UF Voic­es — Tom Duhoux

To the Berlin Fash­ion Week: Tom of HNST recounts his experiences

Tom Duhoux — HNST

Flan­ders DC is one of the part­ners of the Euro­pean Unit­ed Fash­ion­pro­ject, whose goals are to stim­u­late entre­pre­neur­ial cre­ativ­i­ty and inno­va­tion and to facil­i­tate busi­ness oppor­tu­ni­ties for Euro­pean fash­ion labels. So, we set off for the Berlin Fash­ion Week with a group of design­ers from var­i­ous Euro­pean regions, set up a group stand at the PRE­MI­UM trade fair and par­tic­i­pat­ed in var­i­ous work­shops, organ­ised by the Ger­man Fash­ion Coun­cil. Tom Duhoux, founder of HNST (pro­nounced as hon­est’), a brand-new Antwerp-based label that launched its first col­lec­tion of sus­tain­able jeans in March, was the project’s del­e­gate from Flan­ders. He com­piled a report of his trip for our mag­a­zine. Tak­ing HNST to Berlin pre­sent­ed a per­fect oppor­tu­ni­ty to become bet­ter acquaint­ed with the Ger­man mar­ket.”
The HNST col­lec­tion, com­pris­ing eight dif­fer­ent mod­els of jeans, not only empha­sis­es your curves beau­ti­ful­ly but is also made from old, recy­cled jeans by more than 50%. Not only that, the entire col­lec­tion is pro­duced trans­par­ent­ly in the Euro­pean Union and in accor­dance with the rules of the cir­cu­lar economy.

When hear­ing the term sus­tain­able den­im’, most peo­ple will think of the Nether­lands. Three Dutch brands — Kuyichi, MUD jeans and Kings of Indi­go — were ranked among the top 5 most sus­tain­able jeans brands accord­ing to Rank a Brand for a good rea­son, which is why I too was con­vinced that the most impor­tant mar­ket for our HNST jeans would be in the north. Noth­ing could be less true. The most impor­tant and biggest Euro­pean mar­ket for sus­tain­able den­im is Ger­many. The call from Flan­ders DC to rep­re­sent our brand at the Berlin Fash­ion Week with­in the frame­work of the Unit­ed Fash­ion project pre­sent­ed a per­fect oppor­tu­ni­ty to become bet­ter acquaint­ed with the Ger­man mar­ket. The Euro­pean Unit­ed Fash­ion project aims to stim­u­late entre­pre­neur­ial cre­ativ­i­ty and inno­va­tion and to facil­i­tate busi­ness oppor­tu­ni­ties for Euro­pean fash­ion companies.

Togeth­er with eight oth­er Euro­pean design­ers I was giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to intro­duce our col­lec­tion at the PRE­MI­UM inter­na­tion­al trade fair and to par­tic­i­pate in a diver­si­ty of inspi­ra­tion ses­sions dur­ing Fash­ion­Sus­tain and Fash­ion­Tech, the two themes of the Berlin Fash­ion Week.

Prepa­ra­tions and goals

This was the first time I was present at a trade fair as an exhibitor. Con­sid­er­ing that the pre-sale of our first col­lec­tion was launched at our online shop at the end of March we haven’t had any expe­ri­ence with agents or shops yet. Dur­ing a prepara­to­ry meet­ing with Ann Claes, who was sent by Flan­ders DC to attend the event in Berlin in the capac­i­ty of Senior Project Man­ag­er, I received all the input I would need for mak­ing order and line sheets.

One of the first chal­lenges was to set a whole­sale price that would allow me to retain my cur­rent sales prices“

We deter­mine cur­rent sales prices by tak­ing into account our cost struc­ture as well as price posi­tion­ing, in which we con­scious­ly chose to keep our jeans afford­able when we launched the prod­uct. My goal for the trade fair was to obtain direct feed­back about our back­ground infor­ma­tion, prod­ucts and prices as they cur­rent­ly stand, with a view to gain­ing insight into our inter­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion poten­tial. All the feed­back we would receive would give us some valu­able infor­ma­tion to help us deter­mine the right strat­e­gy for our brand after the trade fair.

The Ger­man mar­ket

So, what does the Ger­man mar­ket actu­al­ly look like? What is most impor­tant to Ger­man B2C and B2B cus­tomers? The pro­gramme, which had been put togeth­er by the host of this first Unit­ed Fash­ion meet­ing, Fash­ion Coun­cil Ger­many (FCG), had sched­uled amar­ket insights ses­sion that addressed these ques­tions in detail. We learned, for instance, that when you are speak­ing about the Ger­man mar­ket, you aren’t refer­ring to only Ger­many but DACH’: Ger­many, Aus­tria and Switzer­land. This wealthy mar­ket rep­re­sents almost 100 mil­lion peo­ple. In this rather con­ser­v­a­tive mar­ket peo­ple are inter­est­ed above all in high-qual­i­ty, func­tion­al cloth­ing, but con­sumers are also look­ing for nov­el­ties. That makes the Ger­man con­sumer a lit­tle schiz­o­phrenic. The mar­ket for niche prod­ucts has grown strong­ly in the past few years. Nev­er­the­less, the typ­i­cal­ly eclec­tic style that peo­ple often asso­ciate with cities like Berlin is nei­ther rep­re­sen­ta­tive nor main­stream. Besides a few cities where this does appear to be the case, the biggest per­cent­age of this mar­ket is more rur­al and provincial.

Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, there is a dis­tinct demand for sound, well-made cloth­ing, with­out any super­flu­ous frills, although aes­thet­ics is becom­ing more and more important”.

Cloth­ing also increas­ing­ly needs to have an out­spo­ken and gen­uine­sus­tain­abil­i­ty com­po­nent. The last two years have demon­strat­ed a grow­ing inter­est among Ger­man con­sumers in the ori­gin of cloth­ing as well. Because this con­sumer can often be sus­pi­cious and is wary of brands that pro­fess to be green, Ger­man con­sumers also attach sub­stan­tial val­ue to cer­tifi­cates and labels. More than con­sumers in oth­er mar­kets. This was a key insight for me, because although we are not plan­ning to do this our­selves, sus­tain­abil­i­ty labels are appar­ent­ly a require­ment and self-evi­dent in this market.

With regard to B2B cus­tomers the prin­ci­ple applies that the prod­uct you sup­ply must be of impec­ca­ble qual­i­ty and fit, and it must be deliv­ered punc­tu­al­ly. If you do not sat­is­fy both of these require­ments, it will be very dif­fi­cult to get a foot in the door in this mar­ket, now or in the future. Of course, the same applies the oth­er way around.
Your rep­u­ta­tion is of cru­cial impor­tance, so you had bet­ter be well-pre­pared and organ­ised if you want to do busi­ness in the DACH countries.

If you make good-qual­i­ty prod­ucts and deliv­er them on time, things can go real­ly quick­ly in this mar­ket”.

Anoth­er dif­fer­ence in com­par­i­son to oth­er mar­kets is the pay­ment term. Although send­ing an invoice for 30% upon con­fir­ma­tion is nor­mal in many oth­er coun­tries, this is adeal break­er in the DACH B2B mar­ket. In these coun­tries, a pay­ment term of 30 days fol­low­ing deliv­ery is the stan­dard, we were told. Although the rig­or­ous pay­ment con­di­tions may make it appear oth­er­wise, it is nev­er­the­less pos­si­ble to impose your own con­di­tions in this mar­ket as soon as you notice an inter­est. The gold­en rule is to make no con­ces­sions to the con­di­tions your brand needs to con­tin­ue to oper­ate in a healthy man­ner.
What was also very valu­able was theone-on-one ses­sion we took part in after the ple­nary ses­sion about mar­ket insights. This ses­sion was giv­en by an agent who has been suc­cess­ful in the DACH mar­ket for many years. She had care­ful­ly exam­ined all the brands that were present and assessed the degree to which they were ripe for the Ger­man mar­ket. With regard to HNST we were told that our back­ground infor­ma­tion and prod­uct reflect­ed cur­rent mar­ket demands and, if we were able to demon­strate that the fit is per­fect, there was plen­ty of poten­tial for us.

Fash­ion­Sus­tain and Fash­ion­Tech
Two of the four days were ded­i­cat­ed to inspi­ra­tion, in which we were giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to attend pan­el dis­cus­sions, keynote speech­es and work­shops address­ing two of the themes of the Berlin Fash­ion Week: Fash­ion­Sus­tain and Fash­ion­Tech. Sus­tain­abil­i­ty, a not-to-be-over­looked theme on the Ger­man mar­ket as I said ear­li­er, was par­tic­u­lar­ly a top­ic of dis­cus­sion in ses­sions that addressed chain trans­paren­cy. In addi­tion to this, it was good to hear that more and more par­ties are becom­ing aware of the fact that sus­tain­able inno­va­tion should be approached holis­ti­cal­ly.

Every deci­sion you make in terms of design has an impact on a spe­cif­ic aspect of the life cycle of your prod­uct”.

Not only is the respon­si­ble sourc­ing of raw mate­ri­als impor­tant these days, but also how we process these, which colourants and addi­tives we use and the impact this pro­duces on the usage phase or end-of-life and recy­cling phase.
I per­son­al­ly looked for­ward most to the ses­sion with Sebastien Kopp. The French­man who had co-found­ed the sus­tain­able VEJA sneak­er brand and who com­pen­sat­ed his lack of rel­e­vant expe­ri­ence with a clear dri­ve and vision has become a fixed val­ue in the sus­tain­able fash­ion land­scape. Their fair pro­duc­tion of the sneak­ers takes place in Brazil because this is also where the raw mate­ri­als are sourced (nat­ur­al rub­ber and cot­ton). One of their prin­ci­ples is that they do not spend any mon­ey on adver­tis­ing, labels or cer­tifi­cates. This only costs mon­ey with­out nec­es­sar­i­ly cre­at­ing any added value.

Cre­at­ing a fan­tas­tic con­sumer expe­ri­ence was the com­mon thread run­ning through the Fash­ion­Tech part. How can tech­nol­o­gy help brands opti­mise this expe­ri­ence? I attend­ed the work­shop pre­sent­ed by the founder of Good Growth, James Ham­mer­s­ley.

He believes that tech­nol­o­gy is not the best solu­tion — or always the best solu­tion — for cus­tomer con­ver­sion”.

We often con­cen­trate far too hard on the wrong KPIs like the con­ver­sion ratio, whileinten­tion to buy is a much more impor­tant KPI to focus on. The inten­tion to buy is often three times high­er than the con­ver­sion ratio (up to 15%). By ask­ing your cus­tomers three open-end­ed ques­tions in your online shop — 1. Why are you here? 2. Was your vis­it suc­cess­ful? 3. If not: why? — you will gain all the rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion that you, as an organ­i­sa­tion, need to know in order to chart out your next steps.

How to con­tin­ue

The whirl­wind pro­gramme left lit­tle time to man the stand at the PRE­MI­UM trade fair. This was tak­en over by peo­ple who had been hired by FCG. Although I heard from oth­er Bel­gian brands attend­ing PRE­MI­UM that it was excep­tion­al­ly qui­et in com­par­i­son to the Jan­u­ary edi­tion, sev­er­al inter­na­tion­al par­ties had expressed gen­uine inter­est in HNST. I am still wait­ing to be sent the com­plete visitor’s report, but the pos­i­tive response and the insights and points for atten­tion I gained with regard to the Ger­man mar­ket have giv­en me suf­fi­cient food for thought to fur­ther sub­stan­ti­ate my own growth strat­e­gy. Our ini­tial intro­duc­tion left us hun­gry for more!