Sustainability and quality are topics that are quite close to Aki Tuncer. In the early 2000s he was the one who already offered green labels in his Ghetto Deluxe stores in Heilbronn. Meanwhile he has changed sides and further spreads the thought of sustainability as German country manager of Knowledge Cotton Apparel. For Tuncer, who is part of the industry since the ‘80s, a conscious consumption is where the future is heading.
Aki, you are in the industry for decades now. How do you evaluate the current state of retail?
Compared to the past, retail has totally changed. Retailers today face substantially different tasks and challenges. This begins with the administrative effort including taxes etc. and continues with a surplus of goods and new labels. It has come to a point where retailers don’t know what to bet on anymore. Spurred by the verticals’ success, all suppliers have worked on their concepts and meanwhile offer good products and high quality. The demand for service on the floors also keeps growing. During my last visit of downtown Hamburg together with my family I’ve noticed that Snipes, for example, had coaches on their floors who informed sales assistants and colleagues via headphones and ordered them to clear up or to serve customers. This is a form of completely organized consumption. Therefore a totally different thing than back in the days. Retail currently operates on a whole different level. But there are always winners and losers. The successful will always be on the bright side while those who don’t manage to rethink their concepts, occupy niches and to reach their target group will lose. You have to be different in order to survive, more than ever. Profits are located in the buying. However, buyers these days are way too restrained. In most cases they just react when the end consumer demands something specific. The courage to buy progressively is missing. It’s more about ordering basics and playing it safe. What’s missing is innovation. But this is exactly what to bring on the floors for attracting young people to the store.
Can green fashion achieve that in your opinion?
Yes, I’m serving the sustainable market for years. Already when I owned my stores we reoriented ourselves from American streetwear and Italian fashion to Scandinavian purism and lifestyle in early 2000. And this is how I’ve gradually come to offer sustainable labels. I wanted to know where products are made and looked for products that are long-lasting and interesting for my target group as well. The birth of my daughter has also made me think about a more conscious lifestyle. And this was in a time when the LOHA movement started and a new generation of German Green fashion stores such as Glore opened their doors. With Knowledge Cotton Apparel I keep growing by 15-20% from season to season. There’s still room to expand.
Do you sometimes regret changing sides and not being active as a retailer anymore?
I don’t miss anything. The business is what I know by heart. I started back in the ’80s and have been active in the retail segment independently for more than 20 years. We had five stores including an outlet. I’ve seen many people coming and going. I know the topics of retail and lately notice a loss of quality. One of the reasons not to forget is e-commerce which makes the retail business harder. In order to compensate this trend you have to invest in high-quality service. But today hardly any retailer does trainings for product or merchandising. Customers know the products better than retailers do. Except for the niches, such as the green stores, where retailers know everything about their products. Because in that niche it’s all about conscious consumption and knowing where, how and from what garments are produced etc.
Apart from that you want to make money out of sustainable fashion, how do you live the idea of sustainability personally?
For me sustainability is not a trend but a lifestyle. It’s not about stopping to buy things but about consuming consciously. There is nothing bad about having money and to do business but all this should happen on a healthy scale. This is what I want to set an example of to my daughter. I personally buy something only when needed. Concerning furniture we don’t buy at Ikea but opt for vintage furniture. And when it comes to fashion it’s about buying less things that at the same time are high-quality and long-lasting.