Friday, February 17, 2017

Selling The Clothes Off Your Back

Following a busy day at Tranoï in Paris, co-founders of menswear brand, FRENN, Jarkko Kallio (left) and Antti Laitinen (right), tell me about brand they've been building since 2013.

What was your first job in fashion?
Antti: I had an internship for 5-6 months as assistant designer, pattern maker, slash whatever they needed. It’s not easy because pattern making is two dimensional, yet it’s meant to be used for a 3D product. You learn to develop a feel for fabrics so you know how to cut the pattern. 
Jarkko: I knew I wouldn’t get accepted into the fashion design program because at the time, design programs in Helsinki emphasized hand drawing skills, and I was bad at that. I chose instead to go into textile design and marketing. It was the right choice for me at the time. I was always interested in starting a fashion business but the time wasn’t right until I met Antti. Our skill sets really complimented each other.

Why was this meeting the catalyst for starting FRENN? 
Jarkko: Antti and I were friends for many years before we started talking about starting a company. The catalyst happened while I was in NYC. I was wearing a tailored jacket in a camo print that Antti had made and a man in SOHO stopped me on the sidewalk to ask where I got the jacket. At first I thought he was making American small talk but he was serious and it happened twice more during that trip! 

Were there any doubts you had to overcome while forming the company?
Jarkko: A lot! 
Antti & Jarkko: You have to be a little crazy.
Jarkko: We interviewed people we respected and after looking at their advice we decided that we just had to do it because if you don’t you’ll regret it. It may go well or it may not but it’s better to have tried. 
Antti: You have to be brave, believe in yourself, and be a little crazy. 
Jarkko: It’s also important to not try too much too fast. 

But you’ve had a full line of products from the beginning.
Antti & Jarkko: [Laughing]
Antti: We should have started with less from the beginning!
Jarkko: From a brand-building standpoint it’s easier to tell a story with fewer products. Maybe if we did it again the collection would be smaller but the branding and production would be more developed upon launch. When we launched the brand we opened a pop-up shop and already had products produced and available for sale. Now thinking about that approach I think we were crazy! 

What has been the most useful business skill you’ve developed?
Antti: For me it was easy to start this company because I already had the technical skills and good relationships with factories. I know when I walk out the door of a factory if I want to work with them or not. 
Jarkko: It can be challenging to sell a Finish brand to international buyers because Finland doesn’t have the same fashion association as Italy, London, or Paris. I’ve had to learn how to position the brand as more unique, even exotic, because we’re Helsinki-based. 

What is your core product?
Antti: I think our core product from the beginning has been the denim suit. It’s an easy jacket with modern design. We wash it as a fabric, not as a garment, so it maintains its fit really well. If you buy a mass-market suit there are lots of layers of materials between the outer fabric and the lining. We don’t use those extra layers. 

Is that that how you bridge the gap between work and play clothes?
Antti: Without these layers a it feels like you’re wearing a cardigan, not a jacket. 
Jarkko: In addition to comfort, we wanted the brand to be sustainable. We have extra fabric built into the seams of our jackets so it’s very easy to make alterations for a custom fit. For example it prevents consumers from throwing away their clothes if they gain weight. You can get 4cm more room by letting out this extra fabric.
Antti: Our retailers can offer in-house tailoring because it’s very easy to adjust the fit of our jackets. When the customer buys the jacket; he can wear it for a very long time. When the garment finally does get thrown away or recycled it leaves a smaller impact because our jackets have fewer layers of materials than a conventional jacket. 

When you have to focus where do you go to do your best work? 
Jarkko: In the evening when I’m alone at the office. It’s a little difficult to concentrate with everyone around. Sometimes I go to a café in the evening. But I need quiet so I can hear my own thoughts. I should really take more half days to sit alone for a work sprint.
 Antti: It really depends. If you’re working on a new collection you need a good space to play with materials. You have to be strict with your creative time because you will try to perfect everything.

Thank you for your time Jarkko and Antti. I wish you continued success! To see more from FRENN please visit their website, or browse their Instagram


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