Funky brand interviews

Skunkfunk: edgy fashion from Bilbao

It was my last night in Lisbon. I’d had a great short break in this fun city, full of exuberant graffiti and little cosy restaurants serving grilled fish. My usual hunting for local funky brands, however, didn’t produce too many fantastic results, and it was too late to hope for anything spectacular. It was the time to have the final drinks in Lisbon’s Bairro Alto, not go shopping. But around 10 pm, when we were hopping from one bar to another, I noticed a store that was still open.  Skunkfunk, the sign said.  There was no way that a funky fashionista would miss a quick peek inside.

What I saw inside of the store pleasantly surprised me. Very original and happy clothes, and great bags and accessories, made from recyclable materials. Having acquired several items, I asked the shop assistant whether the brand was Portuguese. “No, it’s from Bilbao,” he said with a lot of excitement. “And they are so great, they support artists, and have really talented designers working for them.”

If a shop assistant of your franchise outlet has that much enthusiasm about your products, then your brand is probably doing a lot of things right. I wanted to find out more about Skunkfunk, and am happy to publish an interview with its founder and CEO,  Mikel Feijoo Elzo. Olga: When was Skunkfunk founded?

skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews
skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews

Mikel: It was launched in 1999. Before founding Skunkfunk, I had been buying and selling clothes simply to support my habit of traveling. Then I started a line of Tshirts that I was selling to festival-goers, and later on decided to create a full range, a brand. Without too much experience in the fashion industry, I launched Skunkfunk, planning to manufacture everything locally. Olga: Can you describe the brand of Skunkfunk in three words?

Mikel: Different. Lifestyle. Cosmopolitan.

Olga: How important is it for Skunkfunk to follow trends?

Mikel: Actually, we don’t call Skunkfunk trendy -- we don’t follow trends. We follow our own unique style, which is supported by a large team of in-house designers . They take care of the colors, fabrics, trims, prints and styles.

Olga: In how many countries do you sell?

Mikel: We are present in 44 coutnries, selling our products in 22 brand stores.

Olga: How could you describe your “typical” consumer?

skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews2
skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews2

Mikel: I would say that it’s a lady who travels, cares about style and comfort. She is an independent woman, and she likes to be different, and show her unique personality. She’s also someone who dares to carry a round hand bag, which looks extremely funky, but, let’s face it, not very practical. (Laughing). Olga:  Some articles about Skunkfunk that I’ve read refer to Skunkfunk as a sustainable brand. Is it a good way to describe your company?

skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews1
skunkfunk_schmoozy_fox_funky_brand_interviews1

Mikel: I think a better word to use in relation to Skunkfunk would be “conscious”. There are many fashion brands that call themselves green, for example, but to be perfectly honest, if we followed the principles of sustainability, we wouldn’t need so many clothes altogether, would we?  Trends change way too often, and to comply with trends, more and more fashion is being produced, and transported around the globe. The fact that we consciously don’t follow the trends, contributes to sustainability. You can buy your clothes at Skunkfunk, and they will last several seasons.  We use sustainable fibers to manufacture clothes and accessories.

Olga: A shop assistant at your store in Lisbon was very enthusiastic about your collaborations with artists. How do you collaborate with them and what would you like to achieve through these collaborations?

Mikel: Since we have a large in-house team of designers, working with independent artists is a way of bringing in new inspiration to the company, and freshness to our collections. We don’t only work with graphic artists, by the way. We sometimes challenge other types of artists -- the ones who have never worked with textile before. We ask them to create art on a canvas that is going to be worn by people. They like these challenges, and they often result in freshness and creativity, benefitting the final consumers of Skunkfunk.

Olga: What are Skunkfunk’s plans for 2013?

Mikel: We’d like to start seling in East Asia  and Brazil. And of course, we will also seek continuous improvement in all areas of the business, trying to be better in terms of service delivery, sustainability, design -- everything you can think of.

Olga: Thank you, Mikel, and I wish you and the whole of the team at Skunkfunk a very productive and successful 2013.

MINI: an exciting drive

Mini_funky_brand_interviews_Schmoozy_Fox
Mini_funky_brand_interviews_Schmoozy_Fox

A small car with distinctive design, and a rich brand history -- that’s MINI. MINI, a brand owned by the BMW Group, has been on my funky brand radar screen for a while -- I mentioned it on my blog back in 2009, in my post On cute little brands and MINI.

MINI fits my Schmoozy Fox’s description of Funky Brands very well, as it owes its market success to a combination of outstanding design and smart brand strategies. An important part of MINI’s brand vision throughout the years since its launch in the 1950s has been careful nurturing of the fun and excitement factors, which are inherent to MINI’s brand DNA. Today, I am happy to bring to you an in-depth story about MINI, told by my interviewee Philipp Thomssen, Head of Advertising and Community marketing at MINI. Take a glimpse at what MINI’s brand managers have done in order to reinforce the car’s emotional appeal to its customers around the world.

Olga: The brand of MINI celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009. How does a brand with such a long history manage to stay contemporary?

Philipp: Launched in 1959, revived and reinvented in 2001, MINI has quickly evolved from a one-model niche player into a premium car brand with a diverse portfolio. In 2001 it was important to refresh the potential of the classical MINI, to make it a modern product and to build a strong brand by focusing on its emotional appeal. In the worldwide perspective it was necessary to position MINI in a coherent way as an independent brand, whose core was about excitement. The market introduction´s basics endure till today.

The premise was to link an outstanding product with a modern design which still takes up the old iconic character of a MINI. Our product is characterized by its emotional design, outstanding product substance and progressive technology, and agile driving behavior as well as his almost unlimited options in customizing the car. A further significant point is maintaining the right balance of continuity of a brand now going back 50 years and its innovative potential. It was a challenge to position MINI as the first premium brand in the small car market. This was achieved by a consequent brand management and highly motivated team.

Olga: How could you summarize the main characteristics of the MINI brand?


Philipp: A MINI is more than a car. It is like a friend! It is pure “Excitement”.
 MINI is positioned worldwide as a unique and fully independent brand in its own – a brand revolving around the concept of enthusiasm and thrilling lifestyle. Our communication allows us to position MINI in a coherent way – worldwide. The marketing and communication strategy is characterized by the alignment as a premium brand with an international positioning and a clear orientation towards the demands of our existing customers and extended target groups.

MINI_funky_brand_interview_schmoozy_fox
MINI_funky_brand_interview_schmoozy_fox

Olga: What is a profile of a typical consumer of MINI cars?

Philipp: MINI aims to take over new target groups in modern milieus. Those tend to be well-funded, very demanding based on a very individual lifestyle and their part of the population is growing.

The consumers are mostly 25 to 45 years old and work in a creative environment. They are open towards new trends and are spontaneous. Aesthetics and design looms large for them – in purchases decisions as well as in their daily life.

A MINI is not a status symbol, but an expression of personality.  It´s not about the size, it is about the substance and individuality. MINI is a car build for an urban area, no matter what country they live in.

 Olga: Does MINI have a “nationality”? Is it positioned as a German car with British heritage, or is the origin irrelevant in MINI’s brand positioning?


Philipp: Today’s MINI is not imaginable without its British origin and heritage. MINI has always been a British car and still today there are cars produced in the so called MINI Production Triangle (Plant Hams Hall, Oxford and Swindon). Of course MINI as a brand is managed in Germany. But beside these facts we understand and steer MINI as an international brand.

 Olga: What are the countries in which MINI is especially popular?

Philipp: In 2012 the U.S. of America has been the biggest market for MINI with 19.911(+6.0% compared to 2011) sold units till April. In Europe the UK (13.169 units) and Germany (12.385 units) registered the biggest sales. A plus of 25% in sales made China an exceptional market with already 6.911 sold MINIs.

MINI_convertible_funky_brand_interviews_schmoozy_fox
MINI_convertible_funky_brand_interviews_schmoozy_fox

Olga: What are the factors that explain phenomenal success of MINI around the world?

Philipp: On the one hand, it might be explained by the fact that the audience is very similar all over the world. Hence this international identity offered a chance to position MINI worldwide in a very coherent way.

On the other hand, the success of MINI can be explained by its emotional attraction and the nuanced product line-up. In the long term we aim to offer up to ten different versions of MINI, in doing so we want to grow at a steady and sustainable rate.

Olga: What MINI models exist now, and are there any plans to launch new models, or limited editions?

Philipp: There are six MINI models right now (Hatch, Convertible, Clubman, Countryman, Coupé, Roadster). The seventh family member, the MINI Paceman will debut in Fall 2012.

Our sub-brand John Cooper Works, which has its roots in racing, currently offers five models: The MINI John Cooper Works, the MINI John Cooper Works Convertible, the MINI John Cooper Works Clubman, the MINI John Cooper Works Coupé and the MINI John Cooper Works Roadster. Later this year, the MINI John Cooper Works Countryman and the MINI John Cooper Works GP will be introduced.

As MINI is committed to the environment and sustainability we launched the  MINI E global test-fleet back in 2008. Test-user all over the world have helped us to improve our first MINI powered only by electricity.

Olga: Could you share some of the marketing activities in 2012-2013 that you plan to carry out to sustain and grow the brand of MINI worldwide?

Philipp: There are more exciting brand activities to come. MINI will surprise with creative launch campaigns in those communication channels that we consider to be more and more important. In this context we will focus on online communications and social media, without ignoring the classic communication channels, such as advertising, commercials, sponsoring and cooperation, guerilla-marketing and others.

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MINI_family_funky_brand_interviews_schmoozy_fox

All photos in this article have been provided courtesy of MINI.© 2012 SCHMOOZY FOX. Funky Brand Interviews™  is a trademark of SCHMOOZY FOX. All material on this site may be freely cited provided the source is given. Please use the permalink of the article. If you would like to syndicate the full text of this article, please contact Olga Slavkina at olga (at) schmoozyfox (dot) com

Alessi: passion for design

Alessi is a brand from Italy which has already featured in my list of Funky Brands™ on Pinterest and in one of my previous blog posts,  Funky Brands from around the world: Italy.  

Today I am happy to publish my in-depth interview with Matteo Alessi, the company’s director of marketing, international sales and development in Europe, and also the first member of Alessi’s 4th generation to work for this family business. I spoke with Matteo about Alessi’s brand strategy, the role of design and open innovation in its business development, and am happy to share this conversation with you today.

Olga Slavkina: Matteo, if you had to explain Alessi’s brand to someone who’s never heard about it, what would you say?

Matteo Alessi:I would probably focus on our mission on the market. I would say that Alessi is a mediator between the world of applied art and design on the one hand, and consumers, on the other hand. Alessi makes sure that great design finds its expression in products that people like you and me can buy, and use in their homes.

Olga Slavkina: In practical terms, how do you bring art and design to the market? Does Alessi employ a lot of designers?

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Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Matteo_Alessi_portrait

Matteo Alessi:Not at all. In fact, we don’t have any designers working for us full time! Instead, we have a pool of about 200 independent designers that we work with. Whenever we have a request for a specific product, we tap into this pool, and work with someone who we think would be the best person to design it.

Olga Slavkina: What are the advantages of working with freelance designers as opposed to hiring them?

Matteo Alessi:the keyword here is creativity. We want to collaborate with creative people who are free in their own work. For us, it makes much more sense to work with freelance designers who work for different companies, not just one. We believe that this feeds their creativity, so their designs end up being very creative, too.

Sometimes we call Alessi a Dream Factory -- because we help designers realize their dreams, and realize themselves. We never tell them, “Please design a table of this color and this shape”. Instead, we say, “Do what feels right to you.” The key to achieving good results in our work with designers is simply to be open to their creativity.  Instead of doing extensive market research, asking our current and potential customers what kinds of products they would like Alessi to produce, we come straight to the designers and artists. We think that asking the market about what it wants, and then telling the designer what she needs to deliver, limits her creativity. Perhaps our approach is quite unconventional, but it is certainly a very important element of our brand strategy. We call it open innovation.

Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Girotondo_Tray_design King-Kong 1984
Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Girotondo_Tray_design King-Kong 1984

Olga Slavkina: Do you work with designers individually, or do you also have any initiatives which allow them to work in teams, on larger projects maybe?

Matteo Alessi:As I mentioned, creativity is a very important word in the world of Alessi. It’s one of our key brand values. Of course, we work individually, but we also have large-scale initiatives dedicated to creativity. For instance, we often organize workshops on different aspects of creativity. They are attended by many artists, designers, sculptors and other kinds of creative people. Sometimes these workshops have very concrete goals, but sometimes we leave them a bit more open. They benefit those who participate in them, and of course, they also benefit Alessi. These workshops feed Alessi’s passion for creativity and design -- the values around which Alessi’s brand revolves.

Olga Slavkina: Could you give an example some of Alessi’s recent creativity workshop?

Matteo Alessi:Sure, I could mention a workshop that we ran with the municipality of Beijing in September 2011. The name of this project was (Un)Forbidden City. It involved work with 8 chinese architects who were our workshop participants. Alessi didn’t have any concrete objective in mind when we were organizing this workshop. Instead, we simply wanted to feel the pulse of the architecture in Beijing, we wanted to have a better understanding of it, so a creativity workshop was a good way of doing that.

Olga Slavkina: I’ve noticed that on your web site, products can be searched and viewed by the name of the designer who created them. This is actually the first time I come across a company which acknowledges the role of the designer to such an extent. It must be very valuable for the artists and designers who collaborate with you -- and for their personal brands.

Matteo Alessi:Indeed, all of the products that you can see on our sites are strongly associated with the names of those who created them. It’s simply Alessi’s way of showing our respect to the creative force which is at the core of our company. And of course, it also benefits designers and their careers. This is true both for emerging designers, and also for those who have already established themselves as well-known creatives.

Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Juicy Salif_Citrus squeezer_design Philippe Starck 1990
Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Juicy Salif_Citrus squeezer_design Philippe Starck 1990

Olga Slavkina: Can you think of any cases when an unknown designer’s career and personal brand became famous as a result of a collaboration with Alessi?

Matteo Alessi:When we began to work with Philippe Starck in 1986, he was already establishing himself as a strong designer, but I think Alessi played an important role in helping him become very well-known. In fact, I think this is probably true to every collaboration between Alessi and each of the designers in our pool. It’s great to be able to play such an important role in the careers of so many creative people. Alessi certainly improves their personal brands by helping them associate their work with our brand name. Alessi is known for its truthfulness to designers, and their style and honesty in the way we work with them, so all of our collaborations are win-win.

Olga Slavkina: How can a company with such a long artisan tradition stay up-to-date and contemporary?

Matteo Alessi:Alessi was established 91 years ago, so indeed it has a long history of making high-quality products. At the beginning, it manufactured products for other companies, and actually, its own company name was different. It wasn't until the 80s that Alberto Alessi decided to make products under Alessi’s brand name.

Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_9093_Kettle_design Michael Graves 1985
Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_9093_Kettle_design Michael Graves 1985

Our products have been and are hand made, with the help of machines. It is still all very artisan. In this sense, we stay true to our roots. This is because quality is very important for us, and we want to continue paying a lot of attention to details, durability, functionality and quality of the manufacturing process. On the other hand, the brand manages to stay contemporary through design.

There isn’t any particular “traditional” style that we want to preserve, on the contrary, we are interested in bringing very avant-garde, unusual products on the market. Perhaps this is Alessi’s style!

Olga Slavkina: Are Alessi’s most avant-garde products sold under the Officina Alessi line? Which other product lines can you mention?

Matteo Alessi: Alessi has 3 different product lines, depending on the average price point, and some other factors. Officina Alessi is our line which offers exclusive products sold as part of limited editions. This line allows us to experiment with new materials, and gives us an opportunity to try very innovative, avant-garde, designs. As the other two lines -- A di Alessi and Alessi, Officina Alessi is available in each of our 25 flagship stores worldwide, as well as some other carefully selected points of sales.

Olga Slavkina: How could you describe Alessi’s “typical” consumers? Could you call them design aficionados?

Matteo Alessi:Yes and no. I think that besides being knowledgeable about design, these are the people who simply have an emotional reaction to our products. In other words, you don’t need to be a specialist in design in order to appreciate the presence of Alessi’s products in your home.

But if you simply like our products, and can connect with them emotionally, and you feel that they are part of you, and your home, then you’ll probably be attracted to many of Alessi’s products.

Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Magic Bunny_Toothpick holder_design Stefano Giovannoni 1998
Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Magic Bunny_Toothpick holder_design Stefano Giovannoni 1998

Olga Slavkina: Could you share with the readers of the Schmoozy Fox Blog your vision -- personal and professional -- for Alessi’s development in the near future?

Matteo Alessi:On a personal level, I would very much like to establish distribution of Alessi’s products in Russia and Eastern Europe. On a broader, company level I’d like to continue with the open innovation approach, and explore such trends as eco-design, minimalistic design, and other contemporary styles and trends.

Olga Slavkina: Thank you very much for this interview, and I wish you a lot of success in your very creative job.

All photos in this article have been provided courtesy of Alessi.© 2012 SCHMOOZY FOX. Funky Brand Interviews™  is a trademark of SCHMOOZY FOX. All material on this site may be freely cited provided the source is given. Please use the permalink of the article. If you would like to syndicate the full text of this article, please contact Olga Slavkina at olga (at) schmoozyfox (dot) com

DKNY: a social fashion brand from New York

Today’s brand to feature in the series of Funky Brand Interviews is DKNY. In one of my previous posts, Social Media with a Human Touch, I talked about Aliza Licht, SVP Global Communications for Donna Karan International, who is the real person behind the brand’s Twitter and Tumblr accounts.  

Called “the social media maven”, the woman “who runs New York and social media” and “a force to be reckoned with” by the press , today Aliza Licht talks about her love for social media, PR , the glamor of New York, and of course, the funky brand essence of DKNY.

 

Olga Slavkina: Donna Karan and DKNY are two brands with different brand positioning and different types of customers. How do you manage to combine work for both brands?

Aliza Licht: I'm the SVP of Global Communications for the company which means I oversee Donna Karan New York, DKNY and DKNY Jeans including all product categories. Because the brand DNA is so rich, everything stems from Donna's original inspiration which is New York. All the brands add up to the sum of the total which is the globally recognized "World of Donna Karan". I love working on all the brands because it gives me a complete A-Z experience. Because we are an American brand, everything starts in New York, and it is amazing to see collections from inception to the final result in a magazine or on the red carpet.

 

Olga Slavkina: Today, let’s talk about DKNY. As you know, I’ve already written about the video about the DKNY PR girl which revealed the real person -- you -- behind the smart, funny and very engaging tweets coming from the @dkny account on Twitter. How long had you tweeted on behalf of DKNY prior to revealing your real name?

 

Aliza Licht: I started tweeting in May 2009 and didn't reveal my identity until October 2011!

 

Olga Slavkina: Why and how was the decision taken to disclose the fact that it had been Aliza Licht tweeting on behalf of DKNY?

 

Aliza Licht: Originally, the idea was that DKNY PR GIRL was a "character", hence the sketch. But as soon as I started tweeting, I realized that Twitter was a conversation and the voice needed to be consistent. Naturally, people started to realize DKNY PR GIRL was in fact, one girl, but yet it never really mattered "who" the person was- it was the personality and content that mattered.

As such, it made sense to keep the sketch as the visual. As time passed and the account became more popular, the anonymity became "a thing".

 

Recently, I realized that people know me so well from the tweets alone that the anonymity isn't really essential anymore.

 

My #PR101 blog posts and tweets are a passion of mine and "coming out" allows me to be more a part of the social community in real life. I recently spoke at Teen Vogue Fashion University to their student community. Being able to participate in those kinds of opportunities is what truly inspires me.

 

Olga Slavkina: What was the reaction from across the web (and maybe also traditional press) to the release of the video and how do you think it helped boost the brand of DKNY?

 

Aliza Licht: The reaction was everything I could have hoped for. The public welcomed me with open arms and in fact I think it even helped further foster the relationship I have with the social community. The press coverage on the "reveal" was shocking. I can't think of a fashion press outlet that didn't cover it.

 

But that said, our followers are the best judges of how DKNY PR GIRL has affected the brand. They are the ones who consistently share the joy that they experience from the brands, whether tweeting an image of a new purchase or joining me in obsessing over our cape dress. They communicate, support and inspire the conversation. People constantly talk about the ROI on Social Media and how to define it. For me, it's brand evangelism. Whether we're talking about our favorite candy or #PR101, I'm focused on building a community of enthusiasts.

 

Olga Slavkina: What is the brand of DKNY all about? What are the values that you want to share with your customers?

 

Aliza Licht: DKNY is the energy and spirit of New York. It's classics with a modern twist. DKNY believes in individual style so it's about taking the items you love most and making them your own. DKNY has always been about trend that can live on from season to season. It's fun and feminine and doesn't take itself too seriously.

Olga Slavkina: How is the brand of Donna Karan different from the brand of DKNY? 

 

Aliza Licht: Donna Karan was conceptualized as a luxury system of dressing for the modern woman. It's sensual, empowering and entrance making. The fabrics and artisan hand that goes into designing collection is almost at a couture level. Most of our fabrics are milled exclusively for us and they really do set the collection apart in that way.

 

Olga Slavkina: How are the values of DKNY reflected in social media?

 

Aliza Licht: DKNY is friendly, eclectic and fun. It's understandable yet statement making. That's how I would like to think our social media is thought of.

 

Olga Slavkina: What would you recommend to other aspiring funky brands in terms of their presence in social media?

 

Aliza Licht: Keep the "social" in media.

 

All images in this article were provided courtesy of DKNY. © 2011 SCHMOOZY FOX. Funky Brand Interviews is a trademark of SCHMOOZY FOX. All material on this site may be freely cited provided the source is given. Please use the permalink of the article. If you would like to syndicate the full text of this article, please contact Olga Slavkina at olga (at) schmoozyfox (dot) com

MTV: Brand Engagement for Generation Y

Today, it’s my pleasure to feature an interview with Mattias Behrer, Senior VP and General Manager for MTV North Europe and MTV International Property Marketing. MTV is a widely-known music and entertainment brand that has been part of the youth culture across continents since 1981. MTV has established a very strong brand with massive TV audiences. Having expanded its focus away from only music into entertainment in general (think of Beavis and Butthead, as well some of the more recent reality shows), MTV has reached a very high level of brand awareness vis-a-vis its main audience -- young people aged 13-29. My goal today, however, is to chat with Mattias about some of the aspects of MTV  that are perhaps less known to wide audiences. In particular, I’d like to talk about the role MTV plays in building brands of companies that advertise with it.  

Olga Slavkina: Mattias, when I met you about a year ago during the launch of your book “How Cool Brands Stay Hot - Branding To Generation Y” , something interesting struck me in your presentation. It was the extent to which MTV goes when it works with advertisers. Unlike many other channels which simply show TV commercials, you actually work with your advertisers to make sure that they reach MTV’s audience in the most effective ways. Is this a correct summary?

 

Mattias Behrer: Absolutely. At MTV we have more than a 100 researchers and analysts feeding all our teams across the world with the latest insights on youth culture, media habits and consumerism. We invest most probably more than any other media brand into the understanding of our target audience. In order to maximize the value for our advertisers and partners, we have specialized in using this knowledge while creating marketing solutions and communication concepts for them.

 

These client solutions are created and executed by our advertising unit called Brand Solutions. We pair our client's marketing challenges and strategies with our youth insights and create communications that are relevant and engaging for the millennial generation. Essentially, we work like an advertising agency, adding our own TV, online and mobile platforms, 31 years of experience in communicating with young people, as well as creative heritage second to none. We are very proud to be able to work with ideas which travel across all media and always try to make the audience the main communicator of the message, leveraging the social aspect of all communication.

 

Olga Slavkina: How could you define a successful collaboration with an advertiser?

 

Mattias Behrer: Successful collaborations are always defined by meeting the objectives set by the advertiser. All concepts are created based on the advertiser's goals, be it sales targets, brand positioning or engagement targets, number of entries for a competition, etc. We are always very conscious about breaking down the objectives defined by the clients, and we discuss unrealistic or poorly defined targets. I have to say that our brand solutions team has created a pretty impressive portfolio of successful cases by now, and I am proud to see that many clients keep coming back year after year. A good recent example is a campaign in Sweden, where Nike asked us to increase the sales of their running line by getting the attention and affection of a new target group - the young urban demographic.

Our concept, called Take Sthlm, was a real life running competition fueled by a 360 degrees integrated campaign with a multitude of social and viral elements. The inhabitants, opinion leaders and fans of each area of the city of Stockholm were encouraged to team up to defend the honor of their "hoods" and battle against each other using the Nike+ functionality to register miles covered. You could follow in real time online how the areas of the city were "taken over" by the respective teams.

 

It ended up being one of the most successful campaigns for Nike Sweden, boosting sales by 70% and their running line beat the football line for the first time ever. The fact that this campaign just won bronze in the Eurobest Awards last week was nice icing on the cake for us and our client.

 

Olga Slavkina: How do you make sure that your advertisers reach your audience with messages that are taken into account?

 

Mattias Behrer: The starting point is always to find the consumer’s "sweet spot" or proposition at the intersection of:

a) the client’s marketing challenge

b) the specific USP/ESP of the product or service

c) the client's brand positioning

d) our applicable youth insights.

In relation to some concepts, we pre-test our material with the target audience, but generally it is about working with the most skilled researchers and planners we have in-house and sometimes with the client or their ad agency.

 

These analysts work with the audience every day, they know how to support our creative and marketing people with the insights needed to develop relevant communications which really move people emotionally. Our research is very much about understanding the fears, hopes and aspirations of Generation Y and advertising is always about engaging and incentivizing your audience to move closer to the desired state of mind. It is much easier today to know when you are doing the right thing. Most concepts carry an element of "social currency" brought to life through the combination of TV and digital media. Through the latter, we get instant feedback on how we are doing.

 

But in the end, it is about meeting the goals of the advertiser and sometimes short term sales targets are best met with ads that don't necessarily get the highest liking in tests. We obviously need to tailor our concept development in order to always deliver on effectiveness and efficiency defined by our clients from one case to another.

 

Olga Slavkina: I’ve written quite a bit about the concept of so called meta-brands -- overarching concepts which add positive associations to other brands which relate to them.  Can MTV be considered a meta-brand and why?

 

Mattias Behrer: MTV is very much a meta-brand. By staying true to our core mission and brand idea - empowering young amazing lives - and by always being guided by our core values, we can navigate in a credible way across the different interests and tribes of youth culture. We can engage with and build stories and values for a rocker, a skater, a rebel and an geek. As long as we stay true to ourselves and never pretend to be something else, we still have the breadth and depth of brand associations that can be selectively highlighted in different situations and appeal to different interests and aspirations from time to time.

 

In collaboration with MTV other brands can - without compromising their own brand identity - lend and benefit from some of the MTV associations (and of course our channels and platforms!) and be more daring in their communication. A couple of years ago we collaborated with the biggest bank in the Nordics and at the outset the perceived positioning of the two brands couldn't be further apart. We managed to find a concept adopting a very creative and daring tone of voice and we helped to make the brand liking of this bank increase by double digits. Most importantly, the audience thought of the bank as one they would recommend to friends. We stayed true to our values and the audience by assuring that all activities gave something back to the audience - be it a laugh or an actual functional benefit.

 

The meta-brand relevance of MTV helped endorsing the relevance of the message. If the bank would have created the same communication on their own, they wouldn't have been able to communicate with the audience in the same "relaxed" and credible manner - the audience would have held their guard up high.  We also asked the audience if they liked the collaboration between MTV and the bank and it scored very high on our test.

 

Olga Slavkina: how does MTV make sure that it knows its audience well?

 

Mattias Behrer:  In this dynamic, complex and rapidly changing media environment the starting point is to acknowledge the value of securing insights and make the effort to be constantly plugged into the values, attitudes and behaviors of our audience. We put research at the core of everything we do. We have people in our teams who know how to turn information into intelligence and inspiration for our daily actions across all areas of our business: creative, content, communication and commercial. We are increasingly creating a brand and research led company and this approach is encouraged from the very top.

 

Olga Slavkina: What issues, in your opinion, do young people in Europe care about today, and how does MTV reflect this in its programs?

 

Mattias Behrer: On average, the youngsters today are better educated, more connected, more positive about the future than any generation before them. They also have greater self-esteem, ambition and ability to make their voices heard, commercially and in general. They have grown up with parents encouraging and empowering them to believe in themselves and the fact that they can make a difference. Compared to previous generations, they have far fewer needs to rebel against parents, authorities or society at large; they typically don’t fight the system, they “game” it and try to make the best out of it.

 

They are ambitious optimists striving for both material and emotional success in life and they are willing to work hard to achieve it. At the same time they are conscious of and unwilling to sacrifice their work-life balance or spending time with friends and family, a sustainable environment or a humane society at large. Overall, we see that young people today have a very positive outlook at their world but they are at the same time aware of the issues around them. For MTV this means that we have to broaden our content stories in order to reflect some of the most relevant real time millennial issues such as bullying, aids, career and life enhancement, sexual health and even teen pregnancy and parenthood.

 

We do this through observational documentaries and scripted drama, but also by being even more involved in contemporary social activities beyond entertainment, and by being more authentic, emotional, warm and direct in the way we communicate. Two of the MTV  brand values say a lot about the mindset of Generation Y: for us Smart & Fun is the new Rock & Roll and Warm is the new Cool.

 

Olga Slavkina: Could you share some of MTV’s plans for the nearest future?

 

 

Mattias Behrer: I am very proud of our brand new international pro-social initiative MTV Voices, an online platform where we and other talented and passionate contributors from all around the world share and discuss interesting social issues, content, events and trends. You should check it out, in English at voices.mtv.co.uk and in German at voices.mtv.de.

 

 

 

 

All images in this article were provided courtesy of MTV. © 2011 SCHMOOZY FOX. Funky Brand Interviews is a trademark of SCHMOOZY FOX. All material on this site may be freely cited provided the source is given. Please use the permalink of the article. If you would like to syndicate the full text of this article, please contact Olga Slavkina at olga (at) schmoozyfox (dot) com

 

Follow SCHMOOZY FOX on Twitter: @schmoozyfox 

nhow Berlin: a funky museum where you can live

nhow_lobbylounge_schmoozyfox_funky_brand_interviews
nhow_lobbylounge_schmoozyfox_funky_brand_interviews

While I was writing one of my recent articles on the city brand of Berlin, I came across an eye-catching concept of a funky hotel. Astonishing design delivered by Karim Rashid certainly signaled a serious presence of funky branding in the concept (Funky Brands™, if you recall, owe their success to a combination of astonishing design and smart brand strategies). I got in touch with nhow hotel and am happy to publish my interview with Hermann Spatt, General Manager of this hotel.

Olga Slavkina: How would you describe the brand of nhow hotel in a couple of words?

Hermann Spatt: I could describe it as a lifestyle and music hotel.

Olga Slavkina: Is nhow Berlin part of a bigger chain of hotels?

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nhow_GM_Hermann_Spatt_schmoozyfox_funky_brand_interviews

Hermann Spatt: It belongs to the NH hotel group, which has 400 hotels around the world marketed under different brand names. The nhow hotels are positioned as lifestyle hotels, and currently there are only two of them -- one in Milan, and another one in Berlin.

Olga Slavkina: What’s the company’s plan as far as development of the nhow brand goes?

Hermann Spatt: The NH hotel group intends to build 15 nhow hotels around the world, with only one hotel in each of the chosen countries. Besides positioning each hotel as “lifestyle”, there will be other brand associations suitable for each city where nhow hotels will be opened. For example, Milan is all about fashion, so nhow in Milan has been designed as a lifestyle and fashion hotel. Berlin is all about creativity and music, so nhow Berlin is a lifestyle and music hotel. We’ll use this kind of approach for all of the upcoming hotels in other cities.

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nhow_berlin_schmoozyfox_funky_brand_interviews

Olga Slavkina: As I wrote in my article Funky City Brands: Berlin, the city’s creative spirit is remarkable. What role does music play on the cultural scene of Berlin?

Hermann Spatt: Berlin is becoming increasingly known because of its large presence of music recording houses, located in the same area as the hotel, near the river Spree. At the hotel, we have two professional recording studios, managed by René Rennefeld and Daniel Schmuck. Rennefeld also manages Hansa Studios, where U2 and David Bowie recorded their music. Hansa Studios also produced LouBega’s Mambo No. 5.

We also hold Open Mic Nights on a monthly basis -- there’s a stage for music performances in the lobby area. These monthly events give local and international talents an opportunity to perform in front of an audience of hotel guests, music lovers, as well as representatives of the music industry -- for instance our neighbors MTV and Universal.

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nhow_studio_schmoozyfox_funky_brand_interviews

Olga Slavkina: Let’s speak about the work that Karim Rashid did to design this funky space. To what degree has he contributed to the concept of the hotel?

Hermann Spatt: Karim Rashid’s involvement in this project has been substantial. Usually, designers of this calibre tend to work only on a few features of a single hotel. In the case of nhow, however, absolutely everything of the hotel’s interior has been designed by Rashid. Every carpet, and every towel, all the wallpaper and furniture -- everything has been designed by him. And because Karim Rashid is a very funky guy, you can see that his creation looks extremely funky, too. The space looks so unusual for a hotel, that many people call it a museum -- a museum where you can actually live.

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karim-rashid

 Olga Slavkina: Perhaps because of its music studios, nhow comes across as a center of culture and entertainment, not just a hotel. Could you share some of the highlights of nhow’s cultural agenda for the coming months?

 Hermann Spatt: The gallery space right now and for the next five months is home to the DAD (Dutch Art & Design) Gallery, exhibiting and selling various items of contemporary Dutch Art & Design including interior design solutions (i.e. furniture), paintings and various funky accessories. The current feature artist is Peter Bastiaanssen.

Besides being a cultural center, nhow is a business conference center.

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nhow_suite_livingroom_schmoozyfox_funky_brand_interviews

Olga Slavkina: What kinds of companies organize their events at nhow?

Hermann Spatt: You’d be surprised, but even quite conservative companies with traditional corporate brands organize events here. In a way, our hotel provides a unique chance for them to show that they are open-minded, and appreciate a contemporary, funky style. Hosting an event at nhow provides companies with an opportunity to show an exuberant, fresh image to clients and suppliers, or to spice up its brand image internally, vis-a-vis employees. Just being in our hotel for a couple of days together with your colleagues, or clients, can help you make your brand a little bit more funky.

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nhow_reception_med_schmoozyfox_funky_brand_interviews

Olga Slavkina: How would you describe your hotel guests?

Hermann Spatt: We have a lot of business people staying at our hotel. I’d say, many of them come from creative industries -- music and entertainment. Of course, these are funky people, those who appreciate arts, design and music.

 Olga Slavkina: Thanks for the interview and I wish you a lot of fun developing and strengthening the funky brand of nhow Berlin.

Learn more about Karim Rashid on Artsy: https://www.artsy.net/artist/karim-rashid 

All photos in this article are courtesy of nhow Berlin.© 2011 SCHMOOZY FOX. Funky Brand Interviews is a trademark of SCHMOOZY FOX. All material on this site may be freely cited provided the source is given. Please use the permalink of the article. If you would like to syndicate the full text of this article, please contact Olga Slavkina at olga (at) schmoozyfox (dot) com

Senz° umbrellas: let's enjoy the storm

 

Today, I’m happy to introduce you to yet another funky brand. My interviewee number 27 is Gerwin Hoogendoorn, CEO of Senz° umbrellas from the Netherlands. Senz° is a great example to appear in the Funky Brand Interview series because it ticks both of the main elements of funky brands: it owes its success to astonishing design, as well as smart brand strategy.  In this interview, Gerwin reveals how his student graduation project at Delft University of Technology turned into a successful business, and a funky brand.

  Olga Slavkina: Gerwin, how did you come up with the idea of re-designing the traditional umbrella as part of your graduation project 6 years ago?

 

Gerwin Hoogendoorn: It was a rainy winter, and my umbrellas kept breaking in the wind. I kept buying more and more umbrellas, but none of them could handle the wind, rain and snow -- the typical attributes of Dutch weather. At some point, I got very frustrated about it, and decided to redesign the umbrella. Can you imagine, after so many technological achievements -- we humans have been to the Moon -- nobody has tried to improve the traditional umbrella which had not changed for 3000 years! Also, I’ve always found myself to be very fascinated with the wind. I’ve done windsurfing since I was eight. Designing the umbrella which could resist storms felt like a natural thing to do.

 

Olga Slavkina. How long did it take you to create the new umbrella?

 

Gerwin Hoogendoorn: I had a year to complete my project as part of the Industrial Design program, so there was plenty of time to create something really good, and test it in order to ensure good product performance. I was also lucky to have project guidance from a professor of Aerospace Engineering, so the umbrella came out very resistant to strong storms.

 

Olga Slavkina: I think the fact that the umbrella was designed in Delft adds some powerful associations to your brand. Delft is a university town in the Netherlands, known for its academic programs in engineering, technology and design. Do you think that Delft, which has a brand of its own, enhances the brand of Senz° umbrellas?

 

Gerwin Hoogendoorn: Yes, absolutely. Being in Delft certainly provided good inspiration to design good quality products, and I am happy that senz° was born there.

 

Olga Slavkina: Did you design and launch other products during your studies, apart from the Senz° umbrella?

 

Gerwin Hoogendoorn: I did. I also tried to commercialize them by presenting my projects to various companies, but somehow they didn’t come to fruition, even though I myself believed in their market success. That’s why, when I had the Senz° umbrella ready, I thought it made sense to bring it to the market on my own. It was a big challenge, as at that time I didn’t have any business experience.

 

Olga Slavkina: How did you go about tackling this challenge?

 

Gerwin Hoogendoorn: I was lucky to have two co-founders (Philip Hess and Gerard Kool), who shared my passion and wanted to take an active role in making Senz° a market success. We wrote a business plan, rented an office at a start-up incubator in Delft, and got some good coaching from the Dutch startup support organization newventure.nl. We were extremely lucky from the very beginning, as one of our business coaches was VP Consumer Products at Mexx. Knowing this person gave us an excellent opportunity to launch the Senz° umbrellas by selling them in Mexx’s stores. We had a distribution network in place at the time of the launch, and it made a big difference for the success of Senz.

We had to learn a lot of new things about setting up a business, manufacturing, marketing, logistics -- you name it. When we didn’t know how to do something well, we asked for expert help and outsourced. Now, there are 20 people working at Senz°, and we’re growing our business day by day.

 

Olga Slavkina: Senz° has received numerous design awards, a sure way to raise awareness about a brand. When did you begin to participate in design competitions?

 

Gerwin Hoogendoorn: It was a couple of months after we’d launched Senz in 2006. My business partner Philip Hess thought that our product had a very good chance to participate, and win, top design awards around the world. Taking part in design competitions has been an important part of our brand strategy. It helped the product to be known internationally. We’re proud to have won design awards on every continent.

 

Olga Slavkina: Which was the first design award that Senz° won?

 

Gerwin Hoogendoorn: It was the prestigious Red Dot award in Germany. Winning this award gave us great motivation to participate in other design competitions.

 

Olga Slavkina: What’s your vision for Senz°? What are the next steps in your brand strategy?

 

Gerwin Hoogendoorn: (smiling) I just want Senz° to be a good weather enjoyment brand. I want it to replace the 3000-old umbrella which is still the standard for most of us. In fact, I want Senz° to become the mainstream umbrella, with which even rainy and windy weather could not only be tolerated, but actually, enjoyed!

We also have some plans of collaborating with fabrics designers and producers, and making our umbrellas even more funky.

Olga Slavkina: Do you consider Senz° a funky brand?

 

Gerwin Hoogendoorn: I surely do. If I wasn’t into funky branding, I would probably be producing some boring, standard products, like the old umbrella.

 

All photos in this article are courtesy of Senz°. © 2011 SCHMOOZY FOX. Funky Brand Interviews is a trademark of SCHMOOZY FOX. All material on this site may be freely cited provided the source is given. Please use the permalink of the article. If you would like to syndicate the full text of this article, please contact Olga Slavkina at olga (at) schmoozyfox (dot) com

Electrolux takes its brand strategy to new heights with The Cube

As I reach the top of the triumphal arch of the Parc du Cinquantenaire in Brussels and look down at people on the ground, my knees become slightly weak. I am not a big fan of heights, but this time, my fear is mixed with excitement. The view on the city is breathtaking, and finally, the fear firmly gives way to fun. “The way you feel now is part of The Cube experience,” says Neil Gannon, Director of Marketing Expertise at Electrolux, smiling. He’s also the brain, and the heart, of The Cube, an astounding architectural and culinary space which has its temporary home on top of the arch, before it travels to another city to showcase the brand values of Electrolux. I am here to find out how The Cube is set to create deeper emotional connections with the brand's customers.

Olga Slavkina: Neil, what is your personal brand within Electrolux? How do people refer to you within the organization?

 

Neil Gannon: I am the creative guy. Creativity is one of my strongest points, and it combines nicely with my business mind.

 

Olga Slavkina: When did you join Electrolux and how did you make use of your creative talents?

 

Neil Gannon: I started working at Electrolux in 2008. One could say that at this time, the market of home appliances could not be called very funky. People viewed appliances purely from the point of view of functionality. And yet, I felt that Electrolux had tremendous potential for becoming a more emotionally engaging and authentic, and not only functional, brand.

 

The Cube is an important step towards bringing Electrolux into a more exciting brand space. I’ve also handled Electrolux’s sponsorship of the Cannes festival. Both projects have required a lot of creativity and knowledge of brand and marketing strategy.

 

Olga Slavkina: Electrolux’s involvement in the Cannes festival comes across as a smart sponsorship but also a good co-branding move, because the brand image of Cannes is very glamorous and fun, an interesting association for Electrolux to have. Coming back to The Cube, what makes it a powerful step in the brand strategy of Electrolux?

 

Neil Gannon: The most valuable feature of The Cube is the exhilarating experience that it provides. Looking at your city from the height of the 40 meter tall arch, a place you would have never been to if not for The Cube, dining in the company of 18 people, savoring the fine food prepared by two top Michelin chefs -- this is surely a one-of-a-kind experience.

 

What makes it an Electrolux experience is a combination of pure, Scandinavian design, fine food prepared with the help of our appliances, and the sense of connection among people. The latter is highlighted by one big table seating 18 people, instead of several small tables, the usual feature of a typical restaurant. As nowadays connections between people increasingly take the form of interactions through social media, we wanted to reverse this trend, at least temporarily, and let our guests experience the beauty of human connections in a completely different and real way. Of course, the fact that The Cube is placed on top of a tall building for a limited amount of time has an element of surprise, fun and exclusivity, and these are important things for Electrolux to communicate. It’s really not very conventional for a restaurant to just appear on roof tops like this, and people seem to like this out-of-the-ordinary appearance.

 

Olga Slavkina: How much time did it take from the moment the idea of The Cube was born, till it opened its doors to the first guests?

 

Neil Gannon: About 15 months. The actual work of putting the pre-fabricated glass panels into a complete construction took 3 weeks.

 

Olga Slavkina: Brussels is the first city which hosts The Cube. Is your idea to bring The Cube to other places?

 

Neil Gannon: Yes, indeed. The Cube came to Brussels at the beginning of April 2011, and it will later on travel to the roof tops of various tall buildings in London, Stockholm, Zurich and Moscow. We initially planned to have each restaurant stay in the city for 3 months, but the success of The Cube in Brussels has been so big, that we’re considering to keep it here for a little longer. The demand is simply too big to stop the project now.

Olga Slavkina: How long in advance does one need to book, and how much does it cost to have a meal at The Cube?

 

Neil Gannon: The waiting list for lunches and dinners is quite long. It sounds unbelievable, but I have to this day even myself not been able to sit down at the table for a meal with other guests. Although, luckily, I did manage to try some of the food made here. I guess that such a big demand is due to all the publicity The Cube has received, not only in Belgium, but throughout the world. This is an astonishing result, especially since we haven’t actually promoted it very much, apart from organizing some press events. But word of mouth has done its work, and there’s continuous demand even though lunches here cost 150 euros per person, and dinners 200. The price is commensurate with the fine cuisine delivered by two Michelin star chefs, Bart de Pooter and Sang-Hoon Degeimbre.

 

Olga Slavkina: It seems to me that The Cube is a very innovative step as far as brand building goes. What do you think about the link between brand strategy and innovation? On the one hand, the purpose of branding is consistency, while innovation is all about being novel. Do you think it’s possible to reconcile the two?

Neil Gannon: I think that any smart brand strategy holds enough space for innovation, without any need to compromise established brand values. Yes, The Cube is something off the beaten track as far as brand and marketing initiatives go, and yet, it’s a perfect shrine to the brand values of Electrolux. After all, there are so many different ways of looking at the same brand values, combining, communicating them -- one just needs to fuel one’s creativity and keep an open mind to find space for innovation.

 

Olga Slavkina: How do you fuel your own creativity?

 

Neil Gannon: I read a lot, I love learning about other companies’ branding initiatives, it feeds my imagination. I live in London, and work in Brussels, so inevitably I spend a lot of time on the train. The train is also good for creativity, so many ideas come then.

 

Olga Slavkina: The scale of The Cube project comes across as a significant investment. I see that often companies hesitate to invest so heavily in their brands, especially because brand building is seen as such a long-term procedure. How can you justify such a brand investment? Is it easy to see the ROI?

Neil Gannon: The importance of investing in brands is tremendous. Initiatives such as The Cube are good because they establish valuable relationships with a wide variety of people who might care about your brand. For instance, a very important benefit of The Cube has been the shared culture of pride within Electrolux. Our employees were very happy to be part of this very challenging, but very rewarding project. I remember the feeling I had during the opening speech to inaugurate The Cube. I felt the strong team spirit in the audience of Electrolux employees, and this is a very important development for the brand overall. Also, the worldwide coverage of The Cube project brought millions of euros in PR value. Overall, one can say that The Cube has been a tremendous boost to the brand health of Electrolux.

 

Olga Slavkina: Thank you, Neil, and I wish you a lot of success with The Cube and other funky branding initiatives at Electrolux.

 

© 2011 SCHMOOZY FOX. Funky Brand Interviews is a trademark of SCHMOOZY FOX. All material on this site may be freely cited provided the source is given. Please use the permalink of the article. If you would like to syndicate the full text of this article, please contact Olga Slavkina at olga (at) schmoozyfox (dot) com

Belgium: no government, but great shirts

 

When Belgian actor Charlie Dupont went to a party together with his friend Nicolas Borenstein, he was struck by the dull parade of sweatshirts worn there.

“Why is it that even here in Belgium, all these guys wear sweatshirts with Harvard University and I love NYC slogans?” Charlie asked Nicolas. “Let’s make inexpensive T-shirts with the names of small Belgian towns written on them, and sell them in tourist shops.”

At the party, Nicolas only chuckled at the idea. But when he woke up the next morning, he recalled the discussion. He liked Charlie’s inspiration, but he had a different vision: to create a brand of superior quality premium T-shirts and sweatshirts that would communicate all things Belgian, not only names of towns. Just 3 years later, BShirt is a successful Belgian premium fashion brand, sold in almost 70 distribution outlets across Belgium and planning to grow internationally.

I met Nicolas Borenstein in his stylish and funky office in downtown Brussels to discuss BShirt and to get to know the creative and entrepreneurial spirit that drives the brand.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Was BShirt your first entrepreneurial project?

Nicolas Borenstein: No, it wasn’t my first idea. When I had this idea, I was already running a graphic design studio in Brussels. One could say that I am a 100% entrepreneur, since I’ve never worked for anyone apart for myself.

SCHMOOZY FOX: After that conversation with your friend Charlie, how long did it take you to have the concept of your brand ready, and then launch it?

Nicolas Borenstein: The concept itself came together very fast. I think that Charlie triggered something in me, with his idea of putting names of Belgian towns on T-shirts. But I definitely wanted to dig deeper, and create a product that was artistic, funky and high quality. I also thought that Belgium has a lot of quirky local concepts that are worth talking about – its own brand if you like – and yet nobody has tried to apply this to a fashion brand. There was definitely something unique in there. I am a graphic designer by training, so it was easy for me to come up with ideas for each T-shirt and turn them into visual forms. That took some time and a lot of brain-storming with myself as Charlie was busy and I ended up doing this project on my own.

I think an important decision that I made was to use old-fashioned loom weaving technology to produce BShirt garments. The reason why I wanted it was because the quality and feel of the T-shirts is much better as a result, although the downside is that production cannot be scaled up in the same way as more modern technology allows. Finding an appropriate factory that could create top-quality cotton garments took a while, and finally I signed a contract with a manufacturer in Portugal.

Then I spent the whole year working on prototypes, and in 2008, I was ready to order the first batch of 1000 BShirts and show them to shops.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Getting your distribution channels right is crucial if one wants to build a good brand. What were your criteria in selecting the desired shops?

Nicolas Borenstein: I wanted to choose the kind of shops that would sell premium trendy and quirky garments. Over the years, I’ve developed a lot of interest in the fashion industry in general, not least because my family had a fashion business. So, by the time that I had to introduce the first BShirts to stores, I had a clear idea where to go, and which stores would be in line with the brand image I wanted to create.

SCHMOOZY FOX: And what was the reaction of the stores?

Nicolas Borenstein: To my surprise, the reaction was very positive. Out of 15 stores that I visited, 10 decided to order BShirt garments! So, my first 1000 shirts were sold out in no time. But there was a little problem -- I needed to deliver another batch fast!

SCHMOOZY FOX: But you had a manufacturing facility in place, so it shouldn’t have been a problem?

Nicolas Borenstein: Indeed, except the factory turned out not to be a very agile entreprise, to say the least. It took them forever to produce the next batch, while the shops were waiting impatiently. On top of that, the buzz around BShirt was already spreading into the press and I could already boast a good number of positive reviews that appeared in fashion magazines.

SCHMOOZY FOX: That’s quite an achievement! All of that just after selling the first batch?

Nicolas Borenstein: Yes, pretty much so. Right before the launch, I asked a friend of mine to recommend me the best fashion PR agency in Belgium, and he said, “Go talk to UPR. They are the best, but they have to like you, they turn many clients down.”

But UPR liked BShirt, and I was happy that they helped me generate the buzz so quickly. (O.S.: This reminds me of another brand that I interviewed, Ice Watch, which also relied on PR early on).

SCHMOOZY FOX: Positive buzz is great, and it can certainly trigger demand for products. But you need to be able to deliver to support this demand. Did your factory score well in this respect?

Nicolas Borenstein: In fact the factory continued to be unreliable. There were further problems with timely delivery, and in the end I had to skip a whole season. This kind of thing can be deadly for a fashion brand -- especially if there’s clear demand for your items, and you just can’t meet it! It was frustrating not to be able to do anything!

SCHMOOZY FOX: How did you solve this? Did you find a better factory?

Nicolas Borenstein: Yes, now I work with another factory. While searching for a better factory, I also realized that I needed a partner who could help me by bringing investment and business know how into the company.

SCHMOOZY FOX: And you found such a person?

 

Nicolas Borenstein: Luckily, yes. I brought him some shirts, and a big stack of press clippings, and I said, do you want to work with me? He agreed.

SCHMOOZY FOX: How big is your company now?

Nicolas Borenstein: We have 10 people working at BShirt. Our products are now sold in almost 70 stores in Belgium, and there is certainly potential to sell it in many more. And it’s just the beginning. In due course, I hope that funky BShirts will also be in New York, Paris and other cosmopolitan places around the world.

SCHMOOZY FOX: How would you describe BShirt?

Nicolas Borenstein: I actually like your term, Funky Brands. BShirt is exactly that -- funky, with a lot of character. It’s certainly different -- as I’ve said, nobody has yet made a fashion brand based on Belgium. BShirt is a mood-booster, it brings a smile to the faces of those who wear it. In some press reviews, it was called a “funny brand”, but I think that this is not right. A “funky brand” is certainly much more correct.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Why do you think people like to wear BShirt?

Nicolas Borenstein: They probably feel that it’s just the right thing. Somehow, I think that everything falls into place when you put on a BShirt -- the texture, smell, color... It’s all about that feeling of old-fashioned, high quality cotton on your skin, in combination with the novel Belgian fashion concept.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What do you do in order to stay creative, and full of energy to run your company? Where do you get your inspiration?

Nicolas Borenstein: I think I owe my creativity to the fact that, deep down, I am still a bit of a kid. I also work very fast, which helps a lot. I can do a day's work in 3 hours. Yesterday, i worked for 11 hours, and I accomplished my tasks for the whole week. So, now I can concentrate on other things, and even go to my Qi Gong course (smiling). And this, in its turn, might trigger a new wave of creativity and inspiration.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Could you tell me about BShirt’s future plans?

Nicolas Borenstein: We’ll soon be opening a flagship store in Brussels. And we also plan to launch four collections per year instead of the current two. In fact, these will be two big and two smaller collections. And of course, we’ll continue creating new collections to sustain and build the funky brand of BShirt!

 

Brand mascots in action: Travelocity Roaming Gnome

Image courtesy of Travelocity Over the past couple of months, I've published a series of articles about brand mascots, beginning with the basics in my post Brand Mascots, some more details in Beastly Branding, and finishing with a concrete example of a mascot in Why meerkats help markets, and a story about Online brand mascots.

With my recently discovered interest in brand mascots, I decided to interview Joel Frey, PR Manager of Travelocity, about this company's brand mascot -- Travelocity Roaming Gnome. Joel has been with Travelocity since 2003 and has had the chance to take the Gnome to many fun places including New York, London, Memphis, TN, Orlando and Chicago, to name a few.

SCHMOOZY FOX: When did the Gnome become Travelocity's brand mascot?

Joel Frey: The Roaming Gnome became Travelocity’s brand mascot in January 2004. The first television ad appeared during the annual Rose Bowl college football game. During the holiday season of 2003, we ran some teaser ads showing images of the Roaming Gnome, but not tying him to Travelocity in an effort to create some pre-campaign buzz.

Image courtesy of Travelocity

SCHMOOZY FOX: Who had the idea about the Travelocity Gnome, and why was it important for Travelocity to make him part of its brand?

Joel Frey: The concept of the Roaming Gnome was pitched to us by ad agency McKinney in 2003. At the time, we felt an icon like Roaming Gnome would help us differentiate our brand from our competitors and it has. We also wanted to provide travelers a lens into some adventures they could take on their own via Travelocity. The Roaming Gnome has been a powerful vehicle for us in that regard.

SCHMOOZY FOX:  Could you tell me about your communications strategy tied to the Gnome? Is it the main way for Travelocity to communicate with its customers and if not, what other ways do you use to build the brand?

Joel Frey: Because the Roaming Gnome has become so synonymous with our brand, he has definitely become a broader part of our communications strategy, especially on the Travelocity Facebook page . He also has his own Twitter profile though we have a separate Twitter page that we use to communicate with customers. Beyond social media and traditional advertising, we communicate with customers in a variety of forums including our Window Seat blog. It is made up of an expert team of writers who post daily on a variety of subjects including tips, deals and hot destinations.

Image courtesy of Travelocity

SCHMOOZY FOX: Does the Gnome visit only places in the US, or does he like travel internationally as well?

Joel Frey: He travels everywhere!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Why do you think Travelocity's customers like the gnome?

Joel Frey: He’s funny, whimsical, and doesn’t take himself too seriously.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Any exciting future plans of the Gnome that you could share with us?

Joel Frey: Rumor has it that there’s a trip to the Southern hemisphere in his future….

Image courtesy of Travelocity

Mad Mimi: funky email marketing

mad mimi Anyone who has ever launched a new business, must have at some point experimented with email marketing.

Has any entrepreneur ever looked for an extremely funky kind of email marketing when looking for such a service? I can only speak for myself, and say that I wasn’t. Frankly, I didn’t expect anything as functional as sending out an email to be enjoyable and fun. Until I discovered Mad Mimi.

First of all, it was the name. I thought that a company that dared to call itself by such a name, would be something special.

Then there was the funky design of their web site that triggered my interest even more.

To cut a long story short, sending my first email with Mad Mimi was simply fun. Email exchange with its support team that welcomed me to MadMimi was refreshingly different. I simply could not resist contacting Mad Mimi’s CEO Gary Levitt and getting to know the man behind this funky brand. I greatly enjoyed my talk with Gary, who shared some useful tips on the importance of staying optimistic, and hiring only the best and most talented. Have fun reading my interview with Gary, and learning about Mad Mimi.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Gary, most of my Funky Brand interviewees have represented product brands – such as fashion, accessories, food and drink. I am very happy to interview you about Mad Mimi because I want to show to my readers that Funky Brands can also exist in a business-to-business context. Could you tell me when and how you had the idea of launching Mad Mimi?

Gary Levitt, CEO of Mad Mimi

Gary Levitt: I studied music at Berkeley College in Boston, and after graduation, played jazz in New York, worked as a bus boy in restaurants and eventually worked in commercial music production. One day I had an idea of building an online platform for musicians that would allow them to upload images and send out press kits. Although I received funding to develop this product, and hired coders, I never ended up launching it.

I guess the main reason for that was that I lacked deep understanding of how to build a product, and expected the coders I hired to do the creative thinking and architecture for me. The coders were into ... coding, as opposed to designing the product and making it work on the market. Plus, I myself lacked the experience to know how to manage the development of a product.

SCHMOOZY FOX: How did you make the switch from the press kit product for musicians towards Mad Mimi, which is an email marketing service for a much wider audience?

Gary Levitt: Mad Mimi simply seemed like a logical step in a direction that I thought had more potential for commercial success than a niche product for musicians. The interface we had created for musicians was good enough for everybody to use -- and so Mad Mimi was born.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Mad Mimi is quite an original name, did you come up with it?

Gary Levitt: Yes. I originally planned to call the company simply Mimi, but then had the idea of adding “Mad” to it when I was renting space next to another company called Madstone productions.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Good design -- be it product design or brand visual identity -- is an important element of Funky Brands. To me, Mad Mimi looks pretty eye-catching! Even the colors of your site look quite different from what one would, I suppose, associate with email marketing!

Gary Levitt: I wanted Mad Mimi to stand out from the crowd not least by giving it amad mimi email marketing fun, eye-catching visual identity that would make it memorable. I was once leafing through an issue of Creativity Magazine where I saw a list of award-winning designers. It seemed like a great idea to work with the best and most talented, so I contacted one (David Bamundo) who designed Mad Mimi’s logo.

This is pretty much how I’ve thought at every crucial step of building the company. For instance, when I looked for software developers, I sent out my brief to about 80 meticulously selected top programmers. I was lucky to end up working with really talented people who helped me build Mad Mimi the way it is now -- and are in fact continuing product development.

The same philosophy of hiring the best and most talented applies to selecting customer service reps for Mad Mimi. We receive 1, 500 emails of customer inquiries per day, and have a dedicated force of 16 customer service reps around the world.

I have generally focused not on resumes (I’ve never actually used a resume to influence a decision to hire someone) but on energy instead. We typically don’t take a cost cutting or outsourced approach to staffing our front lines with low paid employees. We’ve instead focused on creating top-down culture where every lead developer and C-level executive does customer service along side dedicated customer service staff. The customer service infrastructure isn’t “designed” as such, but has rather flowed naturally from the ownership out to other members of the team. We feel that our profitability and growth is in a large part due to this approach, and it’s a crucial part of our brand.

SCHMOOZY FOX: I experienced Mad Mimi’s customer service first hand.  Actually, I must say, I assumed that the first email I received from Mad Mimi was an automated response.  And yet, something told me there was a real person interacting with me at the other end.  It felt different and nice.

Gary Levitt: (Laughing). Indeed, we don’t do automated customer service! There are real people who are there 24/7 to help you. We say that we like to hire friendly geeks for this kind of job, but really, anyone cool, friendly and passionate is great to be in customer service.

SCHMOOZY FOX: And finally, Gary, how would you describe the essence of Mad Mimi’s funky brand?

Gary Levitt: It’s simplicity, warmth and loveliness. Yummy loveliness! :)

Mashable gives a positive review to Mad Mimi

Swarovski: enchanting the world

GINSENG_BangleToday SCHMOOZY FOX is happy to publish an interview with yet another Funky Brand -- Swarovski.

The origins of this Austrian company go back to 1895, when its founder Daniel Swarovski invented a machine for cutting and polishing crystal jewellery stones. Today, the Swarovski group, still family-owned and run by 4th and 5th generation family members, has a global reach with some 24,800 employees, a presence in over 120 countries and a turnover in 2009 of 2.25 billion Euros.

Swarovski comprises two major businesses: one produces and sells loose elements to the industry, whilst the other one manufactures and sells design-driven finished products. And it’s surely the latter that makes the Swarovski brand known to most of us. It’s particularly interesting to feature Swarovski on this blog, due to its positioning as a contemporary luxury brand -- after all, SCHMOOZY FOX’s area of particular expertise is what we call Affordable Luxury (join our Affordable Luxury group on LinkedIn).

NOBLY_Keyring Aqua

I am happy to talk to Nathalie Colin, Swarovski’s Creative Director of consumer goods, who’ll give us some insights into the company’s brand strategy.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Nathalie, Swarovski has a very long history of technological innovations and quality. How does a company with such a heritage manage to innovate and stay contemporary?

Nathalie Colin: On the one side, we have a heritage and values that we need to protect and maintain. On the other side, it is our responsibility to balance the heritage with the need for change, in a careful and respectful way.

We pay a lot of respect to the heritage of Swarovski, and to the initial visionary approach of Daniel Swarovski who founded the company. At that time, it required a visionary strategy and out of the box thinking to found this company in the middle of Tyrol. Daniel Swarovski knew early on that innovation was key, and that networking and collaborating with artists and designers (Christian Dior, Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli) was crucial to bring fresh ideas into the business.

From its very beginning back in 1895, Swarovski has been continuously exploring the extraordinary possibilities of crystal. And even now every step in our design process focuses on the same ambition: to push the boundaries of crystal.

Working with crystal is a given and I work with this in mind. I am particularly interested in various creative techniques with crystal: crystal mesh, pavé, stone set in stone, floating stone, exclusive faceted cut crystal stone, beading, embroideries, and Pointiage® -- a real craft couture technique where all stones are applied one by one by hand.

All these techniques open doors to endless creativity, especially when one can mix them together.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What about Swarovski’s co-operation with famous designers? I suppose this must be one of the important drivers that help create a contemporary brand image?

Nathalie Colin: It surely does! To give you an example, I am very pleased with our choice of inviting Harumi Klossowska de Rola as a guest designer the Spring-Summer 2011 season. One could say that Harumi is a Swarovski woman: modern, feminine, international, trendy, artistic, with an interesting personality.

She is also a muse, who has inspired photographers like Bruce Weber, Mario Testino, Althur Elgort. Elegance and mystery have become her signature.

Swarovski Nymphe zip coin purse, SS 2011

Harumi is the daughter of internationally renowned painter Balthus and Japanese countess Setsuko. She has an intimate connection with the world of painting, and she herself also paints. Our iconic motive of the season, the butterfly, is also one of her favorite animals (she has a butterfly-shaped tatoo). She was very enthusiastic to design a butterfly-inspired theme for Swarovski. The delicacy of the jewelry theme she has designed is really stunning.  On a personal level, I do appreciate the international spirit of Harumi, her sensitivity, her taste for cultural diversity… and her great sense of humor!

SCHMOOZY FOX: What does the brand of Swarovski stand for?

Nathalie Colin: Creation, perfection and innovation are Swarovski’s key values.

Our approach to design combines femininity and emotion with the rigour of innovation, and attention to details. Some of the technics we have developed (like the

Swarovski Nature brooch SS 2011

handmade Pointiage™ technic) have helped us create a distinctive signature style, and yet allow every accessory look unique.

In terms of brand positioning, we call Swarovski a contemporary luxury brand (SCHMOOZY FOX calls this “new luxury” or “affordable luxury” -- O.S.)

This positioning reflects our offering of desirable products which are accessible and have a broad appeal.

It also allows us to to combine our expertise in jewelry and crystal established since 1895 with creativity, quality and innovation to enchant our consumers.

This concept embraces the idea that luxury is no longer about acquiring for status. Instead, it has become a life enhancing experience that is linked to emotional enrichment and enchantment. Contemporary luxury is not elitist, it belongs to everybody. Swarovski is all about experiential value: enchanting the world, inspiring new perspectives, enhancing lives.

DOLLL_MPAContemporary luxury is provided by a brand that represents credibility, emotion, accessibility and is open to your heart. And this is why people come in our stores.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Could you tell me about the job of a Creative Director for Swarovski? Do you come up with all the new product ideas?

Nathalie Colin: I was appointed by Swarovski as Creative Director in 2006.  It is a great feeling to know that the work done by our creative studio will be known by large audiences.

Due to the scale of the company, I have a wonderful work environment as well as support with a large team of in-house experts one could dream of when it comes to product innovation, quality, plating, etc.

Finally, I very much relate personally to the brand’s ambition to enchant the world. This is such a positive vision! This concept embraces the idea that luxury is no longer a material acquisition for status but instead has become a life enhancing experience that is linked to emotional enrichment and enchantment. Swarovski is all about this experiential value: enchanting the world, inspiring new perspectives, enhancing lives.

And I really feel connected with what the brand stands for: credibility, emotion, accessibility and openness to your heart. And this is why I love being Swarovski’s Creative Director and why people come in our stores!

MILADY_BagSCHMOOZY FOX: Tell me a little bit about how you work, is there some pattern that you follow to launch new collections?

Nathalie Colin: Yes, there’s definitely a pattern that I follow. For example, I always start by researching the overall mood of the coming season: what is our state of mind ? Will there be a season of ornamentation? A season of exuberance? Are we going back to the roots? Is it more about vintage revival or rather a modernistic approach?

Once key trends have been identified, mood boards are designed to show possible sources of inspiration and key design concepts.  These boards stress the key colour mood and focus on the key colour palette. Important details such as the design of unique stone cuts focus on specific techniques. Decisions of whether to mix crystal with other materials are worked through in the next design steps.

The design of exclusive crystal stones takes place early on, inasmuch as the development of special colour coatings. This requires support from the innovation & product development team. Other teams that support our design process are product development, marketing, quality, production and supply chain.

To give you an idea of my collection planning schedule, in September 2010 I already started working on the Spring - Summer 2012 collection and began to inspire related teams throughout the company. The design phase started in October/November. And the samples will be fully approved and completed by June 2011.

SCHMOOZY FOX: I like Swarovski’s characters -- Erika and Eliot. Is there a story about them?

ELIOT URBAN BEAT_Keyring

Nathalie Colin: Yes, there’s a beautiful story about them! Eliot and Erika were born from a single crystal egg, and at birth the fairies gave them the power to bring instant joy and poetry wherever they go. Originally named Elvis, our young hero returns as a budding artist and graffiti tagger under the pseudonym Eliot. Easily recognizable and exemplifying Swarovski’s unique creativity and know-how, Eliot and Erika re-appear every six months with brand new looks and accessories. Originally launched in the form of pendants, today Eliot and Erika appear on a whole range of Swarovski leather goods such as coin purses, clutches and even handbag charms. Since their debut in Spring/Summer 2008, the pair has become a great success, eagerly awaited each season by fans across the globe. Many other adventures are already planned for Eliot and Erika in the coming seasons.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What are the main highlights of Swarovski’s brand strategy? How does it plan to stay a very innovative, exciting and funky brand in the future?

ERIKA URBAN BEAT_KeyringNathalie Colin: Our key brand strategy objectives are work on the architecture concept, celebrity marketing initiatives and work on new market segments.

We plan to expand a new retail concept to the new and already existing retail network. Today, Swarovski is an international player with strong retail business of 1800  branded boutiques and other points of sale in all major fashion capitals around the world.

It is in the luxurious and world famous Ginza district in Tokyo that Swarovski showcased the utmost creative expression of the ‘Crystal Forest’ concept with the opening of its first Flagship Store at the end of March 2008. And in December 2009 we opened a new boutique on 146, avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris.

Speaking about the new retail concept, it has been designed by Tokujin Yoshioka as a multi-sensory experience, giving visitors the chance to immerse themselves in the seductive brilliance and infinite depths of crystal. We wanted the new retail architecture to surround the brand with a true crystal experience focused on pleasing the senses. We plan more than 150 openings this year and do have similar plans for the years to come.

Regarding celebrity marketing, since 1999, Swarovski has been deeply involved in the Cannes Film Festival, and since 2000 in the Academy Awards (the Oscars) and more recently as an official sponsor of the Toronto International Film Festival.

With a strong presence at major star-studded events such as the Grammy Awards, Golden Globes and Césars, internationally renowned celebrities such as Madonna, Sharon Stone, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Aishwarya Rai, Zhang Ziyi and Jennifer Aniston select Swarovski for their red carpet appearances, and this of course helps enhance the brand of Swarovski even further.

All images in this article are courtesy of Swarovski.

Kipling bags: attitude included

Kipling Helmet Bag

Funky and stylish Kipling bags are sold in 60 countries around the world. The story of Kipling (( the brand was named after writer Rudyard Kipling)) began in 1987 in Antwerp, when its founders decided to launch a brand of stylish bags with personality -- comfortable and far from boring.

The brand was later sold to private investors. In 2004 Kipling was acquired by VF Corporation, which marked the beginning of tremendous growth of the brand globally.

In order to reposition Kipling from sporty and casual to stylish, funky and contemporary, VF hired Isabelle Cheron, a former executive of Chanel and Celine, as the brand’s global Art Director.

For me personally, Kipling is a brand that owes its success to a carefully crafted and implemented brand strategy. I met Isabelle to discuss the rapid success of Kipling over the past years, as find out what makes it a Funky Brand.

SCHMOOZY FOX: As Artistic Director of Kipling, which company functions are you responsible for at Kipling?

isabelle_cheron_01Isabelle Cheron: I have the overall responsibility of managing the Kipling brand worldwide. In practice, this includes overviewing Design, Marketing and Merchandising. At Kipling, these functions are very closely connected with each other, and managing them by the same person has resulted in many benefits for the organization and brand as a whole.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Do you have a background in design?

Isabelle Cheron: I studied business, but there’s also a very strong artistic side in me.  I often draw sketches of new bag models, and then my team of designers brings them to perfection. I certainly have an eye for good design and style, which helps me determine what new product launches would be in line with the overall brand.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What was your main objective regarding the overall brand strategy of Kipling when you joined the company?

Isabelle Cheron: I thought that Kipling had a lot of potential to continue being a brand of very functional bags, and yet I was convinced that it needed to become much more contemporary. I wanted to reveal its true exuberant personality, which became a bit hidden over the years. Importantly, the main objective was not to adapt the brand to a particular age group, but rather, make it into a statement of style, comfort and fun for active, modern women.

magali_cross fushia

SCHMOOZY FOX: Kipling surprises its customers with very innovative collections. From what I’ve noticed, each collection has a little surprise in it -- be it a totally new product, or a different twist added to existing models. How do you make sure that innovation remains at the core of the brand?

Isabelle Cheron: My own source of inspiration and creativity lies in observing women, what they like, what they find functional and stylish. For instance, you may observe that some women always, or mostly, wear high heels, and others -- hardly ever!

But what lies behind this observation? In fact, I think that women who wear high heels are completely different from those who don’t wear any heels! These differences are seen in their personality, the way they carry themselves, and even what they want from life.

SCHMOOZY FOX: And based on these differences, Kipling designs bags accordingly?

Isabelle Cheron: Absolutely! We observe women, we learn what they want, and what exactly they would find comfortable and attractive. For instance, during the upcoming Spring Summer 2011 collection, we’ll launch two new bag models: the DJ bag, and the Festival Bag.

Kipling DJ Bag

The former is an ultra-funky bag for women DJs, and has been designed after studying the needs and desires of many young women who work as DJs, and who have very unique needs that are inherent to their profession.

festival bag_fish skin

The Festival Bag has been designed for concert and festival goers. It has foil-lined inner pockets that are extremely useful for carrying cans of soda. Even if your Coke spills out, your bag won’t suffer!

SCHMOOZY FOX: What are the company’s future plans in regard to Kipling’s brand strategy? How will you ensure that Kipling continues to be a Funky Brand?

Isabelle Cheron: We plan to improve our points of sales globally, as well as ensure that Kipling moves away from the image of casual (which some consumers still share) towards ultra-stylish and functional.

All images in this article have been provided courtesy of VF Corporation.

Ice Watch -- putting it all together

Jean-Pierre Lutgen CEO of Ice WatchThe sleek business card of Jean-Pierre Lutgen, CEO of Ice Watch, displays the addresses of his two offices: one located in Bastogne, a Belgian town near the border with Luxembourg, and another one in Hong Kong. From Europe to Asia, this funky brand has become true arm candy for millions of fans. Although the company was founded only 3 years ago, it’s difficult to refer to it as a startup, as the high brand recognition of Ice Watch internationally puts this company already in the league of well-established funky brands. Today, Jean-Pierre Lutgen, the creative and entrepreneurial founder and CEO of this funky brand, talks about his passion for Asia, plastic, marketing and putting pieces of the puzzle together.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What’s the concept behind the brand of Ice Watch?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: Ice Watch is based on two main elements: people’s desire to seize and express change, and a strong identity. To address the former, we have put together 10 different watch collections. Collections change twice per year, just like in the world of fashion. Their affordable price (staring at Euro 59 per watch) allows people to buy several watches at a time, so that they could match their different outfits, and different moods. We know that many of our customers like to collect different models of Ice Watch. Because they like change! Even our brand slogan is, “Change. You Can.”

The strong identity is seen not only in the funky and refreshing design of the watch itself, but also in its packaging, which has become an inseparable part of the product, and of the brand as a whole.

ice_watch packaging

SCHMOOZY FOX: To prepare for this interview, I’ve watched several videos about Ice Watch in which you talk about the company. But you rarely talk about yourself. What is your background, and how did you make Ice Watch happen?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: I studied at the university in Louvain-La-Neuve, and then I spent 10 years running a small corporate gifts company in Bastogne. I was quite different from my university friends, who all went on to work at established companies, and followed structured career tracks. My corporate gifts company had many ups and downs throughout the years, but I overall I enjoyed this highly entrepreneurial experience.

SCHMOOZY FOX: But besides studies and work, there must be other personal interests and skills that made Ice Watch possible?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen (smiling): You know, I think that success in life does not suddenly appear out of nowhere. Same with me, I can now see that a lot of my interests, passions and experience have developed over time. They were like pieces of the puzzle, lying around scattered on the floor. And finally, I put the puzzle together! For instance, as a small boy, I liked playing with pieces of plastic. I’ve always loved Asia. And I’ve appreciated the power of smart marketing. In addition to that, during my experience at the corporate gifts company, I made precious contacts in China, who later on became my very trustworthy manufacturers of Ice Watch. So, in the end, many of my passions, interests and skills fell into one place.

colorful ice watch

SCHMOOZY FOX: Often startups think that their brand will take care of itself. How did you approach the brand strategy of Ice Watch?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: My impression is that most startups apply brand thinking in the best case only to the product. This is not a recipe for success. For me, a strong brand concept was the starting point of the whole business. The raw idea was mine, but I bounced it off many knowledgeable people, and invested the necessary time into refining the concept over and over again. Afterwards, I made sure that each element of my business strategy supported the brand concept.

I did think through the brand strategy early on, indeed. I also knew that expansion of the brand, and the growing demand for the watches had to match our ability to scale up production very quickly. And this is when I could rely on the already established network of reliable business contacts in Asia. A combination of brand thinking and dedicated production facilities was really powerful.

SCHMOOZY FOX: It’s hard to believe the amount of press coverage internationally that Ice Watch has received since its launch. Can you attribute this success to a single event or a series of activities?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: I worked with PR firms in each of the countries where we were launching Ice Watch. But instead of fully outsourcing press relations, I myself was fully involved in organizing events and press conferences for journalists. I guess, as a complete outsider, I just thought out of the box all the time and spotted unexplored ways of connecting with journalists. For instance, instead of inviting them to the Ice Watch launch events by email, I insisted that we send them empty Ice Watch packaging boxes. When they received attractive boxes, of course they were curious to see what was inside. And when they opened them, they saw a custom-made invite which replaced the actual watch. They were intrigued, liked the packaging, and wanted to discover the product as well!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Who is the blond lady who features on almost all ads of Ice Watch? Is she a celebrity?

Melissa Ice Watch ad

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: She certainly has the looks of a celebrity! Her name is Melissa, and she is very far from the world of fashion and modeling. She works in her mother’s restaurant in the Netherlands. I had a very clear idea of what kind of woman could be our brand ambassador. I explained what I was looking for to a well-known fashion and art photographer from Antwerp, Marc Lagrange, and he found Melissa. The photos, as well as the rights to use them, cost me 10 000 Euros, which was a ton of money for a startup! But in reality, it’s very affordable compared to what I would have paid for a well-known celebrity!

SCHMOOZY FOX: What’s behind the name “Ice Watch”?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: Brand naming was an important aspect of the overall strategy for us. Initially, we wanted to make transparent watches, and “Ice” was a good match. But even though we extended the concept to a variety of materials, not only transparent, Ice Watch was still our top choice. “Ice” represents purity. Nowadays, when humanity has to deal with the problems of rising temperatures and climate change, ice has become a luxury! In other words, Ice Watch is pure, democratic, transparent in the way it communicates and connects to people, and luxurious at the same time!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Where do you get so much energy to develop your funky brand?

Jean-Pierre Lutgen: From working with people! I travel all the time, and I don’t sleep very much, but once I start working with passionate people around me, I find the energy back.

SCHMOOZY FOX: And finally, why is Ice Watch a funky brand?

Olga Slavkina & Jean-Pierre LutgenJean-Pierre Lutgen: The watch industry is rather traditional and somewhat conservative even. Ice Watch has stormed this product category by a refreshing concept, and its democratic values. “Funky” also signals “affordable” to me, and Ice Watch has become a true affordable luxury, able to brighten up the mood of many people around the world.

Zigfreda -- pressing the Refresh button

Zigfreda-Teaser-Katia&Hans

Zigfreda is a colorful luxury wear brand that was started by a Brazilian designer Katia Wille together with a Dutch businessman Hans Blankenburgh back in 2004. This makes Zigfreda and its sub-brand for kids, BabyZig, far from being a startup, one might say. However, Zigfreda had to re-invent all of its key business elements almost entirely, when the founders decided to relocate the company from Rio de Janeiro to Amsterdam two years ago. This is why I can refer to it as a “re-startup”, and I am happy to host it as the third, and final, runner up in our funky startup contest.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What’s the story behind the brand name Zigfreda?

Hans: We came up with this name while sitting at a cozy cafe in Amsterdam several years ago. Back then, we knew that we wanted to create an exclusive brand for women, so we wanted the name to sound feminine. We don't talk about Zigfreda as belonging to a specific country, Brazil, The Netherlands, Italy, you name it. We believe that neither design nor the name have to be linked to any particular geography!

Zigfreda-Teaser-SS11B-1

SCHMOOZY FOX: Tell me about Zigfreda’s beginnings in Brazil. Was it a smooth start?

Katia: After Hans and I met, we spent several years in Europe, and then decided to move to Rio and start our new brand there.

I come from a family of couturiers, both of my grandmothers were making bridal clothes, and I was drawing from a very early age. After studies at a design school I worked for Nike, Tommy Hilfiger and O’Neill. While I was on holiday in Rio, I met my old aunt and she showed me her vintage collection from the fifties, sixties and seventies. She wasn't using any of these clothes anymore, and she gave them to me, simply because I liked these pieces so much. When I saw them, I suddenly had a creative urge to do something different with this collection!

DSC07273_1A friend of mine, who was an owner of a popular fashion boutique in Rio, encouraged me to alter the vintage pieces, and then organize a vernissage at her shop. I transformed the entire collection by mixing prints, making skirts out of dresses, and so on. As a result, I created 30 unique pieces out of the original clothes. The vernissage had a phenomenal success in the press, and all of the collection was sold out. I sold it under the name of Zigfreda, and our brand story was born.

In 2002 I also received a job offer to work for one of the prominent fashion houses in Rio, so Zigfreda did not materialize right away.

In 2004 we started to sell in luxury boutiques and department stores in Brazil. This led to an invitation for Fashion Rio (The Fashion Week of Rio de Janeiro) followed by Sao Paulo Fashion Week. We grew organically, and in 2008 Zigreda clothes were sold in Brazil, Japan, South Africa, Hong-Kong and Singapore, to name a few.

SCHMOOZY FOX: With a business running smoothly, why did you decide to put everything on hold and make a totally new start in Europe?

Hans: Though Brazil is a great country with major opportunities in luxury market space, often better profit margins can be reached from more international strategies that allow higher quality and lower cost of fabrics, machinery and production. We decided to change our strategy to Europe & Asia to allow more scale for sales, PR and production.

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There were many advantages for us to make Zigfreda a truly international brand by operating out of Europe.

This decision coincided with the market downturn, and we had to reinvent our business almost from scratch. True, we had developed a lot of knowhow and expertise in many areas during our time in Brazil, but such important elements as team, production process, and sales channels, had to be launched from zero!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Did you have to put your collections on hold during this business re-start?

IMG_0144---Version-2Katia: Yes, we skipped three collections. With our Spring-Summer 2011 collection we want to bring a new beginning to Zigfreda, now located in Europe with production facility in Italy, Portugal and Asia.

BabyZig, a new brand for kids from 3 months to 8 years of age, is a very new brand, for instance. We did test it in Brazil, but the real launch took place this past summer in Milan during the Pitti-Bimbo trade fair. The Zigfreda Spring-Summer 2011 sales season will be launched in Milan (White fair) 24th -26th September and our showroom in Paris (TENT Showroom, Rue Charlot 33, 1st – 5th October).

SCHMOOZY FOX: How could you summarize the brand essence of Zigfreda?

Hans: Zigfreda as well as BabyZig are international brands that don’t know any geographic boundaries. Although both are certainly upmarket brands (the average price of Zigfreda is Euro 350 and BabyZig Euro 160), they are also very democratic.  This is especially true as regards the way I myself talk about them.

We are very open about sharing knowledge. I share my business life through social media, help and coach other business owners and also receive a lot back from them. The outdated notion that sharing might be counterproductive is simply not valid, in my view. You share, you learn, and you grow. We also want to find and create an environment in which people could find ways to explore their connections with Zigreda.

IMG_0089---Version-2Katia: Zigfreda is almost like a favorite painting -- it can be a matter of personal taste, and perhaps not for everyone. But once chosen, it lightens up your day, every day! I want my clothes to trigger the emotions of empowerment, femininity and happiness in women. Femininity is really key to Zigfreda. I’ve heard many people refer to Zigfreda as a “Southern” brand, probably due to the exuberance of colors, but my color palette is beyond North or South, it’s just my vision of true happiness that I translate into fabric prints and designs. I think it’s this happy emotional outburst that people like so much.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What are your plans for the future?

Hans: Our main objective is to establish brand awareness in Europe, select the right sales channels, and also introduce a line for teenagers (bridging the gap between BabyZig and Zigfreda) -- of course all in due course!

Katia: the main plan for me is to remain in the mindset of a startup! I believe that it’s never a good idea for a brand to become comfortable with the status quo. I want to be able to have enough challenges to overcome so that the brand grows ever stronger! I want to press the Refresh button over and over again!

ZigfredaLogo

The Smart Hanger -- hooked on the environment

Jacob hates metal hangers Today, we're happy to announce the second semi-finalist of our summer contest for funky start-up brands, The Smart Hanger. When Leigh Meadows, founder of The Smart Hanger, decided to take a little break from work two years ago in order to dedicate some time to her personal projects, little did she know that she’d soon have a new business to run. As Leigh said in an interview to SCHMOOZY FOX, the idea of The Smart Hanger, a Toronto based company was born out of a to do list that was supposed to include only her personal projects. Since then, this simple and yet original project received a lot of press coverage, and featured in the popular program The Dragon’s Den.

Today Leigh tells us why The Smart Hanger can be called a funky brand.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Leigh, tell me how you ended up starting The Smart Hanger when you actually wanted to take some time off work?

Leigh Meadows: Indeed, two years ago, in August, I made a decision to spend a bit of time concentrating on my hobbies and personal projects. I felt that I was facing something new in my life, and decided to put together a little to do list of everything that I wanted to achieve during the planned me time. I actually always put such lists of priorities each time that I face changes in my life, so it was a usual thing for me to do.

That time, my desire to do something good for the environment was on top of my list. But this wish was quite general. I wanted to do something very concrete, and yet could not think what exactly this could be.

One afternoon, my son Jacob and I were rearranging his closet to prepare the boy for the new school year. Towards the end of our cleaning session, we collected a pile of wire hangers lying in his room, ready to be thrown away. “But this is so bad for the environment!” my little son said. “Why don’t they make these hangers out of paper?”

Though I thought it was a great commend, I didn’t dwell on it too much at the time. But then, I found myself lying fully awake one night a couple of weeks later, thinking about what he had said. That’s how the idea of The Smart Hanger was born.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What is The Smart Hanger all about?

Leigh Meadows: The idea that I had was to replace wire hangers that go to landfill and generate so much waste, by recyclable paper hangers. As simple as that!

SCHMOOZY FOX: You quickly progressed from the idea of just making paper hangers, to turning them into an advertising platform for brands.

Leigh Meadows: This was a logical step that was born out of the necessity to cover the costs of producing these hangers in Canada. I could have outsourced manufacturing to lower cost countries, but producing the hangers in Canada simply made more sense from the environmental perspective. As this was quite expensive, it was decided to give advertising space on hangers to brands.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Two years on, and you have many brands interested in advertising through The Smart Hanger, and a dedicated force of sales people. How did you go about setting up a business and getting it to work?

hangers facing

Leigh Meadows: What was most important for me at the very beginning, was to get the product right for my main customers, drycleaners. They are the ones who are the biggest users of wire hangers that most of their customers simply throw away. And so, they are big contributors to landfill waste. I actually received a lot of help from the drycleaner in my neighborhood, who greatly helped me understand the market. I then met with many other drycleaners studying their needs in terms of shape and durability of the hanger. It was actually not very easy to make a perfect prototype, and the process was very scientific!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Did you have any insights into the needs of end users of The Smart Hanger?

Leigh Meadows: The role of the end consumer became of great importance when we decided to invite advertisers. I wasn’t sure how people would take the fact that they would see ads on the hangers when they picked up their clothes from drycleaners’. But they took it quite well, especially since they knew that The Smart Hanger was solving an environmental problem of landfill waste.

SCHMOOZY FOX: As an end consumer, where would I get my Smart Hangers now?

Leigh Meadows: First of all, we’re currently only present on the Canadian market, although there are immediate plans to start distribution in the US and as a next step, in Europe. You’d mostly see them at your local drycleaners’, but soon you’ll also see them in department stores, and fashion stores that sell eco fashion. You will actually soon be able to buy packs of Smart Hangers as a finished product in itself.  We’ve signed a deal with a big licensing company in Canada, and you’ll get your paper hangers embellished with Dora and other movie and cartoon characters.

SCHMOOZY FOX: A paper hanger is a superb idea, but it seems relatively easy to copy. What in your opinion can be done to be able to stay competitive?

Leigh Meadows: I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, so I actually think that competition is good! If there is competition, I treat is as a very Hanger leigh small sizegood sign! But really, first of all these hangers were not that easy to make, and we have a design patent on them. Then we have a first mover advantage, and signed exclusivity agreements with many brands and advertising agencies for several years to come. Finally, as soon as we begin being profitable, I’ll make sure to invest the right amounts of cash into brand building activities for The Smart Hanger.

SCHMOOZY FOX: why do you think The Smart Hanger is a funky brand?

Leigh Meadows: What makes it funky is the fact that nobody has up till now challenged the idea of boring wire hangers that pollute the environment. The Smart Hanger is revolutionary in its simplicity and its effectiveness, and these are no doubt qualities of a funky brand!

Crashpadder - make yourself at home

The funky Crashpadder team Today, we’re happy to announce the first semi-finalist of our summer contest for up-and-coming funky brands, Crashpadder

Crashpadder is an online community that brings together “crashers” and “padders”. “Crashers” are business and leisure travelers in need of inexpensive accommodation, whereas “padders” are homeowners who want to rent out spare rooms in their houses for short term stays.

Crashpadder is the brain child of Stephen Rapoport, whose extensive travels around the world, adventurous spirit and love for meeting people led him to this idea.

Crashpadder has existed for just over a year, and it can already boast thousands of rooms available for short-term rent in 67 countries.

Today, we are happy to publish an interview with Stephen, who tells us why Crashpadder is a funky brand.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Stephen, would you call Crashpadder a funky brand ?

Stephen Rapoport: Definitely! At Crashpadder we try to develop the brand beyond the logo and color scheme and create a business based on positive experiences of our users, as well as funky brand values: love to travel, openness, and sense of adventure.

Crashpadder.com is the entry point to this brand experience, and we made sure that it runs smoothly. For instance, we did a lot of work on the site usability, so that users could find all the necessary information within just a couple of clicks.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Functionality of the site is definitely a must if one runs a web business. But Crashpadder is also a services business, and creating strong brands in services industries is one of the most challenging yet rewarding aspects of brand strategy!

Stephen Rapoport: And where do you see a challenge for Crashpadder?

SCHMOOZY FOX: Most businesses that sell services rather than goods, face the challenge of making their brand experiences consistent. How do you ensure that most of crashers and padders who meet in real life, go through the Crashpadder experience?

Stephen Rapoport: It may sound paradoxical, but I think that the lack of consistency is an important part of the Crashpadder brand experience that is, well, consistent! It’s totally opposite of an experience one would have at a hotel. Hotels are sterile, predictable, lacking personal touch. And with Crashpadder, one would always have to expect a certain degree of surprise, diversity and serendipitous encounters. And this is the core of our brand!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Who is a typical padder?

Stephen Rapoport: A typical padder is first of all a sociable person. Obviously, padders like to earn some cash for the rooms they rent out, but it’s not the only motivation. A typical padder is also a local who can recommend you good restaurants in the area, shops and galleries that do not feature in any guide books! By the way, I am myself a padder, and I enjoy giving my own insider tips about London to my guests.

SCHMOOZY FOX: And who is your typical crasher?

Our crashers are 50% business travelers, and 50% tourists. What unites them all is the sense of adventure, and desire to have unique experiences during travel, rather than predictable hotel stays.

SCHMOOZY FOX: How is crashpadder different from couchsurfing, which is free service?

Stephen Rapoport: It’s profoundly different. I actually love couchsurfing, and I’ve been a couchsurfer for 8 years.

Crashpadder is different because 95% of accommodation offered on our site is double beds in private bedrooms. There are essentially no sofas! Also the average age on crashpadder is 38, whereas couchsurfing has much younger audience. We’ve been described as couchsurfing for grown ups in the press.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What do you plan to do in the future to continue developing Crashpadder as a funky brand?

Stephen Rapoport: The future is going to be exciting for various reasons, but continuing our current rate of growth will be the greatest challenge. We are no longer looking to develop the brand as an asset but rather on distribution of the brand in new overseas markets.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Thanks, Stephen, and the best of luck with Crashpadder!

From Mallorca with love: interview with Camper shoes

Miquel Fluxa from Camper Camper shoes was one of the first funky brands featured on this blog back in 2008.  When Camper opened its shop in Brussels, I thought that a Funky Brand Interview would be spot on for SCHMOOZY FOX’s blog.

And here it is! I had a chance to talk to Miquel Fluxà from Camper.  A son of Lorenzo Fluxà who founded Camper in 1975, he is responsible for business development and brand extensions at Camper. Educated at ESADE and Stern Business School in New York, where he studied business administration, Miquel thinks that one of his professional strengths is the ability to understand and work with creative people such as designers.

The Mamba shoe

“I am not sure if I can call myself creative, at least in the sense of expressing myself through visual arts. But creativity is a very important element at Camper, and I very much enjoy working with highly creative designers who develop shoe designs, as well as those who have collaborated with us on our Casa Camper hotel chain project.

Casa Camper Berlin

SCHMOOZY FOX welcomes Miquel Fluxà to the blog about funky brands! All images in this interview were provided to SCHMOOZY FOX courtesy of Camper.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Miquel, first of all, what makes Camper shoes a funky brand?

Miquel Fluxà: Camper is without any doubt a FUNKY BRAND according to SCHMOOZY FOX’s definition!

Camper together with Bernhard Willhelm AW2010s

We are constantly working on delivering new ideas to the market and we do it with passion and creativity. We think differently and we want to be seen different, although not in a loud, showy way, but with austerity and discretion.

We are serious about what we do, but do not take ourselves too seriously, so we like to add a twist of understated imagination and irony to everything we do. We have a strong core belief that we try to transmit to consumers through product, retail and communication so that they can feel the Camper experience.

Camper together with Romain Kremer AW2010s

SCHMOOZY FOX: And now, could you characterize the Camper brand by only 3 words? What would they be?

Miquel Fluxà: Authentic, thoughtful and imaginative. We are authentic because we have been shoe-makers for over 130 years and we are committed to the long term.

Camper on Madison Avenue in NYC

Quality and craftsmanship remain at the heart of what we do and what we are. We are thoughtful and caring with the people, culture and environment where we work. Camper means “peasant” in Catalan and we have always been connected to the Mediterranean rural world.

And imagination and creativity have always been in the core of the company, applied into every process from the pre-production phase until the recycling, always trying to do things in a different way.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Could one say that these are also the reasons why customers like Camper?

Camper store in London

Miquel Fluxà: Yes, we think so!

We believe that our consumers know Camper values and share them. Our products reflect what we are: our know-how and creativity have always been the common thread of our collections, and we have now taken this to an upper level: Extraordinary Crafts, Creative Quality and Quality Execution, under which we combine our passion and experience with new ideas to create shoes that are useful, innovative and full of personality.

We think that this is something that our consumers take deeply into consideration when they decide to purchase a pair of Camper shoes.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Camper was founded by your father. What made you decide to join forces with your father and continue building Camper as a family business?

Miquel Fluxà: Although Camper as a brand was founded by my father in 1975, the origins of the company go back to 1877, when my great-grandfather founded the first shoe factory in Spain and later  my grandfather continued with the factory. That makes us the fourth generation.

Although there was nothing planned and we had no obligation to continue building Camper, there is an important sentiment of responsibility of continuing the family business.

It also a great luck to work in company like Camper, which is an international company with fantastic people working all over the world, an interesting company with great projects, and based in a fantastic place like Mallorca!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Camper has a worldwide presence. What do you think are the countries where Camper is loved most?

Miquel Fluxà: Considering that the Spanish and European and some Asian countries like Japan and Taiwan consolidations took place in the 80s and 90s respectively, the presence of Camper in these mature markets is broader than in the new ones. However, the last decade has represented the introduction and development of the brand in the United States, Asia, Australia and more recently Russia.

We are confident that Camper lovers can be everywhere in the world. New technologies such as the social media have allowed us to collect information about unexplored markets and we are surprised of the quantity of fans that Camper has in countries where we do not even have a selling structure.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What are the main distribution channels Camper uses?

Miquel Fluxà: Camper is distributed through its own stores that we operate directly, and through multi-brand stores and department stores. The wholesale activity is currently the most important one.

The company was born in 1975 and during the first years the products were marketed only through multi-brand stores. However, we realized that the best way to create a whole Camper experience for our customers was by setting spaces that would allow them to interact with the shoes and the brand.

As a consequence of this reflection, in 1981 we opened our first store in Barcelona, and in 1992 we opened our first store outside Spain in Saint Germain in Paris.

SCHMOOZY FOX: As regards your online shop, what are the challenges and advantages for the consumer to buy a pair of shoes online ? What do you do in order to bring the in-store buying experience to the online world?

Miquel Fluxà: Probably the biggest challenge for us is to enhance consumers’ online purchase experience when they decide to buy shoes through our online shop and, therefore, we focus on three different factors.

First, we provide customers with as much information as possible about the shoes: detailed description, high quality pictures from different angles, quick search menu. Then, we seek excellence in our pre-sale and after sale customer service. Finally, we want the online purchase to be a total Camper experience as it would be to buy in a physical store.

Madrid Fuencarral Storesmall

For us the online store is another Camper store, only with a different format and approach to the customer, and we consecrate our efforts to ensure that the customers feel that they are at a Camper store, providing them with the same quality, service and warranties.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Finally, how does Camper plan to continue being a funky brand in the future?

Miquel Fluxà: We will keep on trying to make creative shoes, executed with quality and comfort and maintaining our commitment to sustainability. We will continue increasing our creative network with consolidated and future talents. But above all, we will remain faithful to our origins and values!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Thanks for this interview, and I wish you a lot of success with Camper!

Interview with Belgian fashion designer Tim Van Steenbergen

Tim Van Steenbergen I love Antwerp. It’s a city of great fashion, outstanding design and funky shops. My discovery of funky brands from Antwerp began with an interview with Wim Somers, founder of Theo. It was at the very end of that interview that Wim mentioned Theo’s collaboration with a talented young Antwerp designer, Tim Van Steenbergen, who worked on Theo’s sunglasses collection.

I noted down Tim’s name with the intention of finding out more details about him later. While I was waiting for my train to Brussels at the Antwerp Central Station, I was browsing through magazines at a press kiosk, and the first article I randomly opened was... an interview with Tim Van Steenbergen!

I don’t quite remember which magazine it was, but here’s my very own interview with Tim.

Tim’s professional credentials are outstanding -- the prêt-a-porter collection that bears his name is on the radar screen of many Hollywood celebrities, he’s Creative Director of the successful upmarket fashion label Chine, and he creates costumes for performances at La Scala. Given the wide range of projects Tim Van Steenbergen is involved in, I thought that an interesting topic to talk about would be his personal brand.

Olga from SCHMOOZY FOX and Tim. Image courtesy of Tim Van Steenbergen

SCHMOOZY FOX: Tim, how do you present yourself to someone who has not heard about you and your work?

Tim Van Steenbergen: (smiling) It’s actually a difficult question since I do so many different things! A good way to present myself is to say that I create a universe of style, a way of dressing, based on classic traditions of craftsmanship. Fabrics and their texture play a very important role in this universe. Sometimes I feel that I use fabrics in the same way as a sculptor would use marble, clay or metal to create something from scratch. I remember being fascinated by fabrics when I was only 4 years old!

SCHMOOZY FOX: What makes you passionate about your work?

Tim Van Steenbergen: Emotions! I love the fact that my designs are able to provoke very strong emotions in people who wear them. And it actually doesn’t matter if these emotions are negative or positive -- it’s often the controversy that matters. When my designs shake people up, bring exuberance in their lives, and don’t leave them indifferent, I feel like I’ve achieved something very important.

Rihanna in Tim Van Steenbergen. Image courtesy of Tim Van Steenbergen

I also like to get to know the people who will end up wearing the clothes I make. In this sense, working with the actors at La Scala has been very satisfying as I was making each costume for a particular person. In the theatre environment, I want to understand actors as people, making costumes that fit their personalities, and the roles they play.

Costumes by Tim Van Steenbergen for La Scala

SCHMOOZY FOX: I can see that this can work well in the theater, but in fashion?

Tim Van Steenbergen: In fashion, it is of course rarely possible to create prêt-a-porter collections with every individual customer in mind. I often come across my clothes worn by people on the streets worldwide. It’s rather easy to spot them on celebrities, but what’s more exciting is when “ordinary” people wear them. It makes me want to know more about these people, and their feelings when they wear my designs.

Jennifer Lopez, Misha Barton and Princess Claire of Belgium alike have been spotted wearing Tim Van Steenbergen

SCHMOOZY FOX: I guess that all of the above refers to your label, Tim Van Steenbergen. How does the work at Chine fit into your overall personal brand?

Tim Van Steenbergen: I think it benefits my personal brand. I think it’s important for any designer to demonstrate that he or she can come into another company, with its specific corporate culture and ways of doing things, jump in and deliver good results. This shows that I can successfully collaborate and inspire another brand, and it’s a valuable skill for any designer. The designs I create for Chine are different from the ones I create for my own label. The style of my clothes is architectural, structural, if you will. Chine’s style is fluid, poetic, inspired by the 19th century.

Fluidity of Chine and geometry of Tim Van Steenbergen, created by the same designer

SCHMOOZY FOX: It sounds like you appreciate getting into different roles -- maybe that’s why you like your project at La Scala? Perhaps you have the talent for acting too?

Tim Van Steenbergen: (laughing) I’ve never thought of it this way, but yes, I guess you are right! I like having all these different roles and exploring them.

SCHMOOZY FOX: By the way, how do you manage to stay creative when you do so many different things?

Tim Van Steenbergen: I think I am creative BECAUSE I do so much. I manage to separate all the different projects I am working on. Each of them requires different approaches and results in different “end products” . I am pretty good at organizing myself: whenever I need to tap into my creativity and work for Chine, I can do it, and when I am building a new collection for my own label -- I can jump into it easily as well!

What breeds my creativity is also doing sports and reading novels. The latter is like entering another universe, and exploring it can be a very special journey that inspires my work.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Could you tell our readers about your plans for the near future? What professional universe would you like to explore?

Tim Van Steenbergen: As already mentioned, I would like to find ways of creating clothes with concrete people in mind. All of my collections are sold through high-end boutiques worldwide. I am thinking of offering them very exclusive limited collections in due course. Boutiques know their clients very well, and there’s certainly scope to make limited collections tailored to these customers, their personalities and lifestyles. And this is certainly a very funky and exciting universe to explore!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Thank you Tim, enjoy this funky journey of creativity!

Anders Wall, CEO of Biomega, talks about city biking as a new luxury

The MN bike by Biomega

Having talked about square wheels in the previous interview featuring a Swiss watch brand Maurice Lacroix, today our focus is on round wheels -- a Danish brand of bikes called Biomega. Launched in 1998 by an industrial designer Jens Martin Skibsted, Biomega is a company that has been building its brand through a rigorous strategy of brand partnerships. Through co-operation with PUMA and such world-famous designers as Marc Newson, Ross Lovegrove and Karim Rachid, as well with its bikes featuring in permanent collections of art museums, the brand of Biomega has occupied a very interesting niche on the bike market: a stylish, funky and functional luxury item for use in the city. Today I am happy to host Anders Wall, CEO of Biomega who shares his views on city bikes and funky brands.

Anders Wall

SCHMOOZY FOX: Anders, the name Biomega sounds a bit like it could be a brand of healthy food or vitamins. Could you tell me the story behind the brand name?

Anders Wall: Indeed, some people also think that there is something “bio” about it. But in reality, the name was conceived as “bi omega” which visually would look like this ΩΩ. Two letters "omega" put together do look like a bike.  Later on the name took a life of its own, and there’s no such association in customers’ minds.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Did Biomega follow a strategy of brand partnerships and co-operation with famous designers right from the beginning?

Anders Wall: Jens Martin Skibsted, the founder of Biomega, has designed most of the bike models. But indeed, Biomega was set to build its brand through partnerships with such famous designers as Marc Newson early on.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What’s the brand philosophy of Biomega? How are you reinventing the wheel?

The Boston bike

Anders Wall: We think that a bicycle is often portrayed as a product consisting of many spare parts, rather than a complete whole. The “spare part” brand discourse is very typical to most bike brands, and it’s very rare that they address the values and needs of consumers other than technical performance. For Biomega, a bike is based on the concepts of integration, drivability, durability and visibility. By integration, we mean that a bike is one whole that can bring a lot of aesthetic value to the owner. By drivability, we mean that a bike should be easy to drive, fast in acceleration and quick in braking. Durability refers to the fact that our bikes will last. All of these qualities are important to keep in mind when a new model of Biomega bike is conceived and designed. And finally, visibility means that our bikes must make both the product and the user noticeable. Our products stand out in the crowd, and so does the person who's using the bike!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Why do you refer to Biomega bikes as New Luxury?

Anders Wall: Bikes and biking as a process in general is hardly ever associated with luxury. Biomega does add luxury to bikes, primarily through superior design. What’s important is that Biomega bikes are meant to be used only in the city. Through their ease of use and funky design they in fact compete with cars! In this sense, owning an astonishing bike with luxurious design as opposed to having to sit in traffic jams becomes a true luxury.

SCHMOOZY FOX: How much does it cost to own such an object of new luxury?

Anders Wall: The majority of our bikes cost around 1.200-1.500 Euro. Our special models like the MN is more expensive (prices start at around 3.500 Euro). Our most exclusive bike, a carbon version of the MN with special components, is sold at the price at 6.500 Euro. Our bikes are distributed through design stores,  as well as selected bicycle stores.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Besides co-operation with famous designers, Biomega also went into brand partnerships. Could you speak about Biomega’s partnership with Puma?

Anders Wall: We have worked on a brand partnership with Puma for five years now. The brand partnership was based on the Biomega model Boston, which was created in special versions for the Puma brand stores around the world. These Puma versions carried both the Puma and the Biomega logo, and were unique in colors. Last year, our partnership was taken further and we are now a licensee of Puma. In the coming months we will introduce a new range of Puma bicycles – 5 models in total – which have been designed and produced by Biomega. Where the previous bikes were only sold in Puma brand stores, the new range will be sold through bike stores all over the world and online. This is a very exiting new business for both Puma and Biomega.

SCHMOOZY FOX: To what extent do you think Biomega can be called a Funky Brand?

Anders Wall, CEO of Biomega

Anders Wall (smiling): I think that SCHMOOZY FOX’s definition of funky brands is very much in line with Biomega’s philosophy. We are small (there are only 6 employees at Biomega!) but a very agile company. We think we have created a great company culture and built the business through a very rigorous brand strategy right from the start. The funky aspects are certainly seen by the final customer, but only few people realize that behind this there’s a lot of very meticulous business and brand strategy work done within the company! We’re also outward rather than inward-looking, and through our brand partnerships we have achieved a global reach.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Do you bike to the office?

Anders Wall: I live outside of Copenhagen, and actually take a train every day. But once I am in the city, I of course bike! I own several models of Biomega, including the MN model. After all, apart from being a CEO, I am also Biomega’s brand ambassador, and I very much enjoy it!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Thank you, Anders!