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How Kings of Indigo continues to thrive in a market "under pressure"

By Vivian Hendriksz


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Amsterdam - It has been said that the rise of yoga pants and ‘athleisure’ has led to a denim crisis. Jeans, the ultimate and perhaps universal go to item of clothing, are faced with an increasing number of influences, ranging from consumer preference for fit, pricing and awareness regards sustainability. Although globally, the demand for denim is still on the rise, thanks to demand from increasing middle classes in countries such as China, the industry’s former larger markets, the United States and Western Europe, are on the decline - with sale dropping 16 per cent and 10 per cent respectively over the last decade according to Euromonitor. Now, more than ever is it vital for denim brands to stand out. Enter Kings of Indigo, an Amsterdam-based label, set on becoming the world’s leading sustainable denim brand.

“As a brand you need to make a difference... you really have to work hard to ensure you stand out”

Tony Tonnaer, founder of Kings of Indigo

“As a brand you need to make a difference,” urges Tony Tonnaer, founder of Kings of Indigo during an interview with FashionUnited. A denim industry veteran, who cut his teeth at denim labels such as Kuyichi and Pepe Jeans, Tonnaer is well aware of the current issues plaguing both the denim market and the fashion industry as a whole. “It’s interesting to see how the clothing market is moving and people are buying less clothes. There is more competition than ever and the market is under pressure,” points out Tonnaer.

“Wholesalers are under pressure and regular retailers are under pressure, in part due to the rise of e-tailers. For example, 30 years ago I travelled to Amsterdam from Breda to buy cowboy boots you couldn’t find anywhere else in Holland. But now you can order them from home in seconds.” However the self-proclaimed denim head, who works with wholesales, retailers as well as overseeing KOI own ecommerce platform is also aware that there are more, external factors currently affecting the denim market.

“The [denim] sector is also under pressure from other sectors - young people rather invest in electronics now, like iPads or experiences like travelling, over clothing. And not just high-end things, also in basic things such as food or coffee. People are willing now to go to a local rooster and paid 3.50 euros for a small coffee. That’s money from their pocket they would have spent on clothes,” he exclaims. “That is why as a brand you really have to work hard to ensure you stand out in a way that truly fits you. If you don’t believe in what you offer, consumers certainly won’t.”

“If you don’t believe in what you offer, consumers certainly won’t"

Tony Tonnaer, founder of Kings of Indigo

A few of the ways Tonnaer has strived to ensure that Kings of Indigo stands out is by placing sustainability at the core of the brand’s DNA and applying this to all other facets of the business, such as retail, brand image and design. “I remember when I first started KOI, people were like ‘are you crazy? Why are you starting a new denim brand in the peak of a crisis, when there are so many denim brands out there.’ But we have a unique concept - sustainability, mixed with quality and fashion - which I think is a good combination and not a mixture many companies have been able to achieve.”

Tonnaer has also made sure that this unique concept is part of the brand’s identity and conveyed to consumers on every level possible - from retail, to marketing and social media. “Anyone who does not have a clear concept, or who fails to be innovative or not moving with the market development is going bust,” he notes. “And anyone stuck in the middle is now highly under pressure.” Kings of Indigo has done considerably well recently all things considering - so well in fact that Tonnaer predicts a 45 to 50 per cent growth this year, year on year. “Which is a lot in a market which is declining at the moment. This also means that there is still apparently room for denim players.” In addition to achieving double digit growth year on year, Kings of Indigo also recently signed on a number of new retail partners, notably high-end department stores such as Selfridges in London, Le Bon Marche in Paris and Oberpollinger in Berlin.

But in spite of Kings of Indigo success, Tonnaer still feels some pressure. “There is always pressure. Retail is having a difficult time now, so you have to help retailers as a brand and have a different approach now. Years ago I could tell them that they’d have to buy this, buy that, but now it is the retailers who are dictating what they want to buy - now more than ever, it has become a partnership.” However, it is exactly through this partnership that Tonnaer envisions the future of fashion retail, with brands and retailers working together as equal partners to ensure everything is on point - from on time stock delivery to offering store training to staff to communicate the brand’s identity to how the apparel is displayed in store to further enhance the customer's experience.

“Anyone who does not have a clear concept, or who fails to be innovative or not moving with the market development is going bust”

Tony Tonnaer, founder of Kings of Indigo

“We have to do so much more now than in the past to be successful in the market. Which is fine for us. We are a ‘new’ brand, we can make a difference. But a lot of the older, larger players are really suffering at the moment - which is good for us,” says Tonnaer with a small smile. “If we are able even pick up a small piece of their business, it means big business for us.”

Kings of Indigo is currently available in 300 stores across Europe and growing. In order to help facilitate the brand’s growth, Tonnaer previously appointed Jasper Knoop as its International Sales Manager. At the moment, Knoop is investigating what can be done to achieve KOI ambitious growth target within the EU over the next two years. His new strategy is likely to include a tighter distribution strategy to allow more room for growth and to ensure the brand becomes more mature in its key markets.

“To be honest, we do not need it at the moment,” explains Knoop, “but because we have plans to become a bigger player we need such a strategy in place to align distribution in all countries we are in.” The new strategy, which includes a series of new hires over the last few months will be finalised for the Autumn/Winter 2017 season product launch and marks the first big step in the ongoing development of the brand. “This new strategy also sits in line with our wider aim to streamline our business,” adds Tonnaer.

“ “Everything needs to be 360 degrees alignment”

Jasper Knoop, International Sales Manager, Kings of Indigo

Another part of the strategy sees Kings of Indigo rolling out a new store presentation. “The shop-in-shops need to reflect our collections - a little bit of the States and a little bit of Japan - made in sustainable way. So we aim to use sustainable or recycled materials and metal for the interior - we hope to do more than just build a box. It has to breath the identity of the brand.” The new concession interiors aims to offer retailers a key vision of what Kings of Indigo really stands for and help market them to shoppers. Tonnaer notes that their offering of shop-in-shop interiors will also serve as good practice for when they open their first standalone store in Amsterdam most likely sometime next year. Why Amsterdam? “[Because] it’s our backyard, it’s easier to manage and develop as we are based in Amsterdam it’s the most logical step.”

The store will not only serve as a platform to offer their customers the full KOI experience, adds Knoop, it will also help the brand hone its product approach, marketing approach and pricing system. The debut store will also be able to serve as the denim brand showroom as well. “If we have key customers visiting us in Amsterdam from overseas, then we can showcase what we do in our own store.” In addition, a physical store will help align KOI’s brand vision, wholesale accounts as well as its online offering. “Everything needs to be 360 degrees alignment.” At the moment Kings Of Indigo has yet to reveal an exact launch date or location for its debut store, but it is likely to be somewhere near Amsterdam’s famous ‘9 Straatjes’ shopping area.

However at the same time Tonnaer is aware that simply opening a standalone store for Kings Of Indigo will not equal immediate success in the current retail market. “As a retailer you need to make a difference - whether you are a department store, or a retail chain or independent. Why do people go shopping? It’s not to buy something, it’s to feel something, it’s for the experience,” he says. “If they really want to buy something, they’ll go online and order it for 10 euros cheaper. But a good store will make someone feel like ‘Wow, I’ve been in more than just a denim shop.’ That’s the future for retail, it needs to be aspirational and offer customers something that they will not just find sitting at home on your couch shopping.”

Kings of Indigo: a successful example for other brands on how to grow sustainably

This is in part why Tonnaer would like to include a coffee bar in his store, as well as a clothing library to serve as an extra option for customers while reinforcing the brand’s values. “I think the worst thing we have in the industry right now is this notion of fast fashion,” he concludes. “When people buy something which is cheap and poor quality and then end up dumping it after half a year. Actually, I think it is really good that the clothing industry is suffering, because perhaps that is the only way to change our current business models and shift to a sustainable business. We try to be an example for other brands - to show what you can do in a sustainable way.”

“We have a 5 million euro business, which I started from nothing 5 years ago from my house on the da Costakade…but sometimes you have to take two steps forward and one back.”

During the month of October, which sees Denim trade fair Kingpins and the Global Denim Awards taking place, FashionUnited focuses on Denim. For all our articles on Denim, click here.

Photos: Courtesy of Kings of Indigo

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