In 2010, Pieter-Bas Broeke, a fashion marketing insider whose vita spans senior positions at Tommy Hilfiger Europe and Diesel, felt there was a lack of affordable fashion boutiques in Amsterdam and so he opened up the first We Are Labels store in the city’s Utrechtsestraat. And that one shouldn’t stay an isolated case for long: Today, the company runs six retail stores in Amsterdam, one in Rotterdam, one in Amstelveen, one in The Hague (its latest addition) and, as a first foreign outpost, a store in Antwerp, Belgium, which opened its doors by the end of 2016.
On 325 sqm, the Antwerp location offers fashionable and affordable mens- and womenswear by classic We Are Labels brands such as Mos Copenhagen, Minimum, Modström, Suit, MbyM, Selected, Elvine, Eleven Paris or Levi’s as well as a selection of gifts, accessories and a shop-in-shop by organic cosmetics brand L:A Bruket - all under the impressive seven meter high ceilings of a classic building.
We spoke to We Are Labels’ head of buying, Naïri Robert, on finding inspiration and new labels, ‘90s sportswear and Jay-Z.
How would you describe your assortment and what makes it special?
In the We Are Labels boutiques you’ll find international brands for men and women that you can hardly find anywhere else. Our clothing is affordable and fashionable, as much as 80% of our collection is priced between 40 and 80 Euros. I think the combination of small new brands and international established brands definitely makes the assortment of We Are Labels special, in combination with the fact that we update our collection on a weekly basis and are constantly on the lookout for new upcoming brands we can add to our collection.
Which brands and styles are your bestsellers right now?
There are multiple brands that are doing well at the moment. One brand that outperforms most other brands is the German label Edited that we recently added to our collection. They offer great value for money, and they tune in on the latest fashion trends.
How did you discover the brand?
In Germany, Edited the Label [the in-house brand of fashion e-tailer edited.de] was already quite big, but they did not do real wholesale yet. I spotted and approached them on Instagram. Then I immediately flew to Berlin to place our first order. Because of the fact that the brand didn’t have any wholesale clients yet, we were the first store to sell the brand in the Netherlands.
Where do you order your products (showrooms or trade shows - which ones)?
Most of the time we order our products in showrooms. Each season we visit the fairs in Copenhagen and Amsterdam and sometimes we go to Berlin or NYC in search of new brands. Usually, we make an appointment to see the whole collection in the showroom and order the products on-site.
Which trends & looks do you think will dominate in fall/winter 2017?
I think fall/winter 2017 will be reviving ‘90s sport in our segment, for men and women. Even the most feminine brands we sell have incorporated sportswear influences in their collections.
You recently opened your first store outside of your home market, in Antwerp, Belgium. What’s special/different about the Antwerp customer (compared to the Dutch ones)?
We really couldn’t wait to open our first store in Antwerp. From the beginning, Antwerp was our number one choice for our first store abroad. Therefore we are extremely happy that the Antwerp customer has welcomed us in such a great way from the start. We actually don’t see a lot of differences between our Antwerp customer and our Dutch customer. Also in Antwerp, we see a lot of people with a different style and taste, which we really love.
Do you buy centrally for your entire store locations or targeted for each store?
At the moment we have 10 stores, but not every store has the same amount of space available. So we categorize them into A, B, or C stores, for big stores, medium sized stores, and small stores, respectively.
How do you interact with your community?
We interact with our customer and community as much as possible. We feel it’s really important to do so because we want them to feel the enthusiasm we have for We Are Labels and everything we do. Luckily we can’t complain as we have a great following on Facebook, but also through our newsletter where we have many subscribers and since last year we are also focusing on Instagram. We constantly create our own content while always staying true to our identity. For example, we organize limited edition collaborations with our brands where we always try to connect people who fit well to We Are Labels, whether these are actors, bloggers, rappers or DJs.
What have been the biggest challenges in your job for We Are Labels so far?
Of course it’s always extra exciting right before the opening of one of our stores. Most of the time we open our new stores in the middle of the season. This means we can’t buy everything at full price, but at the same time you want to make sure to open the store with the newest collection in stock. So, that can be a challenge every once in a while...
How often do you redecorate the store, how important is the interior?
Our interior is key to our identity so we put a lot of effort in it. No matter how big or small the store, the We Are Labels feel is always there. Our head of creative puts an enormous amount of time and love into every table, rail and chair you see in our stores. Every once in a while we create certain updates while never losing sight of our love for vintage furniture in combination with beautiful new display designs. We take a lot of inspiration from places we've visited in New York and always try to make a translation to our own identity.
Which person – celebrity or not – would you love to welcome in the store one day?
As I briefly mentioned earlier, the cool thing is that we literally see all kinds of people in our stores who all have a different taste in style; hipster, bohemian, modern, vintage… We really are open to and for everyone. If we had to choose someone…ok, let’s say Jay-Z!
We Are Labels Antwerp
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