Interviews

5 Minutes With: Angela Bell

angela bell queene and bell

As my extensive sweater collection will attest, I bloody love a good knit. Especially a knit that deviates from your classic monotone cashmere. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but personally I’ll take a psychedelic camo intarsia pattern or graphic lightning motif over an understated shade any day of the week. At the same time, quirky stylistic nuances are all well and good but when it comes to cashmere, you want to know that there’s a level of quality and integrity behind its creation that will stand the test of time and honour to this fine fabrics heritage, not to mention justify splurging on something plush. Queene and Belle fulfils all of the above. Produced by artisan craftsmen in the world famous town of Hawick in the Scottish Borders and masterminded by women with knitwear in their blood, Queene and Belle concocts contemporary cashmere that combines peerless quality and playful, must-have-it-right-now design. I caught up with Founder, Angela Bell to talk inspirations, aspirations and the art of knitwear…

LPA: love the idea that with three generations of in the knitwear industry before you, cashmere was in your blood. Were there any moments of teenage rebellion when you wanted to do something dramatically different or did you always feel passionate about what you do now?

AB: There was never a time when I wanted to do something dramatically different. Since I was very young I always knew that I wanted to go to Art College, and my passion for what I do now certainly developed during High School when I started to make my own clothes and avidly poured over the latest fashion and music magazines. I loved The Face magazine which really inspired me, and if anything I would have loved to have gone into graphic design but the pull towards fashion in the end was too great!

LPA: Queene and Belle only uses cashmere from Todd & Duncan, the oldest cashmere spinners in the world. Why is this so important to you and to the brand? What are the advantages and disadvantages sourcing your staple fabric solely from the company?

AB: Todd and Duncan produce a consistently good product and offer an excellent stock service, they are based around 70 miles away in Kinross so the cashmere doesn’t have to travel far to be knitted! I think this is great in a world where products are travelling thousands of miles before reaching their final destination. I don’t see a downside to buying my main yarn from one supplier as long as the quality and service is excellent.

LPA: You launched Queene and Belle with the aim to create a label that moved cashmere away from its associations with traditionalism and conservatism. What were the biggest challenges you came up against trying to reinvent the fabric’s reputation and how did you overcome them?

AB: When I started Queene and Belle in 2000 lots of new labels and designers were appearing in the market. There was an air of excitement and a willingness from buyers to set aside budget for somebody or something new. It was really the perfect time to do something different, and Queene and Belle was accepted quickly as being quirky with an optimistic artistic approach. Scottish cashmere was traditionally seen as classic sweaters or twinset and pearls and I didn’t shun that heritage, I decided to embrace it’s fundamental classic roots and give them an injection of newness by updating silhouettes and incorporating modern quirky graphics and colour in the form of intarsia.

LPA: I absolutely adore the quirky and imaginative motifs that feature on your knitwear. How do you come up with the ideas for them each season? Are there certain sources of inspiration you return to or is do you always look to something new?

AB: The intarsia motifs I incorporate into the collection generally change each season although I have certain favourites I always explore further, such as North American Indians, their craft and culture. I have done buddhas, skulls, stars in every format, peace signs are a big favourite, imagery which has a certain spirituality really appeals to me. Recently the collection has developed a more ‘luxury street edge’ with the use of classic Americana graphics such as bold varsity numbers and wording. Their graphics work well on the cashmere sweatshirts they give them a fresh sports luxe feel, great with denim.

LPA: Today Queene and Bell is an internationally renowned brand worn by the likes of Madonna and Michelle Pfeiffer and stocked all over the world. I can imagine it wasn’t all plain selling though, what difficulties did you come up against launching an independent business? And what advice would you give to someone trying to do so today?

AB: I think when starting a business you need to have good suppliers, people who believe in you and are willing to have patience and understanding – this is key. You also need to be very careful with money, make sure you keep enough in the business to pay suppliers on time as this solidifies the relationship, this in turn will help you get good on-time deliveries which in fashion is imperative. I have always kept good healthy relationships with my manufacturers, paying them on time and working through the problems. I never really had any major difficulties when launching Queene and Belle, only the stress that comes with money and getting paid for goods invoiced out. Some countries are worse than others and some customers are worse than others! and I quickly learned some hard costly lessons!

LPA: Talk me through a typical day in the Queene and Bell studio…

AB: A typical day at Queene and Belle starts with a short team meeting to go over what hand work needs to be done for production on that particular day. I will then drive to the mill in Hawick where my cashmere is produced, I normally go over any problems they may have, check samples and draw up new neck cuts for the sampling department. I am very hands on, this way I get exactly what I want and my pedantic approach can save a lot of time and money. The rest of my day will be spent replying to e-mails, updating social media, web and general business. When I am designing the new collection I am immersed for days surrounded with sample body shapes, fabric developments, graphics, books, magazines and non stop drawing. I never have any difficulty coming up with new ideas, the real difficulty is deciding what to go with and what to leave out!

LPA: Besides the gorgeous cashmere, Queene and Bell also incorporates cotton sundresses and other non knitwear pieces into its collections. When did you add these in and what prompted that decision? How greatly does the design and manufacturing process for these piece differ from that of the knitwear?

AB: I have been selling my cotton and silk dresses, shirts and blouses along side the cashmere for over ten years now. Initially when I started Queene and Belle I styled the collection with vintage cotton Victorian and Edwardian pieces I had collected over the years, and I used to hang them with the knitwear when selling the collection at exhibitions. All of my customers loved them, and Lucille Lewin from Whistles at that time suggested I make my own versions and gave me the name of an excellent manufacturer. I love vintage cotton and lace, the fine detailling and the light airy quality they have. I think the look works well with my cashmere, fine femininity combined with sport luxe is a look I love.

LPA: Which designers and brands do you love to wear? Aside from Queene and Belle of course…

AB: I love Golden Goose for sneakers, Japanese brands Zucca for trousers, Undercover for the t-shirts and accessories (love the dark humour) R-13 for denim, Toga Archive for dresses and I love my black on black Susannah Hunter oversize roses bag it goes everywhere with me.

LPA: What is your ultimate aim for the Queene and Belle brand?

AB: My ultimate aim for Queene and Belle is the same as my original aim….. to continue to make beautiful things for people who love special unique items and to always enjoy doing so!

Love Ella. X

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5 Minutes With: Baukjen

Baukjen head shot

Fashion is a funny beast, as are people’s relationship with it. On the one hand there’s nothing like an impractical, in some cases unwearable concoction that springs from the mind of its créateur and sashays down the catwalk sending spectators into Instagram overload and buyers into intense states of internal conflict as to whether they should stock a garment that, although exquisite, would pose a health rise to its wearer. Ok, that’s perhaps a slight exaggeration but you know what I’m talking about; the spectacle of the spectacular show piece. On the other hand is the fact that people – even those that work in fash-un – do need to actually wear clothes to go about their daily business, preferably clothes that are chic, sleek and look great without stopping you eating, breathing or taking public transport. It is the latter type that Baukjen de Swaan Arons delivers. The Dutch designer’s eponymous brand started out as a maternity e-tailer called Isabelle Oliver in 2003. After scooping up a bunch of awards and proving to be a big hit among expecting mother’s who didn’t fancy wearing moo moos, Isabella Oliver added womenswear to its repertoire five years later. Not long after, it became clear that de Swaan Arons had tapped into a niche in the market, a desire for staple pieces that were excellent quality and elegant without being expensive or extravagant enough to stop them being office/child/reality friendly. And so in 2012, she decided to really home in on that niche, rebranding Isabelle Oliver’s womenswear line as simply “Baukjen”. I caught up with the designer to talk business, branding and social media…

LPA: Tell me a little about your background; where did you grow up, study and work before launching your company?

BDSA: I was born in Amsterdam and I still have family living there – it’s a wonderful city. I moved to London when I was four where I lived in Hampstead Village. I returned to Holland for a few years to do my MBA and then came back to London. Before we started our own businesses I worked in various companies on the brand side, doing lots of travelling across the world. I didn’t work in the fashion industry immediately but always loved it as I grew up surrounded by a family full of creative talent – many working in the industry – and knew this was a direction I wanted to take. I can’t underestimate how important my business knowledge was though. I feel very lucky to have such an eclectic career.

LPA: Your company began as the maternity e-tailer Isabella Oliver. In 2009 you added ready-to-wear under the name Isabella Oliver 365 and then in 2012 you decided to re-brand the label under the name “Baukjen”. What prompted this bold move? And how has the brand evolved, in terms of aesthetics, image and marketing strategy since?

BDSA: For Geoff and I, it made perfect sense to establish the Baukjen brand in its own right. We could see the potential of Isabella Oliver 365 as there had been a real appetite for the collection, but the name automatically associated it with maternity clothing and we recognised this as a stumbling block in the future. Today, both brands are looked after by one team. I suppose in some ways we take quite a holistic approach to how we look at them always remembering that the Baukjen customer and the Isabella Oliver customer is essentially the same woman, she’s just at different stages of her life. We do however utilise different treatments – it would be crazy not to. Marketing strategies are tailored to each brand especially within areas like partnerships, and editorially, we use a different language and address different styling concerns.

LPA: Baukjen’s re-launch and the development of your ready-to-wear collection came in the midst of a global recession. Did you find this had a significant impact on how your customers were buying and the kinds of pieces or price points they gravitated towards?

BDSA: I think regardless of whether there’s a recession, women especially love to shop and will try to find a way to buy that special piece she wants so desperately. Of course price point is important and good quality essentials that are competitively priced do consistently well, but each season we test the water with more surprising and fashion forward pieces that are often more price sensitive and we’ve found that our customers don’t hesitate to take the plunge. We never stray far from our belief in ‘effortlessly chic for everyday dressing’ but we do push the boundary and if the product is right, we’ve learnt that it will sell.

LPA: You were very much ahead of the game when it came to e-commerce, launching an e-tail based clothing company when the genre was in its infancy. What made you so confident in the future of online shopping while many other brands remained very hesitant? And do you feel this early adoption has given you a distinct advantage in the e-tail market following its rapid growth over the past seven or so years?

BDSA: I never hesitated in my belief that e-tailing was a good idea, and if the idea is good enough I think there’s always a way to make it work. We didn’t have a crystal ball but I was an early adopter of online shopping myself and had faith in its potential to grow. Women are so busy these days that developments that make life more manageable feel like they have to succeed. I think with the internet there’s a real feeling that everyone can achieve their goals. It’s very democratic in that way. Then you just need to be prepared to work hard. We now have almost 12 years’ experience behind us we can draw from, and of course this helps but we’re still always learning. That’s part of what makes this so exciting.

LPA: Launching and establishing a fashion label is no mean feat and many have failed where you’ve succeeded. What were the greatest challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

BDSA: The greatest challenge is brand awareness. We find that once women discover the brand and collections and try it out, they are very positive and they remain loyal. Brand awareness can be achieved via a multitude of routes, advertising, press, etc. All of this is expensive and that can be challenging. Fast forward to now, more and women are telling their friends about us which really helps spread the word.

LPA: You established Baukjen with the principal aim of creating wearable, everyday clothes that would make women feel great. What’s your opinion of catwalk designers who produce more conceptual and perhaps challenging, from a wearers’ perspective, collections?

BDSA: I think there’s a place for every type of fashion – wouldn’t the world be dull if we all did the same thing. For me and the woman I design for, the key focus is on creating chic but effortless essentials that make dressing stress-free, but I do recognise that that this isn’t everyone’s style. Fashion is also an art form and the more conceptual designers are simply more literal about this than I am. That’s ok though, it’s what makes the world so creatively rich.

LPA: On the subject of everyday elegance, what would your top tips be for nailing effortless chic? I think that’s something we all strive for but remains pretty tricky at times!

BDSA: It remains tricky because everyone has different demands and commitments in their everyday lives. The concept of effortless chic will be different for a stay-at-home mum than for a city banker, for example, but I think there are a few things that apply universally.

1) Try to create a capsule wardrobe of pieces that work well together. A great jacket can be worn with a dress for more formal occasions and with jeans at the weekend.

2) Never buy anything you feel uncomfortable wearing. You’ll feel compelled to wear it because you’ve paid for it, but will hate doing so. I always think your wardrobe should make you happy. It’s also like your armour so make sure it gives you the protection you need.

3) Don’t ever be afraid to try something new – that’s the joy of fashion – but as a rule, work out what suits you and you’ll save yourself a lot of stressful shopping trips and endless refunds.

LPA: You founded and continue to run Baukjen with your husband, Geoff van Sonsbeeck. What have you found to be the advantages and disadvantages (if any) of running a company with your partner?

BDSA: I couldn’t imagine running it without him now, we’d never see each other, and that daily interaction is definitely the biggest advantage. We have very different roles within the business and don’t often actually work together in the strictest sense of the word (I’m the creative and Geoff is the operations, technology and numbers man), but we still see each other every day. Sharing a business alongside being parents means we are totally in sync and I love that. Disadvantages? We don’t always agree, in fact we often disagree which in itself is fine, but let’s just say a little bickering can sometimes creep into meetings which the team will inevitably bear witness to. We’re only human though!

LPA: Has the rise of social media and fashion blogging affected the way you market your brand and interact with consumers? If so, how?

BDSA: Yes, absolutely. We live in a very interactive world and everything from customer reviews and Facebook posts that start a conversation, to inspiring Pinterest boards and cool Instagrams are all really important currency. Our customers like to be heard, and honestly, we like to hear from them.

LPA: What advice would you give to someone hoping or planning to launch their own fashion brand today?

BDSA: I’ll give you 5 points…

1. Go with your gut instinct – it’s your brand and you have to believe in it.
2. Never ignore the numbers or the customer
3. Be as creative as possible but never forget you have to sell things
4. Have a strong marketing plan in place and don’t underestimate the power of social media
5. Be open to new ideas
Oh, and there’s one more…
6. This is not a 9 to 5 job so be prepared to go above and beyond if you’re to succeed

Love Ella. X

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5 Minutes With: Deborah Lloyd

deborah lloyd kate spade new york

Talk about exciting interviews eh! As you all know all too well, kate spade new york is one of my absolute, all time favourite labels. It’s playful girlishness and penchant for very bright colours and lashings of print makes my heart sing with joy while my wardrobe increasingly resembles an homage to the brand. Getting to grill the British born powerhouse behind the collections I covet so much seemed a little surreal. But it happened so, without further ado, I bring you 5 Minutes With Kate Spade NY’s Creative Director and President, Deborah Lloyd…

LPA: Tell me a little about your background. Where did you study and work before joining kate spade new york?

DL: Prior to kate spade new york I worked at Banana Republic, and before that at Burberry. In the earlier part of my career, I held positions at brands including Acquascutum, Kenzo and Byblos. I studied at the Ravensbourne College of Art and design, and received a Master of Arts from the Royal College of Art in London.

LPA: Talk me through a day in the life of President and Chief Creative Officer of kate spade new york…

DL: No two days are the same at kate spade new york, that is what keeps me excited and inspired. Some days I am at our offices on Park Avenue reviewing sketches and selecting fabrics with our design teams, other days I am flying to exciting cities around the world for store openings and ad campaign shoots.

LPA: Since starting my blog, kate spade new york’s Chelsea Flower Show event has been one of my major spring highlights. Tell me a bit about why the brand decided to first get involved with it and, of course, your beautiful display this year…

DL: The Chelsea Flower Show is always a highlight for me. I live in New York now but I never miss the opportunity to come back to London to see the beautiful gardens. We knew that we wanted to do something over the top with our display this year. The current collection was inspired by travels to Rio de Janeiro, we wanted to go along with the theme and created a tropical display featuring a toucan made entirely of flowers!

LPA: How do you feel Kate Spade NY has changed or developed since you joined the brand in 2007? One of the reasons that kate spade new york is basically my favourite label is that regardless of whether minimalism or sports luxe or androgyny are “on trend”, it sticks to the playful, colourful, girly style it does so well and I love so much. Why do you feel this is so integral to the brand’s identity?

DL: One of the reasons I was drawn to Kate Spade new york was the brand’s optimistic spirit and its strong DNA. We think about the kate spade new york girl in everything we do. We like to say that she is quick and curious and playful and strong. She is not a wall flower, and she loves adventure and she inspires us to design product for every aspect of her life. kate spade new york has really transformed into a lifestyle brand during my time here – it started out as just handbags but has grown into so many categories including ready to wear, beauty, tech accessories, tabletop and stationery to name a few. The possibilities are endless!
How do you and your team offer up something fresh each season while still retaining such a recognisable aesthetic?

kate spade new york is unique in the sense that we inject a playful spirit into everything we do. We always incorporate strong colors and prints into each season, and we make sure that each collection that tells a story. We also pride ourselves on attention to details that make our customers smile whether its a special lining in a coat, a cheeky clutch or a line of copy on the inside of a bracelet.

LPA: I’m a huge fan of clashing prints and colours and topping it all off with statement accessories but it’s not without risks. What would be your top tip for someone who wanted to channel this kind of style but maybe wasn’t 100% confident?

DL: A great place to start is finding one statement piece that you fall in love with, then building your entire look around it. There are also subtle ways to incorporate a pop of color into any outfit, it can be a brightly coloured heel, an oversized cocktail ring, or even something as simple as a bright shade of lipstick.

LPA: What brands do you love and wear aside from kate spade new york?

DL: There are so many designers I love – Prada, Chanel and Balenciaga are a few of the brands that I have long admired. I also collect a lot of vintage pieces.

LPA: Spring may have only just arrived in London but of course, the fashion world has long since moved on to AW14! Sadly I wasn’t in NY in February but I’ve seen pictures of the collection and it’s absolutely stunning. What was your inspiration behind it?

DL: The theme behind 2014 is places to go and people to see. I am an avid traveler and always use it as a source of inspiration. For Fall 2014 our collections were inspired by travels to Asia – we specifically looked to Tokyo, Shanghai, and the Transcontinental Express.

LPA: What advice would you give to someone hoping to one day run a global brand like kate spade new york?

DL: Work hard, don’t take yourself too seriously and always do what you love.

Love Ella. X

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5 Minutes With: French Sole Founder, Jane Winkworth

french sole

This year is a rather special one for French Sole. The iconic purveyor of ballet flats is turning 25 and I’ve been lucky enough to score an interview with Jane Winkworth, the brand’s founder and the woman described by Vogue as being solely responsible for turning the humble pump into a true fashion classic. With her designs worn by everyone from Kate Moss to Kate Middleton and her own boutiques attracting customers like beautifully shod bees to honey in locations as diverse as London and Kuala Lumpur, I think it’s safe to say Winkworth has a lot to celebrate. A true sartorial innovator and business inspiration, it was an absolute privilege to quiz Jane on French Sole’s history, brand identity and plans for the future. Enjoy…

LPA: French Sole was born after a chance encounter with a shoe salesman from the French Hirica factory. Tell me a little about this and how it prompted you to start your own brand…

JW: I had already been selling ballet flats from other French factories for about two or three years before I met Philipe Cassalis . We met by chance when I was invited to look at the Hirigoyen Collection of footwear in a London hotel. Phillipe was their salesman and an extraordinary character, we became friends immediately. Although at least sixty years old, he was dressed head to toe in black leather biker’s clothes – zips, studs, the lot! He chain-smoked Gitanes and I adored him. He explained that Hirigoyen (later sold after going bankrupt and now trading under a new name of Hirica) had a small range of French ballerinas – I could have them made to my own designs and in my own materials! I was in heaven and have stayed loyal to this remarkable company for twenty-five years as they have stayed loyal to me.

LPA: In 25 years French Sole has gone from tabletop start up to global mega brand with stockists and devotees everywhere from Chelsea to Kuala Lumpar. Did you start out with a specific strategy? How did you develop your business to enable such enormous growth?

JW: When I first embarked on this incredible journey, it was purely to assist charities I was fond of and to supply not only myself but all of my friends with my lovely little ballet pumps. There was absolutely no strategy at all – I wish I had known twenty-five years ago what I know now, I would be living in the Bahamas! I was completely green, utterly naïve. I simply loved the shoes and wanted everyone else to love them too. I never had a strategy and still don’t have! Everything is instinctive – I know what women who wear my shoes want, I know what they don’t want. I have never been at all competitive or greedy. I know my limits and the limitations of French Sole. I know not to diversify or to stray too far away from the heritage of the brand.
The brand grew because I was the first person to develop the humble ballet flat into a fashion classic and everyone wanted the original and not the knock off copies that have since emerged.

LPA: Do you feel that your background in restoration and painting of fine porcelain has influenced the aesthetic of French Sole?

JW: I have a background of art and painting but also of ballet. I was a trained ballet dancer until I was fourteen and only someone who has danced themselves can truly design ballet flats. My art experience and creative background enables me to easily draw and design my shoes.

LPA: I quite literally can’t think of a woman I know who doesn’t own at least one pair of French Soles. What, in your opinion, it is that gives them such universal appeal?

JW: I am always asked this question – what is the special appeal of French Sole over other brands? It is the quality of the leather. Only the finest skins are used, always from Italy – all beautiful, soft real, delicious, sumptuous leathers. All of our shoes are made by hand and solely within the EU. The appeal is the quality, the heritage and the comfort, together with the reminder of life as a child, maybe a little ballerina or a schoolgirl going to a party – we all owned ballet pumps when we were young. We reminisce when we wear French Sole, we go back in time to our childhoods.

LPA: I find it fascinating that French Sole remains a privately owned, family company, something that’s pretty rare today. Is this something you feel is particularly important, both to the brand’s identity and you as its founder?

JW: Yes it is rare for the founder to still be in charge and even rarer to own the entire company privately. Together with my two sons we own 100% of the company. We have no investors, no angels, no private equity, no loans, no borrowing and no overdrafts – French Sole has always been funded by cash flow and personal family finance. It is important to the brand that I am always able to cast my designer’s eye over every aspect of the business but I have a great team around me who I am sure would cope very well if I dropped dead tomorrow!!

LPA: French Sole has legions of famous fans, ranging from the Duchess of Cambridge to Kate Moss. Is there anyone who you’d particularly love to see wearing your designs, but hasn’t yet?

JW: Who would I love to see wearing my shoes? The Queen obviously!

LPA: Recent years have seen French Sole expanding beyond the iconic ballet flats for which they’re renowned to include smoking slippers, elegant leather boots and even sneakers. What motivated these additions? And how do you extend the French Sole aesthetic to more varied shoe styles?

JW: I always stay true to the classic French Sole colour and fabric combinations when we work on a new style and develop the range from there if it works. Our “Moocher” sneakers are under our London Sole label and they are fabulously fun!

LPA: Have you noticed that women from different countries or cities or even areas within cities tend to favour different styles?

JW: Different customers around the world are pretty universal in their choice of styles and colours but I find my Malaysian customers in particular like a little extra bling and the Australians love colour. In China where I opened last year in Galeries Lafayette – its all about black.

LPA: In celebration of French Sole’s 25th Anniversary this year you’ve re-released your iconic poodle design, something that I, for one, am thrilled about! What inspired the poodle in the first place?

JW: The French poodle was the natural inspiration for me when I started. Nobody had ever used a poodle before as a signature logo and what is more French?!

LPA: What advice would you give to someone hoping or planning to start their own brand?

The advice I would give to any new entrepreneur when starting out is get a really good trademark/copyright lawyer and don’t set foot out of doors without their advice. I would also advise never to give any “charity jobs” in your new company – out of work friends, the daughter or son of a neighbour, your oldest school friend – leave them alone and go to an agency for experienced, competent, professional staff. It rarely works out.

Love Ella. X

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5 Minutes With: Zoe Karssen

zoe karssen

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

Posted on by Ella Catliff in Interviews 1 Comment
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