we had a million on our hands, cash. That’s not the reality.
Most, probably 90% of that money, goes back into development. As a new brand you have to start from scratch. Even your global trademarks, everything comes at a high cost, so this is not obviously what we were left with. But even to make any sort of profit in your first year, especially during a pandemic, is amazing. A lot of brands, they only make real profit after a couple of years.
In our second year, we tripled our first year’s revenue. We are developing ready-to-wear made in Italy. We need a bigger office. We need staff. It’s just constantly reinvesting in your business. So it’s not that you pay yourself out yet. Everything goes directly back into the business.
But it also goes back to my resilience and the fact that I am very impatient by nature. I just always aim for the stars. I wanted to make five million the first year and we made a million, so you know it’s a lot, but I always strive for more. Big shout out also to our co-founder, Leon. While he has completely different talents than me, we compliment each other pretty well while handling our daily operations.
Shoot for the stars, and then everything else will just come through.
What do you want audiences to know about collection five? I know you’re introducing new materials to it, but what do you want audiences to see, and how do you want them to feel when they wear it?
I’m super proud of this collection. I constantly want to challenge myself and also surprise our audience with new elements, while staying really true to who we are and to our core elements. For collection five, we have a beautiful new design which uses embedded green zirconia on freshwater pearls, as well as new shades of mother shell pearls, a light green and a dark green, which we never used before. And then we also have a logo pendant, which has been really well-received. I feel like it’s going to be one of our most recognizable pieces, in our pink and green color, which ties back a little bit to collection two. And all of the pieces are available in 18 karat solid gold, as well as in the vermeil.
And now the pearl has become a huge element as part of your brand. Where does that stem from?
When you go back hundreds of centuries, pearls are considered as a very feminine, upper-class jewelry piece. But we wanted to showcase that this is actually a new medium for men in our day and age, and that this should be a staple for any man with great taste—And yes, a staple element for any man who is fashion-forward and wants to look good, simply put. Then it became one of our best sellers. And it’s not that are always going to be including freshwater pearls. As long as it makes sense for us, sure, but we are not a brand that you can put in a box and say, “Oh, VEERT is that green brand with the freshwater pearls.” That’s a phase, and maybe it will be included a lot, but it doesn’t dictate who we are as a brand.
The last thing I want to ask, and you kind of mentioned this a little bit when we started talking about money and reinvesting it back into the brand. For those that might be reading this from all over the world, what advice do you have for entrepreneurs starting their business from the ground up and don’t know how?
A couple of things. Number one, resilience. There’s going to be a billion obstacles, a billion ‘nos,’ and that is not even exaggerated. You’ve got to push through it, and you need to stay hungry. Another big one—I always aim to be the world’s best in my field, which is almost not realistic. It’s unattainable. But even if you meet halfway, it’s still powerful enough. So your goals should be almost to a point where it’s a delusional goal, but even if you meet it halfway through, it’s still monumental enough.