AFW Industry Talk: Entrepreneurship & Branding
Guillaume Philibert is the Founder and Creative Director of Filling Pieces, an Amsterdam-based high-end streetwear and footwear label established in 2009.
Mark de Lange
Mark de Lange is the Co-Founder and CEO at eyewear brand Ace & Tate; one of Amsterdam’s most successful start-up stories by far.
Bonne van Reijn
In 2014, Bonne van Reijn created Bonne Suits, a brand that caters to everyone regardless of occasion, sex, age, or social expectation. The suits took over Amsterdam through its simplicity and innovative approach.
Guillaume: “the moment I felt I had something was when I was working with a store in Amsterdam. I remember I lived with my parents and used their garage as a storage/creative space. All the sudden there was a line of 50 parents at that store trying to get my sneakers for their kids. I knew then I had something in my hands that was going to be successful.”
Bonne: “I really wanted to make an easy and accessible product in fashion, because I noticed as a stylist that that was missing in the industry. That for me was the beginning of Bonne Suits.”
First impressions/Direct to consumer
Mark: “Guillaume started alone by himself with no help. I think that’s extremely impressive. Also now that you are going in different product categories is great to see.”
Guillaume: “I remember seeing the first Ace and Tate stores, and I thought okay what I admire about this brand is that it is independent of third parties as that is so difficult to start your brand. Making that first move on such an international scale is so admirable.”
Bonne: “It’s easy to make a product but it’s also hard at the same time. It’s expensive, the stores are not making me money, I make money by selling directly to the consumer. That also causes my products to be affordable. The stores are doing my marketing and draws attention to our webshop. That in my opinion is the best way to go about it.
The risk of an entrepreneur
Bonne: “I’m opening a new space at the Zeedijk, a horeca establishment. It’s a huge financial risk but I want to do it cause my gut feeling says it’s going to be amazing. I also don’t use third parties here, but I put a lot of energy into it and it gives me a lot of energy back. That’s what entrepreneurship is about
Mark: “The fact that I can’t take these risks anymore is unfortunate. We have grown very quickly over the years. In the beginning I forgot about the boring stuff, the backhand of things. In 2018 everything went to shit, that were a difficult couple of months. I learnt to be patient and got out of this problem because of others, but it’s a never-ending thing. Every time you scale up, you have to catch up. It’s boring, it’s investing money that doesn’t excite me, but it’s so important.”
Guillaume: “We have struggled every day. Running a brand is 90 % solving problems and 10 % being creative. People don’t realize that what they see on Instagram is not what is going on behind the scenes. I have a very motivated team and that gives me a lot of strength to make decisions.”
Bonne: “It’s an endless fight. But I keep up because you have to have some kind of crazy side and this crazy believe that you have to go on.”
Bonne: “I’m not sure if I want to scale up because I really like the smallness of my organization. It feels as a group of friends having fun. Of course, a part of it is really serious but I also have the store which I share with my friends. Partly I want it to grow and I could see it bigger.”
Guillaume: “What I like about Bonne Suits is that they have one product that is extremely versatile and accessible for everyone. That’s a success ingredient and I believe it’s very easily scalable. I think you could make it extremely big.”
Guillaume: “I want 300 different shoes in a collection, but my financial strategist wants 90. We then end up with 150 and it’s still too much. It’s better to scale up with a couple of products and kill your darlings sometimes.”
The importance of a business partner
Mark: “I just like starting new things. Sometimes you lose focus and let your emotions run wild. You always need a realistic and strategic counterpart that pulls you back from thinking too big.”
Guillaume: “I had this moment where I moved production from china to portugal and I didn’t have the means to make a new collection. There was a guy that said I believe in the product and I’m going to finance you, and I want to coach you once a month to see where your business is going. Now he is my fulltime business partner. I’m extremely grateful for him.”
Bonne: “I give the young kids that come to my store a discount. When I see that they really like my stuff I light up.”
Guillaume: you have to keep this connection with the youth because they are the future. The difficulty is that we have a certain humbleness in our culture and the moment we went international we had to sustain this humbleness and stay approachable.”
Mark: “It’s important to keep visiting your stores and get direct contact with your consumers.”
Guillaume: “When I started the target audience whas myself. Once the brand got bigger we saw different audiences buying our products. However you can’t make everyone happy, it’s hard to narrow down your core consumer. That’s where data comes in. Data however fluctuates quite often. It’s important to keep in touch with your audience in person to not lose focus.”
A last advice
Guillaume: “Always surround yourself with inspiring and kind people. I was lucky to be surrounded by the guys of the New Originals and Daily Paper.”
Bonne: “I wanted to bring suits back to the streets. This idea was also influenced by my direct environment, my friends.”
Mark: For us it has never been an issue. I have the advantage that I have a background in investing. I knew how to approach new investors and that knowledge is very valuable when you start a brand.”