Living in Cologne, Gina Bernardy and Marie Lene Weyer never felt very happy with what their city could offer them from a fashion perspective. So after finishing their studies in business respectively fashion journalism and having collected experience in fashion retail for almost ten years, the two decided to open up their own store about a year ago. Mand & Kvinde sells men's and women's fashion and accessories from upmarket labels such as Avelon, Dondup, Japan Rags, Rosa von Schmaus or Wood Wood. We spoke to the young shop owners about their inspiration, favorite brands and close customer relationship. Interview by Maria Hunstig

Why did you open your store? Tell us the story behind!
We’re both from Cologne and were never satisfied with the brands and styles that were available in the city. Besides, most of the time we felt we were consulted badly and we always had problems with the quality and the fashion statements. But always complaining and dreaming of going to Berlin, Hamburg and Munich, wasn’t truly a solution. So we put all our experiences of many years as retail consultants and from our apprenticeships and studies into a business plan. In September 2013, we then opened the boutique for men and women we always wished for, not only as owners, but also as customers.

Inside the store
Inside the store

What are your current bestselling labels and styles?
The most well-known and sought after label is Wood Wood. People love the sportive cuts, combined with great colors and materials. It’s different from, for example, Avelon, a brand the customers first have to get used to. But after they bought one Avelon piece they don't want to wear anything else anymore and tell us that they get approached by people all the time, asking about the garments. That’s what represents the brand, you can’t escape from it. The details, the fabrics, that’s when fashion starts to be fun.

Which are your personal favorite brands?
That’s hard. We like to wildly mix it. Whether it’s cashmere by Rosa von Schmaus, a little hippie chic by Leon & Harper, casual pieces by Storm & Marie or something classic by Hartford, it’s important that it feels good on the skin and that it’s uncomplicated in everyday life and that one would like to wear it almost every day.

In front of the men's changing rooms
In front of the men's changing rooms
Do customers come to the store in search for special styles or do they rather shop spontaneously?
Caused by our special selection of brands that includes a lot of rather unknown brands, people normally come here on purpose. Customers who have been to Copenhagen, Paris, New York or Amsterdam implicitly want to buy the brands that are strongly represented in those cities at home, too and they are glad to find our store. However, especially with women there is this moment, where they see something in the shop window, almost instantly come rushing in and just got to have it immediately...

Where do you order your products (showrooms or trade shows - which ones)?
Both. For the discovery of new labels we visit trade shows like Premium, Show&Order and Seek in Berlin. And with he labels that we have in stock for a while now we normally meet up in their showroom. 
It’s way more relaxed there and we can go through the collection and examine all the individual garments while having a cup of coffee.

Where do you collect information about upcoming trends and new labels?
Contrary to the trend of thinking big and global, we like to keep it small and modest. Naturally we go through blogs, Facebook, Instagram and others and get inspired, especially when we are searching for new labels. But with trends, we like to get inspiration from our surroundings and our customers. What do they need? Do they express wishes? How can we combine this with our ideas? Thereby, a gut instinct emerges and it screams: this piece has to be in our shop. Without this piece we and our customers will not make it through the season.

Are there any new brands which you have ordered for the first time now?
For the first time, we will have Ganni for the upcoming season. We talked about it for a long time, but the crucial spark was missing. Then they had their fashion show at the tennis court in August and a pair of green leather pants walked down the runway. That was the piece we just didn’t want to be without in 2015 – so now Ganni is part of our labels.

Cash desk area
Cash desk area
What do you think will be the key-pieces/trends in summer 2015?
Trend forecasts are always difficult for us, because our styles have to endure more than one season. That’s important to us. Our store will never be entirely baby blue or minimalistic just because it's trendy. For Cologne, there is one key-piece that is here to stay: a raincoat. Paired with shorts or thrown over a leather jacket or to protect the summer dress.

How do you stay in contact with your (regular) customers?
We have an email newsletter and communicate through the typical social media channels. But Cologne is small. Therefore, we are a sort of living marketing drums as we meet our customers in cafés, restaurants or at the checkout of our local supermarket and talk to them about new arrivals, which collections will be in store soon and which event we’ve got planned.

What do you like about your location and your customers?
Our customers know where they stand in life, that’s what makes it fun. Everyone comes to us with their own story and one or two share it with us. It’s not about a quick deal, but rather about trying on clothes, talking, advising, drinking coffee and most of the time customers go home with one or two products. Consequently, we arranged the store to have a lot of space, large changing rooms, and a lounge where one can retract. Furthermore, our street is pretty broad and there is nothing more beautiful as the evening sun that shines into our store at about 5 pm and creates a great light. For a moment, it always feels like you’re on vacation.

The lounge character is important for the Mand & Kvinde owners
The lounge character is important for the Mand & Kvinde owners

Do you have an online shop? Do you run any social media activities?
We don’t directly have an online shop, since we would like to consult our customers here in our store and create outfits together that have our handwriting. However, some of our customers can’t be in Cologne all of the time. For those customers we sell selected pieces over Luxodo, so that even in the distance they don’t have to be without their favorite pieces.

Is there a role model for your shop? Any store – worldwide – which inspires you?
Even here, seen worldwide, it is only a stone’s throw from us: the wonderful Kerstin from Hayashi in Frankfurt. We don’t know her personally and her store also stylistically differs from ours, but it is nice and inspiring to follow her work as a shop owner - the presentation of the store, her purchasing, her blog and everything that belongs to it. The nice thing is that she always seems natural and loves her job as much as we do.

Mand & Kvinde
Lindenstraße 17
50674 Cologne