Visiting the Dutch womenswear label Fabienne Chapot in Amsterdam is like a visit to a museum. The historical building, a distinctive brownstone from the 17th Century, lies in the center of Amsterdam, directly near the famous Herengracht canal. We are welcomed into the building by the eponymous businesswoman and designer herself, as well as some team members.
The beauty of the place is exceptional: Grey and white marble floors, impressive stucco on the ceiling, and silk wallpapers. „All original“, as Fabienne Chapot explains, because the house itself is protected as UNESCO world heritage. To contrast the traditional look, she has collected modern art pieces that line the hallway: a crystal chandelier, seemingly forgotten on the floor, two disco balls, and a water fountain overgrown by ferns. Above it floats a neon sign reading ‚Heaven‘.
Here, the brand’s team works on the designs and the strategy for the business, which was founded in 2006 under the name ‚Fab‘ and rebranded as ‚Fabienne Chapot‘ in 2016. It is now, according to Chapot, the 8th biggest womenswear brand in the Netherlands. The designer wears a black blouse with white floral embroidery, black jeans, and jewelry, all from her collection. We sit down opposite a historic fireplace under a ceiling painted with original religious motifs to talk about her business.
How did you start this business?
I started it in 2006. I was 25 at that time, I went to university here in Amsterdam. I had studied communication science, but I had considered going to fashion school. So I'm a little bit in between, which also describes my personality to this day.
So after I finished my studies, I went traveling. I traveled in Bali, and that is where my passion came alive. How they do craftsmanship there, it's amazing! And the culture is so nice, I loved it there. So I already got some ideas about doing a label. But then I came back and realized: I need to earn money. So I just found a job and forgot about my dream for a little while. I worked at a nice advertising agency. But I soon realized that this is not for me, I'm so not happy, I need to start something for myself.
So it was the most natural thing for me. I wanted to create beautiful products, produce them in Bali, go back to Amsterdam, and try to sell them. It came from my heart. I started with bags and accessories because that was what I knew how to do. Clothing was too complicated to start with, because of all the sizes and patterns. So, I started with a small accessory collection with bright colors and fun elements. Something different from what was out there in the market. I went to my favorite stores in Amsterdam by bike and tried to sell the products.
I was like: „Hi, here I am. Do you want to buy this?“ The buyers and the owners of stores were super excited. And I was really surprised that it was so easy. Doors opened. And then even after a while, I got an email from De Bijenkorf, the big department store. The buyer emailed me saying: „I've seen your wallets, can I see more?“ It was like a dream. I was so young, you know, I paid only a little rent. My responsibilities were little. So it was fun.
So that's the entrepreneurial mindset for which the Dutch are known?
I think, yes. Just start something. I also had the advantage that my parents were super supportive when I came home and told them: I have an idea. I want to start a business.
What came next?
I showed De Bijenkorf my small collection of accessories and jewelry. I came to their office and there were two female buyers there. I put everything on the table, and they loved it. Then, at the end of the meeting, I asked, „So, what kind of numbers are we talking about? And they said numbers like 800 of this, 1000 of that“. At the time, I had two men working in Bali producing my very small collection. But I said, „No problem! When do you want to have it delivered?“
I went home and called my producer in Bali. She's amazing. It’s all men who are working there because working with leather, it's kind of tough work. So we said: „We need to hire new guys and we need to build a factory. So we built a factory with 125 people working there. Unfortunately, today I'm not producing in Bali anymore, because the collection grew and grew and became bigger and bigger and the factory couldn’t meet the numbers anymore.
Where do you produce now?
We produce in around 10 different countries, depending on where the quality is best. For embroidery, India is the best. Amazing what they can do with little beads for example! Then we have knitwear, which is produced in Portugal and China. The denim we produce in Turkey. We have these belts made in Morocco (she points at her belt). Different countries for different specializations.
Which markets are you active in?
Our biggest market is still Holland. And now we are expanding to Germany. That means we have two showrooms, the main one is in Düsseldorf and one in Munich. We also have one in Antwerp in Belgium. Those are our core markets. And then we have wholesale in different countries like UK and Sweden and Norway, where we work with agents who are selling the collection for us.
And in Germany, you’ve started with Pop-ups in KaDeWe, Alsterhaus, and Oberpollinger. How’s it going?
We're super excited because we are new in the market. And the Germans don't know us, so we wanted to create the first touchpoint in these high-end department stores. And we are a quite a colorful brand.
German customers are not known for loving colors and patterns.
Exactly, so we're also really interested to see what will sell well. We're super interested to see what kind of products they choose from our collection at the pop-up stores. In the UK, for example, they love the super colorful prints, but I have no idea what will sell in Germany and whether there will be differences between Berlin, Munich, and Hamburg.
Your first own store outside of the Netherlands will be in Hamburg. When will it open? And what do you plan for it?
The opening is planned for the third week of May. It's close to Kaisergalerie, just opposite the Ganni store. So it's an A-location. We are planning to do a nice opening event. It's a big moment for us because it's our first boutique outside of Holland.
What will the interior look like?
It will be a little bit like this office. With historical elements to it, like the wooden floor, herringbone parquet, all in white, and Stucco ornaments. We try to keep the shop calm because our collection is colorful. And then we add some fun elements like seats designed in the shape of a donut and presenting blocks from all recycled materials. We have a neon sign saying 'Hello Gorgeous' and nice, big fitting rooms.
Which marketing channels do you use to create brand awareness?
We are working mostly with influencers. We invited them here for a two-day trip and had such a great time with them. I felt like we could be friends, and we talked about life and motherhood and all the challenges that women face - quite in-depth conversations. I'm so proud that they are the ambassadors for our brand because I like them.
And who is your target group?
The women who shop at Fabienne Chapot are the same as the influencers we picked, they have the same vibe. The age range of our customers is quite wide. Often, the daughters grab the clothes from their mother's closet. Our customers are literally from 25 up to 80 years old. They're positive, they're independent. They love colors.
Sometimes, what I also really like, is when clients dress in more quiet colors, but then they come into our store for a private shopping with our stylist and they go a little overboard, and then they're wearing a colorful printed dress. And they're like, 'Wow, I would never buy this on my own. I didn't know that I would like this.'
Even though you have prints and complicated patterns, your price range is still 'affordable'.
We want to be as accessible as possible, with the standards we have. My strategy was that when you see something that you like in the store and you turn around the price tag, you say to yourself: „Oh, that’s okay“. Everyone knows the sad feeling when it's the other way around. You love something and then you see the price and you’re disappointed because you have to say to yourself: „I can't afford this“. So yes, we try to keep this price-quality level.
Even in the current situation?
Yes, it’s hard, especially because the prices are increasing for all the materials. And we don’t want to raise or increase the retail prices, but we still need the margins because we are a company. It is a challenge.
Do you produce sustainably?
Yes. That is also something that also contributes to higher prices for us because all the organic cotton and recycled materials are more expensive, but we simply have to do it. Sustainability one of the three pillars of our strategy.
The biggest impact is our fabrics, they add to our footprint, of course. So every season, we are increasing the share of sustainable materials like organic cotton, or we use rPET, which is recycled polyester from PET bottles. You can see inside every label how many bottles are used. So we're doing a lot of things to reduce our carbon footprint.
And we have a target to make our collection 100 percent out of sustainable materials by 2026. The whole team is so focused on it, we are a young team here. We feel that we have to do this. We eat vegetarian here. We stopped flying the collection. So everything is shipped by train or by boat. We have 35 targets for 2023 in total and I am convinced that we will reach them all.
Do you work with certifications?
Yes, we pressed the button last week and we applied for B Corp - we're super proud of that. We hope to be B Corp-certified before the end of this year, and we work with BSCI, for the audits. They control the fabrics and the factories.
How did the past three years impact your business?
We grew 30 percent in turnover, even in the last years, even during the lockdowns when our retail boutiques were closed. So that was crazy. But I think what I noticed, for myself as an entrepreneur: I’m resilient. Not only me but also the team. When the pandemic hit, the first two weeks, I was literally in shock. I had hour-long calls with the investor. And I thought, okay that might be it, I saw my dream vanish.
But then, we had a big team meeting online with the management team. We asked ourselves: What is the situation? What can happen? What do we think between now and eight or ten months is going to happen and how can we adjust our strategy? And we did some things that helped us. We changed our ways of working. Unfortunately, we had to say goodbye to a few colleagues, which was hard. But we made it. And it was so good for the company. And it was interesting to see that the consumers were still spending money on nice, happy, fun, clothing.
What were people looking for?
Some people said to me, you need to make loungewear. I said, No, no, I think this will end. I had this optimistic feeling. This will be over one day. We will find a way, I'm sure.
And I think this optimistic part of me said: 'We’re staying focused on what we do, we're not going to do it differently.' Maybe we need to find new ways of working more efficiently, but the strategy and our core business, we kept the same. And that worked.
Inflation now is worse for us than the lockdowns. But we're still growing 25 percent in turnover this year. So we're doing great, but we feel that the customers are more price-sensitive. So they’re looking for better-priced products. They may buy one instead of two pieces.
We try to adjust some prices and styles in our collection to see if we can focus on more commercial styles. Nevertheless, we always stayed true to our DNA, we never changed it, but we adjusted to what was happening and listened to the need of the consumers. And now we hear the consumer saying, 'I don't want to spend too much.' So we try to adjust to that.
What styles and colors do you count on for F/W23?
Or the winter collection is wintery but colorful, and I love that. We also really expanded our denim offer. We are well known for our colorful denim. So in the summertime, it’s bright. But for winter, we have a nice green and a rusty red. As well as ochre. Also, what's new for us is a tweet with a little bit of lurex in it.
Apropos Tweed: After the loungewear years, fashion is now getting more formal, did you include more suits and blazers in the collection?
Kind of, but our look is never really formal. So if we have a suit, it has a print, or it comes in bright green. You know, it's a lot of blazers and suits, but make it fun – exactly our DNA.
Fabienne Chapot in Numbers
Year established: 2006
Points of sale: 1000+ internationally, in Germany at Breuninger, the KaDeWe Group and soon an own store
Collection size: 250 (/300) pieces per season (500 per year) in 12 chapters, sold in 2 seasons and launched over 6 chapters per season
Retail prices: 50 - 300 Euros
Production: Turkey, Portugal, India, China
Turnover: 35 Million Euro