As I was walking through the windy Antwerp streets yesterday, I quickly gave in to the overpowering atmosphere of design, fashion and great interiors typical of this great city. I was on a mission to meet one of the important players on the Antwerp fashion and style scene, as well as internationally, Wim Somers, founder of a funky eyewear brand, theo. At the end of my journey through Antwerp's most fashionable streets that are host of great shops and funky cafés, I reached theo's office building. As I entered it, the exuberance of colors struck me with a good dose of positive energy, that I especially appreciated on a cold and grey day. My funky journey began, and here's an account of what I discovered by talking with Wim Somers, who had founded theo back in 1988.
SCHMOOZY FOX: Wim, the main reason I am here is that a couple of weeks ago I went to my favorite optician's store in Brussels, Capelle Opticien, to get a new pair of glasses. After having a little chat with the shop owner, I was recommended this great pair of theo glasses. Its design, a big edgy and unusual, and yet extremely elegant, prompted me to find out more about your company.
The frame came in a bright box, which displayed a very simple yet quite powerful message: theo loves you. Could you tell me the story behind this brand slogan? Wim Somers: We have been using this slogan for over 20 years now. It began as a memo on an order form and has developed into the slogan of the brand theo. This phrase communicates theo's core philosophy quite well. Since we distribute our glasses through opticians' stores, we rarely touch the final consumer. By stating that theo loves our final consumers, we have a better chance of connecting with them closer, and communicating the fact that we have first and foremost their interests and their tastes in mind when we design our glasses. The phrase theo loves you encapsulates the spirit of the company, which is loving and friendly.
SCHMOOZY FOX: What makes theo so different? How do you make sure you stand out from the crowd?
Wim Somers: I guess, I can mention strong recognition of our brand, and our distinct style, by the end user. This is our strength and differentiating factor.
SCHMOOZY FOX: And who are your customers? What is the profile of theo's “typical customer”?
Wim Somers: For theo, the most important characteristics of our customers have to do with their emotional profile. By the way, these days more and more business people talk about emotional marketing, but when we started the company, it wasn't so common. However, already at that time, we thought of our customers in terms of their emotional profiles, not only gender, age and location. When we started, we served a very narrow avant-garde niche. With time, the niche expanded greatly, and now I can say that our customers are people with personality, those who prefer top-quality design that allows them individual expression of style and personality to the power of “labels”.
SCHMOOZY FOX: I have the impression that most of the big eyewear brands are actually brand extensions of big fashion brands. Since theo is purely an eyewear brand, what are the advantages of that?
Wim Somers: Our advantage is that we are very strong at superior design, something that big fashion labels, that usually work through licensing agreements, do not often have.
SCHMOOZY FOX: Do you think of yourself in terms of geographical scope? For instance, do you say that you are an international brand, a Belgian brand, an Antwerp brand? Wim Somers: Well, I often associate theo with Antwerp, but we're often approached by opticians from many different countries who have heard of us as an international brand.
SCHMOOZY FOX: theo is for sure an important player on the Antwerp fashion scene. How does actually the image of Antwerp, you can say, the Antwerp brand, help you? Do you think that Antwerp has a strong image internationally?
Wim Somers: An interesting fact is that our end consumers usually know about Antwerp, and the fact that it's a style, design and fashion city. In fact, the end consumer is much more aware of Antwerp, and the fact that theo comes from Antwerp, than our collaborating opticians! The latter have rarely heart of Martin Margiela or Dries Van Noten, who are famous fashion designers from Antwerp.
We often tap into the great fashion and style resources that exist in Antwerp. For instance, we have recently collaborated with an Antwerp-based rising star of fashion design, Tim Van Steenbergen, to create a spring-summer 2010 sunglasses collection.
SCHMOOZY FOX: What are the values of theo brand, and how do they correspond to your personal values? Wim Somers: Positive attitude to life, quirkiness, and fun.
SCHMOOZY FOX: Could you give your personal advice to anyone who wants to build a funky brand? Be different. Observe. Look at people in the street, see what they like and dislike doing. I do most of my “customer research” in modern art museums around the world. Just by looking at their visitors, I can definitely get a good feeling forhow popular theo is in that particular country!
SCHMOOZY FOX: Thanks for this interview, and stay funky!