Ask him to choose between Federer or Djokovic (Rafa sat this one out) and he’ll answer without so much as a blink of an eye: Marat Safin. You might remember him if you followed professional tennis a few years ago. Marat Safin was a tall and robust russian player known for his sheer brilliance and the occasional outburst. He climbed to the top of the ATP rankings in 2000, before falling short due to injuries and the grueling demands of competitive tennis. The reason why Pedro Palha remembers Marat Safin so well is endearing. Pedro’s grandfather once told him he looked like Safin on the tennis court.

That’s the first thing about Pedro that sticks out: his strong family ties. That and the competitive drive. Today he is one of three founders at ISTO. and the brain behind the operational side of things, but 10 years ago he was representing Portugal in the European Championships. It seems forever ago, but it left an indelible mark on the guy.
Over the past year, me and Pedro Gaspar - the other two founders - discovered that a former professional tennis player is the type of individual you want taking care of s*it. Before this starts looking like a LinkedIn recommendation, let me explain: the thing about tennis is you develop a somewhat lonely trade. You’re out there, on your own, in the middle of nowhere trying to overcome your opponent. Points can be quick and painless, or long and exhausting. You might be on the verge of winning but a point is all it takes to turn it around. It tests you. Building something out of nothing requires a similar skill set. We couldn’t be happier to have him as a partner.
Tennis sticks with you, but Pedro has experienced a whole lot more. After graduating in management, he travelled to São Paulo and worked in the bank industry, but soon figured out he wasn’t looking to score points in the corporate ranks. Soon after he found himself with another job offer, this time in Mexico where we joined the marketing at Foodpanda, a Rocket Internet company. It was there, he explains, that he started understanding the challenges and opportunities in the startup environment, specifically e-commerce platforms.
When he returned to Lisbon to work at an emerging local startup, Pedro was already thinking about his next move. He wanted to be in the clothing business and so did Vasco, who was leading the brand comms team at Uniplaces:
“Both of us felt menswear was stuck in a rut and felt like doing something about it, so the connection happened instantly. We started by looking at the brand landscape in the category and figured out where we wanted to be and exactly why we wanted to do this. The vision and purpose soon developed into a business model and later flourished into the brand you now know as ISTO. with the help of Pedro Gaspar, designer-in-chief. We never quite found a way to use it as a tagline, but all three of us knew the best word to summarize our approach was transparency. We prefer to say bullshit-free.”
Then came the hard part: how do you materialize this vision? “Neither of us had proper experience in fashion design or production, but we knew what we were looking for. That’s how we ended up meeting a few brilliant people in the industry. Networking was instrumental in helping us identify the core frictions of the business, from supply side to consumer."
"It’s hard creating a new brand in a super competitive industry, ranging from big players with well established operations to strong new kids on the block. At the same time, we feel the industry is changing rapidly, so we worked hard in product development to help deliver the best possible product at the most honest price, all done in a sustainable way."
So now you know: if you ever visit Lisbon and want to play tennis while talking about building an independent clothing line, Pedro is your guy. If you’re lucky enough, he’ll take you out for some seafood and drinks at Ramiro, his favorite restaurant. No bullshit.
Text and photos: Vasco Mendonça and Pedro Gaspar