The luxury British brand selling trunks to save (elephant) trunks

By Juliet Herd | 31 Mar 2021 | Style, Leaders, Design

Tempus speaks to Oliver Tomalin, founder of Love Brand & Co.

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Oliver Tomalin, founder of ethical men’s swim and resort wear label Love Brand & Co, is deadly serious when he says he was destined to launch a fashion and lifestyle brand committed to saving elephants and other endangered wildlife. “I feel my whole life was building up to me starting this brand, bringing together all of my worlds into one,” he tells Tempus.

An architecture graduate-turned-entrepreneur, he always knew he wanted to create a brand with a greater purpose but it wasn’t until he came across a charity exhibition in London of life-size baby elephant sculptures eleven years ago that he found his cause. “It was the Elephant Parade in association with [the charity] Elephant Family,” Tomalin recalls. “This was my eureka moment. I was drawn to it artistically but also taken by the message that elephants could become extinct in my lifetime. I took the idea to [the late] Mark Shand, co-founder of Elephant Family, and said I wanted to create a swimwear brand to help his cause and he loved it. He was a big champion of our brand.”

For Tomalin, who spent many holidays on safari in South Africa as a child with his family, elephants have long held a special place in his heart, so it seemed an ideal fit – especially with the irresistible mission hook of ‘Trunks for Trunks’. He also committed straight away to donating 5% of company revenues to the charity, dedicated to conserving endangered Asian elephants. (He now supports Elephant Family through Love Brand’s new partnership with 1% for the Planet, which works with environmental non-profit organisations around the world, in order to make the business scalable.)

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Since its launch in 2010, Love Brand has become the go-to summer lifestyle brand for the discerning male shopper, drawn as much by its clever, colourful prints and comfortable fit as its strong eco credentials. The collections, which include classic linen shirts, T-shirts, shorts and trousers, are 100% vegan and produced in Europe using the finest organic and recycled fabrics. The label’s best-selling swim shorts (for men and boys) are made entirely from recycled plastic.

With his trained eye, Tomalin is focused on creating vibrant prints inspired by the natural world that are fun to wear but also tell the story of endangered wildlife and species in a deliberately subtle and playful way. “What I love is playing with simple silhouettes and drawing shapes from nature with an architectural economy of line,” he says. “I use the prints to be the narrative for the brand.”

He eschews obvious animal patterns for more sophisticated abstract designs that play on the use of negative space and invite the wearer to look more closely and seek out a secret message or double meaning. For the ‘Eye of the Tiger’ print, for example, the critically endangered Sumatran tiger is hidden within the geometric print, signifying how the creatures are almost lost in the wild. 

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For the summer collection ‘Somewhere Under the Sea’, Tomalin adapted the natural markings of the spotted eagle ray and hid the word ‘love’ in the pattern. Another print was inspired by the memorable sight of a diving sperm whale with the tail form mirrored and repeated to create a seaweed pattern in blue and aqua green.

The new collection pays homage to the extraordinary variety of marine species in the Bahamas, where Tomalin’s wife Rose has family connections, and marks Love Brand’s partnership with the California-based charity WildAid, which works to reduce demand for wildlife products. He has designed an exclusive shark print in support of WildAid’s campaign to outlaw the inhumane practice of finning and reduce shark fin consumption in China and Thailand. “When the buying stops, the killing can, too,” reasons Tomalin, who has created a print that gives the illusion of shark jaws from the fins of swimming sharks. “More than 70 shark species are at risk of extinction, so it’s about changing consumer habits and raising awareness. Sharks are one of the most misunderstood creatures and incredibly persecuted.”

For a British brand created around summer holiday wardrobes and warm foreign climes, the travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have been challenging to say the least. But Tomalin insists that he’s a “glass half full” kind of guy and is pleasantly surprised – not to mention, relieved - by how well the business has continued to do, largely thanks to the rise in popularity of staycations and a half-decent British summer last year.

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“What has been a real silver lining is that we’ve had this opportunity to pause and reflect, which for us as a brand was timely as it [2020] was our ten-year anniversary,” he says. “It’s been quite a fortifying experience, which we wouldn’t have otherwise been afforded as we’re usually going hammer and tongs. We’re also all a bit more aware of the environment and the human impact of wildlife, as well as more appreciative of family and friends and the good times, such as holidays. Losing the freedom to just jump on a flight and go, makes me more appreciative of when we can do it again and maybe we will all travel a little more mindfully now.”

In anticipation of more staycations this summer, Love Brand has teamed up with legendary London hotel The Goring to create an exclusive print – ‘Party like a Lobster’ – which features dancing lobsters and swaying palm trees, designed to capture the relaxed spirit of the hotel’s secret garden and bring a flavour of Cornwall to the capital. From 17 May until the end of summer, there will be lobster and fizz and a pop-up selling special edition ‘lobster’ swim trunks.

Like many business owners, Tomalin has had to re-think his approach to bricks and mortar in the wake of the dramatic shift to online retail triggered by the pandemic. His flagship Chelsea store will re-open on 12 April, reimagined as a tropical oasis and concept destination, complete with organic coffee bar, garden café, exhibition space and an edit of resort wear and beach accessories from like-minded niche brands, including some women’s pieces, curated by Rose.

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Everything in the store - from the rustic furnishings and books to sun cream and clothing - is shoppable. “I want the Love Brand store to be like shops of the past - important hubs for the community but also recognising what the shop of the future needs to be to survive,” says Tomalin. “We say that the high street is not dead, it’s just changing - but incredibly quickly.” 

Significantly, Love Brand’s genesis coincided with the start of another love story. Tomalin met his now wife Rose, a former nursery school teacher, as he was embarking on his passion project, even sketching the brand’s logo of two elephants forming a heart on a napkin during the couple’s first date. Less than a month after meeting, they travelled to India together to meet an elephant called Tara, the heroine of Mark Shand’s epic tale, Travels On My Elephant. Married in 2014 and now parents to two small children, they run the family-owned brand together, combining their deep respect of wildlife with their love of travel, adventure and family. 

“We try to bring some fun to everything we do and we feel very lucky to be able to do this together,” says Tomalin.