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.

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?

Schmoozy_Fox_Funky_Brand_Interviews_Matteo_Alessi_portrait
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

Building Russian brands

Last week I participated -- as a panel speaker and attendee - in the Global Russia Meeting hosted by the government of Luxembourg. Organized by Horasis, an independent think tank based in Zurich, and dubbed as a “world economic forum for emerging markets” , the event brought together many prominent business and political leaders from Russia, Europe and the United States.  

Addressed through different panels, discussions about Russia focused on such topics as entrepreneurship, business growth overseas, innovating the Silicon-valley way, and of course, branding. Selected as one of the panelists for the discussion entitled Building Russian Brands, I shared my views on what would make Russian companies successful internationally.

 

RUSSIAN BRANDS GLOBALLY

According to one of the panel speakers, Tony Cowling from TNS, several agencies, including his own, frequently publish lists of brands which can be considered global. Most of the times, Russian brands are present there in a tiny minority.

Whereas a few Russian brand names, such as Lukoil , Standard Vodka and the girls pop group Tatu, (( which gained mainstream recognition with their release of “All the Things She Said” several years ago)) who may be known internationally, many others rarely make it to the brandscape of international consumers, unless they target a specific niche.  In order to get an idea of what of Russian brands my own non-Russian friends were familiar with, I posted a quick informal survey on my Facebook profile prior to the event.

What often comes to the mind of the Western European consumer in terms of Russian brands, within the limits of my very informal survey, is not always names of commercialized brands. Instead, it’s often a series of symbols and associations, related to the image of Russia. Think matryoshkas and even the Bear, with the latter playing the role of the unofficial “brand mascot” of Russia (Read more about brand mascots here).

But as soon as you begin to explore more niche brands, you might discover that more Russian brands get on the international brand horizon. Among them are, for example, Digital October, a startup incubator in Moscow, known by the international web and tech startup community. Or Garage, a contemporary art center in Moscow that many art lovers around the world have surely heard about.

BRAND STRATEGY IS THE ANSWER

But do Russian brands need to strive for international recognition? And if yes, what benefits can it give them? First of all, the more quality Russian products appear on international markets, the better it will benefit the overall image of Russia long term. Secondly, there’s a strong link between having a successful brand and a sizable market share, as mentioned by another panel speaker, Givi Topchishvili, CEO of New York based Global Advertising Strategies.  Third, the scarcity of Russian brands on the international brandscape presents a rare opportunity for them. By learning to think strategically in terms of their brand development, Russian brands would make the first important step towards market success.  Placed in the framework of a coherent strategy, which begins from a clear definition of value proposition, and ends with knowing how to capture the hearts and minds of the target consumer, Russian brands will begin to position themselves as competitive players on international markets.

And what about the necessary ingredients Russian brands would need to use in order to make their brand strategies successful? In this respect, two important elements come to mind: design (both product design and visual identity as a whole, including web design) as well as better use of the web. With Russian being my mother tongue, I often visit sites of Russian companies, only to find old-fashioned design and complex user interfaces. Better looking and better functioning products and web sites are the required ingredients of successful brands.

Some Russian brands have understood this, and involved international brand and marketing experts early on in their brand strategy development. Such was the case of Standard Vodka, which relied on international brand, marketing and advertising agencies to shape its identity, launch the product, and set a long-term brand strategy framework. Outstanding design was not an after-thought, but an important element of Standard’s brand strategy.

IMPORTANCE OF SUCCESS LOCALLY

Although very few Russian brands are enjoying international fame, there are a few success stories if we look at the local market. In fact, the measure of brand success of Russian companies may be related to how fast, and for how much money, they are acquired by large international corporations. And such cases abide. Think of Unilever acquiring Concern Kalina, a Russian producer of cosmetics. Or PepsiCo buying Wim-Bill-Dann, a Russian juice and dairy group. PepsiCo is now launching its Quaker cereals under the name Chudo (“Miracle”)- one of the existing successful brand names in Wim-Bill-Dann’s portfolio, and there are even some speculations that the multinational intends to sell some of the products in its Russian portfolio abroad. Maybe such a roundabout way -- first becoming strong locally, then hitting overseas markets under the umbrella of PepsiCo, Danone or Unilever -- is a way for Russian brands to expand abroad?

 

 

To summarize, success of Russian brands will depend on how quickly they realize that brand strategy cannot be an afterthought, but key to overall business development.

 

Only by shaping and implementing a smart brand strategy framework will Russian brands set themselves on the path of market success internationally.

The power of personal branding

Build your personal brand and show it off on the red carpet! Image by Fascinating Girl on Flickr In my blog post The Zuckerberg Brand I talked about the recent positive buzz that has surrounded Mark Zuckerberg, and how it has boosted the brand of the company he had founded, Facebook.

Paraphrasing myself, Facebook is known pretty much by everyone on planet Earth. Facebook’s business model relies on people to trust it with their data. If they trust the CEO, they are much more likely to trust the platform.

The blog post about Zuckerberg resulted in some friends’ comments posted directly on my Facebook profile.  To summarize, there was general hesitation towards powerful CEO brands. One of my Facebook friends argued that the "CEO star syndrome would eventually hurt the company in question".

Sure, there are, of course, certain risks involved when you embark upon a thrilling mission of building your personal brand. This is especially true when you are an entrepreneur. You might doubt if it's the right strategy to be known for being yourself first, and only then for being a company founder and CEO. All kinds of concerns might be running through your head...

What happens if I build a lot of personal brand equity and then decide to leave my company? What if this will leave customers dissatisfied? And what if the business loses its appeal and its brand image changes and becomes worse?

There may be many what if's one could come up with. And here's my advice to you: dump the what if’s. Build your personal brand, and invest in it as much as you can.  The Funky Brands philosophy applies also to your personal brand: it's better to stand out from the crowd than be like everyone else.

Image source: http://blog.careergoddess.com

And hey, if you are a cool and famous person, it’s just so much better than the opposite, right? It will also help your business, too.

A couple of Funky Personal Brands of successful entrepreneurs that come to mind are Oprah Winfrey and Gary Vaynerchuk.

Oprah herself (www.twitter.com/oprah) has almost 5 million followers on Twitter! Her businesses, such as Oprah magazine and Oprah radio, have significantly fewer followers. However, Oprah might also tweet about her businesses from her personal account, so the cross-promotional opportunities between herself and her businesses are enormous.

Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee on Twitter) is a personal branding phenomenon. Gary grew his dad’s liquor store in New Jersey into a multi-million dollar online wine retailer by understanding the essence of social media. I think his secret is dedicated engagement with his customers and fans throughout social media channels, and an edgy personality that he’s not afraid to broadcast on the web.

He’s genuine, and it shows. He might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but his honest and direct style is impossible to copy. It’s key to his funky personal brand. Read Gary's tips on building your personal brand here.

So, dear entrepreneurs, understand who you are and what drives you. Get into your full personal power. But don’t set the goal of being liked by everybody -- this is not going to happen.

Simply be yourself, and express your passions. And then think of the best ways to get your personal brand known to others.  You’ll have fun, and meet like-minded individuals.

And you know what? Your business brand may get an incredible boost from your funky self-expression. Have fun!

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

Best of SCHMOOZY FOX 2010

With this post, I want to bring to your attention the best posts that were published on this blog in 2010. They 've attracted most of the traffic because I think they give some of the most useful tips to anyone who wants to build a Funky Brand™. If you want to brush up on your knowledge of branding, here's your chance! BRAND STRATEGY

Image by Levy Fulop on Flickr

ONLINE BRAND STRATEGY

FUNKY BRAND INTERVIEWS

Photo collage

  • Theo loves you: an interview with Wim Somers, founder of a very stylish brand from Antwerp.
  • Interview with Anders Wall, CEO of a Danish upscale brand of bicycles, Biomega.
  • From Mallorca with love: interview with Camper shoes.
  • Interview with Jean-Pierre Lutgen, CEO of Ice Watch.
  • Interview with Isabelle Cheron, Creative Director of Kipling bags.
  • Interview with Nathalie Colin, Creative Director of Swarovski.

PERSONAL BRANDING

RE-BRANDING AND BRAND REPOSITIONING

BRAND NAMING

CREATIVITY AND BRANDING

taarten van abel

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.

How Funky Brands can be creative: 7 insights from the Creativity Forum in Antwerp

A cake by Taarten Van Abel, a creative company mentioned during the conference. I thought it would be a good symbol for female creativity

A cake by Taarten Van Abel

On Thursday, I attended an event dedicated to creativity. The conference took place in Antwerp and was organized by an organization called Flanders District of Creativity. This year, Flanders DC gave the stage to creative and inspirational women.

Creativity fuels Funky Brands — innovative, edgy, contemporary products and services that stand out from the crowd. Funky Brands are worth experiencing over and over again, and importantly, bring positive functional and emotional benefits to those who use them.

For examples of Funky Brands, visit the Funky Brand Interviews section.

Here is my summary of 7 insights from the event that can be applied to Funky Brands:

Image by pumpkincat210 on Flickr

1) MAKE SURE TO INCLUDE CREATIVE, PASSIONATE AND KNOWLEDGEABLE WOMEN IN YOUR BUSINESS TEAM

Women’s signature style of doing business can be referred to as lifestyle entrepreneurship. This means that often, women’s main motivation behind starting a business is not just cash, but first and foremost, creating value for their customers.

If you are a team of men, invite at least one talented woman who will surely bring a different perspective to your business.

2) BE AUTHENTIC IN YOUR BRAND PROMOTIONS

Randi Zuckerberg, who’s in charge of the Creative Marketing department of Facebook, gave examples of authentic ways in which Facebook has communicated with its members.

In a short case study, Randi demonstrated a difference in reaction from Facebook fans to two photos of celebrity Eva Longoria. One photo of Eva was pure glam, whereas in another shot she looked more like someone you’d meet on the street rather than red carpet. Interestingly, the simple photo raised a massive wave of “likes” on Facebook. This taught Facebook itself to use friendly, amateur-like images of its employees in the company’s communications campaigns.

Don’t exclude glamorous and stylish visual expressions of your brand, but it’s worth exploring more authentic ways of connecting to real people, at least once in a while.

Here’s an image that captures the main points of Randi’s presentation:

Image courtesy of Visual Harvesting

Image courtesy of Visual Harvesting

3) IF YOU WANT ENGAGED CUSTOMERS, MAKE THEM PLAY A GAME WITH YOUR BRAND

Jane McGonigal, a game designer from the Institute for the Future, spoke about solving world problems by encouraging people to play more games. Jane defined games as “unnecessary obstacles that we volunteer to overcome.

If we take the example of golf, what’s the fascination behind trying to hit the ball with a stick and make it fall into the hole, instead of just picking it up by hand and placing it there? But even if the final purpose is to make that ball fall into the hole, nobody would ever be interested in having no obstacle to overcome, and no thrill to experience.

Image by Levy Fulop on Flickr

Image by Levy Fulop on Flickr

The truth is, people like the excitementenergy and thrill of playing a game. In similar terms, nobody wants a dull and unmemorable experience of learning about your product, buying it in an unexciting environment, and experiencing its dull features.

Engage your customers in a thrilling game, and enhance the funky brand experience!

4) DEFINE YOUR BRAND NOT IN LINE WITH PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY, BUT WITH WHAT YOUR CUSTOMERS REALLY WANT

Diane Nijs, a professor of imagineering1 , gave an example of the Dutch bakery Taarten Van Abel.

The bakery owner built a funky brand by redefining his product from simply a cake, to the expression of festive spirit. As Diane pointed out, people rarely buy cakes to eat them. They buy them as symbols of celebrationfeast, and enjoyment. Taarten Van Abel has grasped this and began to create cakes that are works of art. The brand of Taarten Van Abel has become so well-received by people that the company has decided to launch a TV channel for kids, in which its symbolic cakes have given ground to stories and fairy tales.

5) UNLOCK THE MEMETIC POTENTIAL OF YOUR IDEA

Memetics is a theory of mental content based on an analogy with Darwinian evolution, which was originated by Richard Dawkins in the 1976 book The Selfish Gene.   Meme is a unit of human cultural transmission analogous to the gene, and psychologist Susan Blackmore talked about ways of how this sort of replication happens in culture.

Memetics would be worth checking especially for those who are fans of viral marketing. Why do some ideas fly and replicate themselves, and others just sit on the shelf unnoticed? Maybe memetics is a field that you should look into in order to understand why some brands just fly and become funky, and others never get noticed.

6) IN ORDER TO STAY CREATIVE, BE WHO YOU REALLY ARE

According to Baroness Susan Greenfield, a UK neuroscientist, the essence of creativity is daring to be who you are, your individuality.

eccentric dude

Some of you might know that it’s not always easy to stand out from the crowd and be different. Sometimes, the simplest thing to do is to conform and have an easy life. That’s why there are so many dull and unexciting brands out there!

But sticking to who you really are, daring to be, can also come across as magnetically charismatic if you manage to find creative ways of getting your value across. Your Funky Brand might not be liked by everyone, but those who’ll notice you, might fall in love, and isn’t it a huge reward?

7) BRING STRUCTURE TO CREATIVE PROCESS

Christie Hefner, Playboy’s former CEO, talked about structured creativity. Creativity is often associated with wild out-of-the box thinking, and structure is probably the last word that comes to mind in this respect. And yet a rigorous approach to the creative process is always beneficial to building a successful brand.

This is a very valid point in relation to Funky Brands.

When you build a Funky Brand, combine teams of creative people with experts in brand strategy. This can be especially powerful when you want to build a strong brand through online channels. A lot of brands nowadays want to splash out all the creativity they have, and expose it through social media, without having a rigorous brand strategy in place. Don’t fall into the trap of unstructured creativity, be funky and be smart!

Image by wilgengebroed on Flickr

Image by wilgengebroed on Flickr

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.

Img2538

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!

Invitation to join two new LinkedIn groups

funky  brands by SFToday I want to draw your attention to the two new groups on LinkedIn recently created by SCHMOOZY FOX. First, there's a group called FUNKY BRANDS.

Here is a direct link to this new LinkedIn group and I invite you to join it!

Another LinkedIn group recently created by SCHMOOZY FOX  is called Affordable Luxury.  It is also very relevant to all those who are in the business of building innovative, striking (aka "funky") brands. Here is the direct link to this LinkedIn Group.

In one of my previous articles called How Funky Brands Can Be Profitable, I discussed how a consumer product or service could succeed if positioned in the affordable luxury segment.  This segment can also referred to as mass luxury or new luxury.

From SCHMOOZY FOX's perspective, there's a close link between two groups.

In fact:

The Affordable Luxury group falls nicely with the concept of funky brands.

There are several ways of looking at it.

In fact, most of SCHMOOZY FOX's clients are consumer goods or services seeking to craft a brand strategy that will aim at their positioning as affordable luxury brands. And in our experience, most funky brands are exactly affordable luxury products or services!

Just have a look at our Funky Brand Interviews with all those brilliant businesses that have been built based around such elements as creativity, design, affordable luxury and fun!

SCHMOOZY FOX invites you to become members of one of both groups on LinkedIn!

Schmoozing and fun are guaranteed! :)

Funky Brand Interviews are one year old!

Photo by Theresa Thompson on Flickr Today, SCHMOOZY FOX's  Funky Brand Interviews are turning one!

Since last June, we've interviewed founders and top managers of some of the funkiest brands out there. In each of these interviews SCHMOOZY FOX has tried to uncover personalities and interests of real people behind brands, as well as learn insights into these innovative companies from a personal perspective of people who work there.

From the Dutch lingerie queen, to a talented photographer who helps people build funky personal brands, to a funky T-shirt brand and a top luxury fashion designer -- all of our interviewees could identify with SCHMOOZY FOX's concept of funky brands. And this is definitely something to celebrate!

Below is the list of all SCHMOOZY FOX's Funky Brand Interviews to date, and there will be more funky ones coming soon!

And don't forget, we'll continue to celebrate throughout the summer! If you are a funky (or funky-to-be) startup, you can learn how you can benefit from some top-notch brand strategy coaching that we've arranged for you FREE of charge! Learn more here.

OUR FUNKY BRAND INTERVIEWS TO DATE

Interview with Rowan Gormley, CEO of Naked Wines

Interview with Marlies Dekkers, the Dutch "lingerie queen"

Interview with artist Thaneeya McArdle

Interview with Kyan Foroughi, CEO of Boticca,com, an online jewellery market place

Interview with James Payne from Baileys Irish Cream

Interview with Tekin Tatar from BeFunky.com

Interview with Wim Somers from Theo

Interview with founders of Lotty Dotty

Interview with Michael Chia, a photographer who helps build funky personal brands

Interview with Martin Bachmann, CEO of Maurice Lacroix watches

Interview with Anders Wall, CEO of Biomega bikes

Interview with fashion designer Tim Van Steenbergen

Celebrating one year of Funky Brand Interviews

Photo collage

Today I have some important news for you!

At the end of June, SCHMOOZY FOX will be celebrating one year of its Funky Brand Interviews.  And in this respect, we have some great gifts to offer to those who want to build a funky brand!

Last June, an interview with Rowan Gormley, CEO of Naked Wines, a UK-based online wine retailer, marked the start of the new category on our blog, Funky Brand Interviews. Since then, SCHMOOZY FOX has published interviews with founders and top managers from such famous brands as Marlies Dekkers, Baileys, Tim Van Steenbergen, Theo , Biomega and others.
Today, we’re announcing a call for up-and-coming funky brands!

If you know talented and passionate entrepreneurs setting up an innovative brand, please spread the news to them!

Rules of the game

Very simple! All that we require is:

That you are a start-up, either just launched, or seeking market entry That you want to build a very successful brand to fall in love with

That your main industry is Consumer Goods or Services, particularly in the "affordable luxury" segment

Our prize

SCHMOOZY FOX will identify three semi-finalists, all of whom will be interviewed for our blog. Out of the three interviewees, we will select 1 finalist, who will also receive a:

FULL DAY OF BRAND AND MARKETING COACHING by SCHMOOZY FOX

It’s a great way to start building your brand awareness online through SCHMOOZY FOX's social media channels.  It's also a fantastic opportunity for ideas-rich and cash-poor start-ups to get smart advice on how to get on the right brand & marketing track right from the start!

How to apply?

Please write an email to olga (at) schmoozyfox (dot) com with the subject “Funky Brands”, or publish a post on our Facebook page, and tell us why your company is, or has the potential to become, a funky brand. For funky brand criteria, visit our blog.

Timeline

Submissions will be accepted until July 17th, and winners will be announced in August.

Please note that SCHMOOZY FOX’s past and present clients, as well as interviewees, are not eligible for participation! :)

Please spread the news, and happy schmoozing!

Theo loves you

Photo courtesy of theo: view from the top floor of theo office to the patio

As I was walking through the windy Antwerp streets yesterday, I quickly gave in to the overpowering atmosphere of design, fashion and great interiors typical of this great city. I was on a mission to meet one of the important players on the Antwerp fashion and style scene, as well as internationally, Wim Somers, founder of a funky eyewear brand, theo. At the end of my journey through Antwerp's most fashionable streets that are host of great shops and funky cafés, I reached theo's office building. As I entered it, the exuberance of colors struck me with a good dose of positive energy, that I especially appreciated on a cold and grey day. My funky journey began, and here's an account of what I discovered by talking with Wim Somers, who had founded theo back in 1988.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Wim, the main reason I am here is that a couple of weeks ago I went to my favorite optician's store in Brussels, Capelle Opticien, to get a new pair of glasses. After having a little chat with the shop owner, I was recommended this great pair of theo glasses. Its design, a big edgy and unusual, and yet extremely elegant, prompted me to find out more about your company.

The frame came in a bright box, which displayed a very simple yet quite powerful message: theo loves you. Could you tell me the story behind this brand slogan? Wim Somers: We have been using this slogan for over 20 years now. It began as a memo on an order form and has developed into the slogan of the brand theo. This phrase communicates theo's core philosophy quite well. Since we distribute our glasses through opticians' stores, we rarely touch the final consumer.  By stating that theo loves our final consumers, we have a better chance of connecting with them closer, and communicating the fact that we have first and foremost their interests and their tastes in mind when we design our glasses. The phrase theo loves you encapsulates the spirit of the company, which is loving and friendly.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What makes theo so different? How do you make sure you stand out from the crowd?

Wim Somers and Olga Slavkina

Wim Somers: I guess, I can mention strong recognition of our brand, and our distinct style, by the end user. This is our strength and differentiating factor.

SCHMOOZY FOX: And who are your customers? What is the profile of theo's “typical customer”?

Wim Somers: For theo, the most important characteristics of our customers have to do with their emotional profile. By the way, these days more and more business people talk about emotional marketing, but when we started the company, it wasn't so common. However, already at that time, we thought of our customers in terms of their emotional profiles, not only gender, age and location. When we started, we served a very narrow avant-garde niche. With time, the niche expanded greatly, and now I can say that our customers are people with personality, those who prefer top-quality design that allows them individual expression of style and personality to the power of “labels”.

Photo courtesy of theo: Flandria model

SCHMOOZY FOX: I have the impression that most of the big eyewear brands are actually brand extensions of big fashion brands. Since theo is purely an eyewear brand, what are the advantages of that?

Wim Somers: Our advantage is that we are very strong at superior design, something that big fashion labels, that usually work through licensing agreements, do not often have.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Do you think of yourself in terms of geographical scope? For instance, do you say that you are an international brand, a Belgian brand, an Antwerp brand? Wim Somers: Well, I often associate theo with Antwerp, but we're often approached by opticians from many different countries who have heard of us as an international brand.

Photo courtesy of theo: Andalouse model

SCHMOOZY FOX: theo is for sure an important player on the Antwerp fashion scene. How does actually the image of Antwerp, you can say, the Antwerp brand, help you? Do you think that Antwerp has a strong image internationally?

Photo courtesy by theo: another snapshot of theo's funky office

Wim Somers: An interesting fact is that our end consumers usually know about Antwerp, and the fact that it's a style, design and fashion city. In fact, the end consumer is much more aware of Antwerp, and the fact that theo comes from Antwerp, than our collaborating opticians! The latter have rarely heart of Martin Margiela or Dries Van Noten, who are  famous fashion designers from Antwerp.

We often tap into the great fashion and style resources that exist in Antwerp. For instance, we have recently collaborated with an Antwerp-based rising star of fashion design, Tim Van Steenbergen, to create a spring-summer 2010 sunglasses collection.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What are the values of theo brand, and how do they correspond to your personal values? Wim Somers: Positive attitude to life, quirkiness, and fun.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Could you give your personal advice to anyone who wants to build a funky brand? Be different. Observe. Look at people in the street, see what they like and dislike doing.  I do most of my “customer research” in modern art museums around the world. Just by looking at their visitors, I can definitely get a good feeling forhow popular theo  is in that particular country!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Thanks for this  interview, and stay funky!

"When it is ordinary, it is not funky": Founder of BeFunky.com talks to SCHMOOZY FOX

Portrait of Tekin Tatar with the "inkify" effect applied Since SCHMOOZY FOX helps companies with business development and brand building projects aimed at helping them create funky brands, no wonder the site called befunky.com attracted my attention when I was surfing the web.

Befunky.com is a web application that allows create great effects for your photos – in a funky way. Today, SCHMOOZY FOX is happy to publish the first interview of the new year with the founder of befunky.com from Istanbul Tekin Tatar and learn about his plans for this project.

SCHMOOZYFOX: Tekin, in a couple of sentences, what's befunky.com all about?

Tekin Tatar: BeFunky is an easy-to-use web application that allows anyone to create amazingly rich, professional-quality artwork from digital photos with a single click.

SCHMOOZYFOX: There are other photo editing sites out there, how does befunky.com differ from them?

Tekin Tatar: First of all, we look at photo editing from a different perspective. Our perspective is “One-Click Creative Photo Edting.” At BeFunky.com, anyone can create great-looking artwork from photos simply by uploading images, clicking on the desired photo effect and letting BeFunky take care of the rest. On the other side, traditional photo editing sites or software take a lot of time to achieve the same result and you need photo editing experience/talent to complete all those steps.

Second, some photo effects like cartoonizer, impressionist, oil painting use very sophisticated state-of-the-art image processing and computer vision engine techniques developed entirely by BeFunky. It is nearly impossible to reproduce these effects on other photo editing sites. We are certainly ahead  of them in terms of quality.

SCHMOOZYFOX: Do you earn money based on subscriptions? The free option of your site is nice, but it's accompanied by banner ads. Do you have to pay to get rid of them?

A befunky.com screenshot

Tekin Tatar: It’s been only 3 months since we started to charge for premium features. We call this service BeFunky Plus. BeFunky Plus service makes it easy for individuals and businesses to benefit from high-end, professional looking photo creativity with minimal impact on their bottom line. The service includes features like higher resolution editing, commercial rights usage, outputs without watermarks, and yes, an ad-free experience.

Yes, we are making money. We are not cash flow positive yet but we know we can be.

SCHMOOZYFOX: And what's your personal funky story? What prompted you to create this business?

Tekin Tatar: I previously spent 3 years at McCann Relationship Marketing as a business development  director at Istanbul office.

We first started with the idea of drawing people’s cartoons manually and selling them through a website. Think about a street corner artist opening a web based shop. The artist was Mehmet Ozkanoglu - although he was not actually working in the street :) ! He is one of our co-founders and Creative Director of BeFunky.

An image from the befunky.com site edited using the "old photo" effect

We received positive feedback to this idea and then decided to build this business in a totally automated version. The challenge was, “How can we give the power of the talented person to an ordinary person?” We met with Tolga Birdal, who is our other co-founder and Chief Engineer of BeFunky. Tolga’s engineering talent, Mehmet’s creative vision and my business mind came together to form BeFunky.

BeFunky has achieved tremendous growth very quickly. To date, nearly 100 million digital artwork pieces have been created using the instant online service at BeFunky.com. We attract more than 1 million unique visitors a month.

SCHMOOZYFOX: As someone with passion for funky brands, I want to know what makes your brand funky, apart from its name?

Tekin Tatar: There are a lot of facts but the most important part is this: people love BeFunky, because they feel creative with their photos and have fun with their experience. This in a way goes against conventional wisdom telling us that an individual can’t be creative unless he/she has the talent and experience!

BeFunky shows that this is not true. We are changing the way people perceive photo editing.  We are empowering people to be funky and feel funky – that’s what it means! SCHMOOZYFOX: Finally, what would be your advice to all entrepreneurs thinking of building funky brands?

Tekin Tatar: Find good people who will be your soul-mates through the journey. Every founder and employee should be passionate about the product. If there is no passion it becomes ordinary. When it is ordinary it is not funky.

Don’t underestimate details. People love details. Every funky brand is obsessively designed to be perfect in detail.

Marketing is not all about spending money on PR or creating campaigns. Marketing starts from the very beginning. Spend time on your logo, colors, mantra etc. Make sure that it sounds fun and/or makes people happy.

SCHMOOZY FOX: thanks for sharing your passions with SCHMOOZY FOX, and I wish you a lot of success with your funky venture in 2010!

Photo of yours truly with befunky.com effects applied

Baileys Irish Cream: enjoy life!

Celebrity endorsement: Kim Cattrall for Baileys As part of the Funky Brand Interviews series, I am happy to talk to James Payne, Global Communications Manager at Baileys Irish Cream. Baileys is one of the best-selling liqueur brands globally and originated in 1974 in Ireland.  R&A Bailey & Co. who created Baileys became part of Grand Metropolitan, which merged with Guinness to form Diageo in 1997.

Today SCHMOOZY FOX talks with James about the recent celebrity endorsement of the Baileys festive bottle by actress Kim Cattrall, as well as the activities undertaken by the Baileys team in order to connect to fans of this drink through online channels.

SCHMOOZY FOX: James, the Baileys Facebook fan page has almost 800 000 fans. That's a massive number! When did you launch your Facebook page and how much time did it take you to reach this number?

James Payne: Anne Katherine Elmsgard, a fan in Denmark, launched the page early in 2008.  We got in touch with her later that year and asked if we could help her to manage the page and do more with it.  She was actually really keen for us to get involved because, while she really loves Baileys, she didn’t have much time to actively manage the page.  The fan growth has been completely organic – most of the growth took place between October-December last year.  The page went from less than 200,000 to over 600,000 fans in three months.  While we have fans on the page from all over the world, Latin countries seem to have really embraced the fan page.  Italy is the country with most fans – almost 220,000.  In terms of languages, Spanish speakers are the biggest group, followed by English and Italian speakers.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What's the profile of somebody who likes Baileys? What would be some of the most common characteristics, not only in terms of age, gender and place of residence, but also in terms of the emotional motivations that trigger your customers' interest in this brand? James Payne: Baileys has an incredibly broad consumer base – its delicious taste appeals to so many people!  This makes it harder to describe a typical profile in demographic terms.  I think it’s more useful to consider the kinds of characteristics that Baileys drinkers have in common.  People who drink Baileys frequently tend to be people who enjoy life to the full and savor all the pleasures that life sends their way.

Baileys is very much a ‘feel’ brand not a ‘think’ brand – it’s not about how many years it’s been in a barrel or how it makes you look to people who don’t know you.  It’s definitely more about the amazing sensation of it melting on your tongue, warming your mouth and tantalizing your taste buds; it’s about the warm feeling you share with good friends when you can have your guard down and be yourself completely - moments when, because you know each other so well, a look or gesture can communicate a thousand words or have everyone laughing out loud.

SCHMOOZY FOX: And do you think that Facebook can help you get in touch with such people?

Baileys festive bottle

James Payne: Facebook has become so ubiquitous in so many countries that there is clearly an overlap between Facebook users and people who love Baileys – the organic growth of the fan page is a really good demonstration of this.  The challenge when you’re dealing with a ‘feel’ brand like Baileys is that it can be difficult to properly bring the brand to life via short status updates or wall-posts.  We’re still learning what our fans want.  We’ve asked them and in many cases they want to hear about things like new ways to try Baileys so we regularly share recipe cards on the page.  We’re keen that the fans communicate with each other too so we regularly add new discussion topics and polls to the page.  We try to offer them special and exclusive content too – for example, this week we’re posting an exclusive behind-the-scenes video of a recent celebrity photo-shoot that our fans will get to see first.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Why are most of the status updates on your Facebook page both in English and Spanish?

James Payne: There are slightly more Spanish-speaking fans than native English speakers on the fan page, but we believe that English is likely to be the most widely understood language so we lead with English and follow up with a Spanish translation.  Ideally we would have an Italian translation too, but three translations would start to look a bit clunky.  A new functionality allowing geo-targeted status updates launched on Facebook last week so we are investigating how best to use this to communicate with our global fan base most effectively.

SCHMOOZY FOX: You've just featured some great behind the scene photos from your photo shoot with Kim Cattrall, who played Samantha in Sex And The City. In the photos, she's wearing a dress designed by Patricia Field to launch the Baileys Festive Bottle which comes with a red bow. Is it the first time Baileys is doing a celebrity endorsement? Could you tells us a bit more about Baileys' partnership with Kim Cattrall? Why was she chosen?

Images courtesy of Baileys

James Payne: I’m sure it can’t be the first celebrity endorsement in the brand’s history, but it is certainly the first recent partnership with a celebrity.  In many countries we have sponsored high-profile TV shows like Sex And The City, Friends and Desperate Housewives when they were at the peak of their popularity so there is that link between Baileys and shows with celebrity-filled casts.  In this case we wanted someone to launch our Baileys festive bottle who embodied the qualities of the brand.  I’ve already mentioned that Baileys drinkers tend to enjoy life to the full and savor all the pleasures that life sends their way.  I think people can see that in Kim and the characters that she plays.  She also genuinely loves Baileys – I think that’s pretty clear from the behind-the-scenes video!

SCHMOOZY FOX: What other activities are you planning to undertake in 2010 in order to build online brand presence for Baileys?

James Payne: Our key focus for Baileys in the digital space is to find ways to build a closer relationship between the brand and our consumers.  We want to find ways to recognize and reward our drinkers.  Facebook allows us to do this in a limited way, but we can do this in a much richer way if our consumers sign-up for The Baileys Lounge on Baileys.com.  This is our exclusive members experience, with new recipes from top chefs and mixologists, life and style content (from party tips to expert interviews) and exclusive offers and competitions to give something back to our consumers.  It’s a really good way for people who love Baileys to get regular treats and surprises through the e-mail updates.

SCHMOOZY FOX: many thanks for this interview, and I wish a very sweet 2010 to yourself and the Baileys brand!

Boticca.com: selling unique jewellery online

Boticca.com is a new online marketplace that sells hand-crafted unique jewellery and accessories made by independent designers. Shortly after Boticca's launch, SCHMOOZY FOX has talked to the company's CEO about Boticca's brand values.

Artists and brands

As a follow-up to the article "Is Branding Important for Artists?", this is an interview with Florida-based young artist Thaneeya McArdle. In this funky brand interview, Thaneeya talks about her passion for art, developing human connections with the help of the Internet, living life to the fullest and about her funky artist brand.