Zoe Karssen is a brand that really needs no introduction. In under four years the label has become the everyday attire go to for everyone from Kate Moss and Cara Delevingne to Beyonce and Rihanna… and your’s truly, at least whenever I can afford to. Fash casual slogan tees may be the company’s calling card, but recent seasons have seen the addition of knitwear, denim and accessories. With stockists ranging from Net-a-Porter, Selfridges and Harrods to AVN Group in Russia, Zoe Karssen is the epitome of the 21st century sartorial success story. I caught up with Zoe herself to talk inspirations, in house arguments and top quality tees…
LPA: Tell me a little about yourselves…
ZK: I grew up in Winchester in Hampshire, an hour south of London. I studied at Winchester school of art and then onto Bournemouth arts school. I didn’t complete my studies. I already started my first job, so dropped out of education, in hindsight I really wished I finished. Quince grew up in a small city in holland called, Veenendaal. He also studied here and once he had completed his studies, he then moved to the UK to search for better job opportunities.
LPA: What prompted you to launch your label in 2010? Had this always been the plan or did something specific inspire you to do it at that point in time?
ZK: Quince and I met in London, but we moved to the Netherlands when Quince started working for Tommy Hilfiger. I went to work at a Dutch denim brand called, Blue Blood. That’s where a stylist saw me wearing a loose tee, which I had drawn a quote on with a permanent marker the night before (a T-shirt should always be loose fit. I hate tight shirts). The stylist used the shirt in a shoot for the fashion magazine, Glamour. The response was overwhelming and Quince and I saw an opportunity for a private label. It seemed to be at a time when retailers were looking for innovation in the store without any huge investments. Our T-shirts answered that need, we were completely naive and inexperienced but frankly, I think that actually really helped. We completely went for it, no holding back. Quince was full time and I myself in the evenings and weekends, alongside my full-time job (we needed to pay the bills)!
LPA: In just four years, Zoe Karssen has landed many of the world’s top stockists, more celebrity fans than I can even list and generally become one of the most coveted casual wear brands around. Did you have a set strategy to get yourselves there when you launched? And what do you think it is about your designs that people, myself included, find so irresistible?
ZK: We think that quality is super important for a simple item like a T-shirt. Both being trained as graphic designers in fashion, we’ve been obsessed with tees for fifteen years and have become specialists in mixing materials and treatments. The quality of our tees is better than that of many other suppliers. That I would say is a key unique selling point for us.
LPA: Having started out with a collection of easy to wear tops and bottoms featuring quirky prints, Zoe Karssen has grown to encompass knitwear, high end denim, basics and even a few accessories. How have you managed to balance expansion with retaining your strong brand identity?
ZK: We are always trying our best! There isn’t really a manual on how to do this .. its a lot of guess work for us and following our gut feeling! Plus, we have great sales teams behind us that bring a lot of experience and good advise each season on whats working and whats difficult. Then we have to filter this information to what we believe is best for the brand. We try to handle the growth slowly and surely! That’s our motto, don’t rush things too much. For example, when we added the knitwear, we spent several seasons trying to perfect it and get it right before we added another product group.
LPA: Despite how quickly Zoe Karssen has grown, you still manage and create everything in house including shoots. Why is this so important to you?
ZK: First of all, we are control freaks! Secondly, It’s far better to keep everything in house right now, as we keep 100% control and it keeps our costs low. We started this way and I feel like this is crucial to our brand message, it’s really all developed from our gut feeling on what’s cool. We have had such a great response to the brand image, that we don’t try to change it. But, of course it can always improve. It’s a dream, if it just gets stronger every season!
LPA: I always find it fascinating to learn about design processes and the different sources ways and places designers find inspiration. How do you take your collections from initial ideas to finished product? Do you have go to references or is it different each season?
ZK: We are constantly on the blogs and internet, pretty much every day, I have a folder on my desktop and every time I see something inspiring, I save it. By the time, we approach the design periods again, I have a folder ready to go with new inspiration. We also have a solid basis in all of our collections, our best fits don’t change, so it’s more about colour cards and cool new graphics than designing complete new collections every season, that way we can spend more time on the few new styles being perfect rather than having too many and not enough focus in the collection.
LPA: I can imagine that running a label together has both advantages and challenges. How do you balance the responsibilities and decisions between you? What’s the biggest argument you’ve had since launching the brand?
ZK: We are lucky because it’s very clear for us, we have strengths in different fields. Quince runs the business on a day to day basis, finance, logistics, production etc. He also takes care of all the graphics every season. I focus on marketing and the brand image and Quince and I share the design input. So long, as we don’t stray to far from this it seems to work perfectly.
LPA: Could we see further Zoe Karssen lines added in the future? Interiors or childrenswear maybe…
ZK: Never say never! I would love to expand into interiors, but right now we are still young and need to focus. Our main focus this year is on quality, delivering on time to our retailers, basically perfecting what we already have. I have a small project in the pipeline that should be launched at Christmas, but I don’t want to jinx it so I won’t divulge just yet.
LPA: What advice would you give to someone planning to launch their own business?
ZK: First of all, DREAM BIG! DREAMS CAN COME TRUE! Make sure, you have some start up funds, you do need some money to get going. Thirdly, ensure you have a good and reliable manufacturer.. go visit them to check it out (if you plan to manufacture clothing). Equally, it is very important is to have a great brand story with clear brand messaging and imagery, you have to stand out from your competition.
Visit and shop Zoe Karssen online (especially the palm prints, I’m obsessed) here
Love Ella. x