Mulch Plans on Growing and Expanding Sustainable Fashion Business

The Zarif brothers grew up surfing in San Clemente, Calif., one of the hubs of the California surf scene, but when they developed a ready-to-wear line for their sustainable brand, Mulch, they wanted to keep surf styles at a distance.

“We didn’t want it to be a surf brand. We were more interested in the desert culture,” Mulch co-founder Philippe Zarif said. “We wanted to pay homage to classic California and the rugged feeling of clothes, back then, as opposed to fashion.”

The duo hoped the sturdy look of the line would present an alternative to clothes that are thrown away after a few uses.

Zarif and his brother, Mehr Alejandro, started the brand to be a sustainable label that would cover a lot of bases. It would use sustainable materials and be manufactured in Southern California. The brand would also produce made-to-measure clothing.

“Every collection will be unique,” Philippe Zarif said. “We don’t want to put it in one subgenre.”

Mulch’s first ready-to-wear collection was released in 2018. The line has been sold at the direct-to-consumer site in addition to boutiques including Icons of Surf in San Clemente and North Menswear in Laguna Beach, Calif. The Zarifs said the line is intended to be unisex.

The brothers grew up in a family interested in sustainability and fashion. Their father, Reza Zarif, who was born in Iran, developed a solar-energy division for the construction and infrastructure business Primoris Services Corporation. Their mother, Rufina, who was born in Spain, owned Lulu’s Boutique in San Clemente from 2012 to 2014.


Klay Thompson, guard for the Golden State Warriors, wearing Mulch

The Zarif brothers divided their free time between surfing and playing basketball. Mehr Alejandro, who serves as Mulch’s design chief, detailed Philippe’s sneakers and clothing. When other basketball players who played with Philippe asked where they could get the clothes he was wearing, the Zarifs started a made-to-measure business. The focus for the business was sustainable fabrics and big-and-tall styles for NBA- and WNBA-sized people.

Made-to-measure remains an important part of Mulch’s business. The brand’s start on basketball courts gave it a streetwear influence, leading the brothers to create pieces such as a hoodie and baggy shorts offered in the first collection. Named Willie Boy, the collection was inspired by the true story of a Native American named Willie Boy who eluded well-known sheriffs with his lover, Lola, during a manhunt around the high-desert town of Banning, Calif., in 1909.

The collection does not use the bright colors of surfwear but rather the muted earth tones that are seen in the desert. Some of the line’s pieces are naturally dyed to give a camouflage look.

The line also offers T-shirts, crew-neck sweatshirts, chore jackets, jeans, chino pants and accessories. The styles are constructed from dead-stock fabrics, Supima cotton and sustainably made denim from Candiani S.p.A. T-shirts feature logos of the company name. Retail price points range from $120 for a T-shirt to $450 for a naturally dyed Willie Boy jean and $650 for a jacket.

The price points are much more expensive than most surfwear brands, Philippe Zarif concedes. “People ask, ‘Why is it so expensive?’” he said, to which we reply, “We don’t want you to buy a lot. We want people to be more conscious of purchasing clothing. Is it essential? Is it timeless? We want you to keep the garments for a long time. If there is something wrong with it, we’ll fix it. That is our guarantee to our customers.”

In the works for Mulch’s future is a plan to develop a sustainable T-shirt-blanks program, which could be used by brands looking to expand their sustainable offerings. The brand hopes the line will be defined by diverse looks, which might eventually include a surf line. By the end of the year, the brand plans to unveil its blanks program. The first run of the T-shirts-blanks program will be made from rib fabric taken from dead-stock T-shirts. It is forecasted to be wholesaled from $15 to $40, but prices have not yet been confirmed.

“The [rib fabric] is the fabric used for neckbands. It will be extra stretchy,” Philippe Zarif explained. “We plan on offering these shirts to other brands who want to make a sustainable message but don’t have the capability to make tees locally.”

In upcoming seasons, Mulch hopes to offer tees and other knits made out of a special fabric made with Supima cotton.

Photos by Daniel de Jorge