Kipling was one of the most popular bags and accessories brands in the 1990s. Best known for its innovative use of crinkled nylon and adorable monkey mascot, the Belgium-brand was present in every classroom and airport. Although one Kipling bag is sold every 2 seconds, the brand has lost its way over the years and failed to evolve with the changing times, thereby losing part of its appeal among teenagers and young adults. Which is exactly why Vera Breuer, Global President at Kipling is busy creating a global task force to create Kipling's new creative brand vision. A brand vision that targets millennials above all.
"We are currently working on a new creative vision for Kipling, one that will bring the brand closer to its origins," explained Breuer to FashionUnited during an interview prior to their collection launch in Antwerp on Thursday evening." As Kipling is also a few years old, one area I feel like we have missed out on addressing is ensuring millennials know the brand, so we are working on a strategy to bring them back into the business." Since her appointment at Kipling this January, Breuer has been working with her global team at Kipling, which includes industry veteran Denielle Wolfe, Vice President of Product and Design, to establish Kipling's new, global brand direction.
Kipling to focus on attracting millennials: ‘Wherever young people are, this is where we want to be’
"The whole creative direction of the brand is designed to rejuvenate Kipling and make it relevant. If you look at millennials today everything has become so seamless among them," added Breuer. "They are watching the same vloggers, following the same influencers and watching the same makeup tutorials. So we are working to create a new vision that taps all these points and brings them back in the brand fold. The new creative vision will really be our vehicle to unite and unify our brand in a single direction." Although Breuer does not detail exactly what this new creative vision will entail, she does reveal that it will be cool, inclusive and authentic to Kipling's roots above all.
The brand features a strong heritage, thanks to its association to Rudyard Kipling's iconic novel 'The Jungle Book' which was always the main feature in its campaigns. "If I go back to all the visuals that have been launched over the years, the campaigns always took place in nature and the colours were a bit washed." However, over the years Kipling has lacked a solid global direction, according to Breuer, which has caused the brand to lose some of its momentum in the market. "I think it has become a little bit too feminine and childish - something we are addressing as a team at the moment."
While one of Breuer's main goals for the brand is to unite Kipling's brand vision and position across its global markets, she is aware it will not be an easy task. "One of my biggest goals for the year is to stop the differentiation of our products in different markets because each one of our regions has more or less been developing their own products. The vision for tomorrow will be to unify these products and find some alignment in the regions, while still keeping regional preferences in terms of materials, colours, and prints in mind." For example, in Kipling's Asian markets, consumers have shown a preference for smaller handbags, such as cross bodies, while in Europe and the US, consumers prefer somewhat larger bags.
The second, and main goal in Kipling's new strategy is to target millennials in an authentic way that they understand best. Which means Kipling will be ramping up its digital game. "For millennials today everything takes place online, in the digital world whether it be online on Wechat, Facebook, or Instagram," stressed Breuer. "We will create assets that will be different according to the region, but at the same time help us to recruit these millennials. The assets will all be aligned with this one creative vision that will be inclusive yet diversified in terms of gender, which will speak to a younger customer."
90s brand revival to put Kipling on the roadmap of brands again
But why is Kipling keen to launch its new creative direction now? The VF Corporation brand is still going strong, selling one bag around the world every two seconds. "If I look at what Kipling is now and the current trends today, there is such a strong revival of 90s brands, like Champion and Fila," explained Breuer. "They are all coming back, so I think now is the time for a big change for the brand. This revival of the 90s brands and big logos will help put Kipling on the roadmap of brands which hold potential to become quite fashionable again."
Kipling has already kicked started its revival this year through its event in Antwerp last week. The brand invited key influencers and members of the press from 7 different European countries for an event which was designed to offer a sneak peek of its new creative vision while unveiling its collection for Fall/Winter 2018-2019. The roots in the Jungle book were evident in the decor, which offered plenty of photo and video opportunities. In addition, six dancers were hired to dress as monkeys, who greeted guests upon arrival before causing mischief and ultimately uniting in a dance to reveal Kipling's upcoming collection in a unique, creative way.
The event was designed to highlight Kipling's new creative direction and focus attention on the brand's new products, which are also being updates. "I think it all starts with the product," mused Breuer. "At the end of the day when you look at a handbag that you may want to buy - especially for women - it's an emotional response. There are many emotions linked to the purchase of a bag. We are a brand that works with emotions." Although the brand was more technically focused at one point, highlight the functionality of its crinkled nylon, numerous pockets or zippers, Breuer felt that this shift was not in line with Kipling's roots. "We aim to start with having an attractive product offering."
At the same time, Kipling needs to ensure it works with influencers in an authentic way to truly connect with millennials, who are quick to judge brands for paying for partnerships. "The way we are going to work with influencers it to offer them a product that they like, but at the same time helps them with their daily life and compliments their lifestyle," continued Breuer. "Which may look very different than creating a visual and telling consumers this is the bag they need to have for their iPhone." Kipling's Global President is also aware that most millennials following the changing trends in fashion very closely, which is why she has also been examining different trends in bags in different regions. For example, millennials in China are showing a preference for fanny packs or neck satchels, just big enough to hold their mobile phones, lipstick or powder.
Kipling to appeal to millennials by being 'cool' and following trends
"Trends move faster than we think and I think that influencers play an immense role in that. All companies will be forced to transform themselves and the way they appear and work in the future. It’s a fascinating time to work in retail." By following trends, Breuer aims to ensure that millennials think the brand is cool and create sufficient distinction between its product offering for school children, working women as well as millennials. "They would not wear the same bag as their grandmother for example. There needs to be a clear distinction between the two. You need a bag that is more structured and different from one age group to the next."
Breuer admits that in her opinion Kipling was not fast enough to respond to changing trends in the past, but it is an area they are addressing at the moment with Wolfe. The backpack remains its best selling bag style across all of its regions, but smaller styles such as cross-bodies and purses also sell well. "The question is how long these trends will last, so we are working on different styled designs but the backpack is still at the top of our product lifecycle."
In the future, Breuer foresees the brand consolidating its business and reinvesting in its stores as well as its new store concept new look. "We are looking at the brand’s association, collaborations as well as new ecommerce channels. We also plan to look at company’s which are established with younger customers and how we can work with them as well." For example, Kipling teamed up with Urban Outfitters in the US to launch one of its collections, a collaboration which was so successful that the brand is set to launch two more collections in its stores in the near future.
"We will be looking to expand into new segments which are closely linked to our new customer base and associated with our new creative vision. And then in terms of business growth, we are looking at organic growth. But if we look at terms of sales channels, then travel retail will be one the areas that is important to us and will grow quickly, along with ecommerce and everything that is brand building equity. Wherever young people are, this is where we want to be."
Photos: Courtesy of Kipling