Where is Denham headed?
Our company has evolved significantly in the last 12 years. When we started we were five people working in our 100-sq.-meter office in the center of Amsterdam. Now we are 75 people and have recently moved to our 4,000-sq.- meter space to manage all activities in house and have space to grow for the future. Our business today is €50 million and our aim is to reach €250 million sales according to our solid growth plan in Asia.
What about Corona? Is it forcing you to change your expansion plans in Asia?
Asia remains a key focus for us. The Asian market is like a pyramid with Japan being on top in our strategy. First we built Japan, and we are now studying all of the SEA (South East Asia) markets, but we are doing it step by step. Today we have 30 Denham stores in Japan that we have carefully nurtured and built up in the last nine years. We are monitoring the Coronavirus situation daily. This will have an impact on our growth plans for China but we don’t see that this will affect our Japan expansion strategy.
How do you want to reach these goals?
We will launch many messages with our brands like big collaborations, wider product offer and a women’s selection with a much clearer identity. Among new collaborations we will launch, for instance, Pro Hunter Rolex and Trickers in October 2020, that add up to other successful ones like, for instance, the one with Laser 3.14 we released in March 2020; in 2019 with Medicom Be@rbrick, White Mountaineering and Ben Eine, an artist who collaborated with Bansky; and in 2018, for our 10th anniversary, with Montblanc and Barbour. Our product selection is based upon three main pillars for our men’s offer: ‘innovation’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘authenticity’. Through ‘innovation’ we offer maximum freedom of movement and high-tech products to be worn all day long. We also care about ‘authenticity’ as many of our clients love unwashed, virgin and selvedge denim, and similar aspects. And, of course, ‘sustainability’ is key as it is in everything we are going to do.
How will you make your women’s division grow?
We have always been very strong in menswear as it counts for 70% of our sales, while women’s is 30%–and I am proud of what we have. We simply missed communication for our women’s offer. For this reason we recently hired Zoe Karssen, an expert in women’s casual and sportswear, who is helping us building our women’s brand personality.
Will you change the women’s collection look and feel?
Our DNA is there. It’s wrong to try to be something else as that would never work. I believe in how the product has been made but we haven’t been creative enough in showing what we do. Like in menswear we work with the best materials and have very good concepts and want to tell people what great women’s jeans we make and collections that go with it. We’ve got beautiful stores across East and West where we sell the product. We recently launched different fits inspired by iconic personalities like, for instance, our Monroe girlfriend fit and the Bardot high-rise straight fit.
We are very much about “East meets West.” In Asia and Japan we are flying and doing amazing things. Our business model is really starting from Japan. This market is the top of the pyramid and has a trickle down effect through which we are developing Asia Pacific. So far we count 30 stores in Japan and want to reach a total of 60 to 80 ones in the country by 2025. We want to inaugurate 13 stores in China and plan to open in Singapore this year. We are also looking at Bangkok and Korea.
How does your CEO fit in this strategy?
Our CEO Andre Chen is really good for us. It’s great to have him on board. He’s from Taiwan, has an Asian mentality, though is Western-minded, too. He used to work for Nike for 17 years, so he gets the global brand building approach and understands our business model, while coaching and teaching our whole team from 16 nationalities in a great way every day.
Is your Chinese investor Trendy International more focused on the Eastern market?
I was always focused on that. After I started the brand in Amsterdam, my aim was Japan, Japan, Japan. Today we count on four super strong markets. The biggest one is Japan where we do 25% of our business. The country represents a very strong retail business model and very much the Asian way as 85% of the business we do there is through retail. The second one is the Netherlands which counts for almost 20% and our distribution counts both monobrands and about 250 multibrand stores. The third one is China followed by Germany. All over Europe we sell through about 400 multibrand stores. So it’s a very solid East and West base. Then we have a great distribution for building the brand and brand awareness as we count on cool stores in LA, Italy, France, Spain. During Paris Fashion Week, we met customers from Lane Crawford in Hong Kong, American Rag in LA and Harvey Nichols in London.
What’s your vision of denim sourcing?
Even though I am not too fond of the term ‘sustainability’ because many don’t understand what it really means, we do our very best to be sustainable since the beginning and have been connected with Candiani, one of the most–if not the most– sustainable mills in the world. We progressed with them for more than a decade and are very proud of the bio-projects we are working on just now. This is not a trend but a responsibility, though we don’t want people to buy our brand just for that. We want them to buy great products. We are very active with our new Upcycling Recycling project through which we reuse parachute fabrics and military items. We will release our sustainability goals for 2021-22 explaining how we operate and work on our carbon footprint. For instance, 70-80% of the denim we make in Japan stays in Japan. And most of the stuff we do in Italy–mostly with Candiani–remains in Europe. We also have a great China business and work with great mills like Advance Denim. We have always had very strong partnership allegiances and have a very limited number of suppliers we like to develop stuff with.
How much of your collection can be considered sustainable?
No brand can claim it is 100% sustainable. Our brand today isn’t 100% GOTS as we don’t have all of the certificates on every fabric or vendor–even Candiani hasn’t got that full stuff–but that’s one of our future
Do you trust certificates?
I love the energy anyone is putting in that. It’s the best thing of the last five to ten years. The frustration comes from the verticals who produce so many garments and shout about sustainability and throw away disposable garments. We share in our communication that we offer service for life. We can fix your jeans, we wash them and hang them in the streets or in our stores and try our best and promote offering products that last. Despite many say the denim industry is dirty, its huge progress in the last years is amazing. And nobody says that a pair of jeans is the most sustainable garment in the world. But they came from 1850, from workwear, a culture that lives on today. They’re hard wearing, you don’t wash them every day, but that just makes them a super, super sustainable product. You buy them, put them in your wardrobe and wear them for a long time. And the best thing is that it’s the only culture product that has a first life, a second life and a third life–if it’s a good product. You hand them down, you give them to your brother, your sister or they go to a thrift store. And people customize them. I was super proud when during a visit in Japan I found a whole rack of vintage Denham jeans sold in a secondhand store.
Who can make this game change?
Everybody, but of course as a brand you have to take the responsibility of what choice you make and how you will do it.
Do you also offer products at different price points?
Yes, we do, though our entry price is €130-€140 which is where many other brands hit the top. We can go up to €700 because of the value of the product. One of my biggest problems is that I love very good materials. So we invest in product, design and finishing and we are very proud of sources and fabrics and put all that together.
What do you think about brick and mortar retail in general?
The retail landscape is changing everywhere. Shopping streets in beautiful areas with many fashion stores are now hosting gyms and yoga schools, coffee bars and tattoo places. Or they are all changing and now it’s either about health food or fast food, unique food or food experience. It’s crazy how all these were fashion stores before. This happens as people’s habits are changing dramatically. Part of our thing is to keep customers hungry and we are doing this by creating exciting collaborations and projects with stores. This way there are lines of people waiting outside stores when we launch special collabs and build unique collections for unique stores. That’s why I also started building three labels in our men’s brand profile–White, Black and Red Label. Each one is based on consumer profiles made by a case study of our brands past, present and future–from East to West. White Label is for our younger customers of the Asian market. Black Label is for the Northern European customer and Red Label is targeting Japan.
Yes, and they have been doing an incredible job. I think that compared with sneaker brands denim brands
fell asleep. The denim brands stopped designing and creating and cleaned up the industry and all focused on sustainability, which is great. The sneaker brands left them completely and created an incredible energy and desire for that “Gotta have it!” factor.
Editor's note: This article runs in our current "Denim Sourcing Issue", #292. Please also check out the e-paper version for more information.