Accessories brand Kipling – founded in Antwerp in 1987 and acquired by VF Corporation in 2004 – has updated its look and sharpened its vision, a project that began in 2017. A new retail concept is being rolled out to match the new, inclusive product offering – a move that officially launched last week in London’s Regent Street. We sat down with Vera Breuer, Global President; and Olivier Gay, Vice President & General Manager EMEA to get the lowdown on the new-era Kipling.
Please tell us about Kipling’s revamp, of which the new retail model is the last step. What prompted you to take a fresh look at the brand?
Vera Breuer: Kipling had seen healthy growth in the past thirty years – with a particular boost across Europe, Asia and the US following the VF Corporation acquisition in 2004 – but we felt the time was ripe to modernize our creative vision, making it more inclusive while reinforcing our values that are rooted in quality, durability and a sense of discovery. We’re seeing a generational consumer shift and this is something every brand has to adapt to, as millennials and Gen Zers shop and engage with brands in a completely different way. We’ve taken this into account across every part of the business, from product design to visual identity with a new logo and “live light” slogan. Travel and experience are important for these consumers, so we’re focusing increasingly on making our product more innovative and travel-friendly, and we’ve also soft-launched a travel bag rental service.
How would you describe the new Kipling look, and who’s the designer behind it?
Vera Breuer: Our new designer Denille Wolfe stepped in about 18 months ago, and the FW19 collection shows the effort she’s put in. It also highlights her talent and long experience in the travel-goods sector. Overall, our new approach is quite unisex, but in the Kipling way – quality and durability are our strengths, mixed with a bit of color and a lighthearted sense of fun. The Boost-it line of unisex backpacks is new for FW19 and it’s quite a trend-led range with an urban aesthetic. Wolfe and her team are working hard to come up with new innovations to make our products more durable, practical and multifunctional – a recent example being a backpack crafted from reflective material that looks non-reflective in daylight but “lit up” if hit by light at night.
Our travel range is expanding and we’ll focus more on this, offering all sorts of travel bags including luggage and accessories to make city-hopping easier and more enjoyable. You’ll find a cross-body bag that converts into a backpack, should you wish to allow space for some shopping. Larger bags often have a laptop compartment, phone pocket, pen slot and key fisher as well as multi-way strap functionality.
Kipling’s signature monkey mascot has been updated, too…
Vera Breuer: Yes, we felt it needed to appear a bit more unisex and modern than the fluffy original. It now comes in different versions, including a smaller rubber variant – you’ll see this hanging from quite a few of our bags in different colors that typically match the hue of the bag to streamline the look.
How have you gone about modernizing the brand without alienating the “old” consumer?
Olivier Gay: We’ve remained true to our heritage and still carry our classic line of bags, including the crinkle-nylon styles that have been part of Kipling since the start. A lot of the steps we’ve taken center on product innovation, making it more practical and travel-friendly. I think the consumers who’ve shopped with us for a long time expected to see some sort of refresh – you have to move with the times.
Please tell us about the new store concept and its key features.
Olivier Gay: Our new-look product and more inclusive approach needed a home to match, so we’ve remodeled the 65 sqm store with the help of London-based agency Fitch. The feel is more gender-neutral, replacing the pink and yellow color scheme and carpeted floors of the past with white walls and materials such as concrete and a type of wood (oak) that brings to mind the sort used for park benches. All this is contrasted with a green door to awaken curiosity, and there’s a 3D-look monkey mural created by London street artist Fanakapan. We’ll team up with local artists in all our store locations, commissioning them to create in-store art or get involved in store activation projects such as customizations.
What other store features are key, and what mood do you want to create?
Olivier Gay: It’s all about the immersive experience – we want customers to feel at home and have a less formal experience than they might have had in our former stores. In-store activations and storytelling will play key roles. We’ve elevated the experience further by adding a personalization wall, allowing customers to give their bags a unique edge with embroideries and a fun selection of charms and badges brought out to match the theme of each new collection – such as the music-inspired FW19 collection. At the back of the store, you’ll find an interactive map of London, inviting customers to pin recommendations of the city’s best-kept secrets. Our new retail concept is global, but with a local, site-specific feel.
How many remodeled stores will be rolled out – and which city is next?
Olivier Gay: There will be a total of 36 stores worldwide in this new guise. Next up is Antwerp in Kipling’s motherland Belgium.