Fiacha Harrington follows up his Personal Style feature with head of sales for Indigofera, Kari Salmela – this time focusing directly on the clothes brand.
Fiacha Harrington: Can you start by telling us a little bit about the history of the brand?
Kari Salmela, head of sales: Indigofera was started in 2007 by Johan Sunderlund and Mats Andersson. The first collection was in stores in Spring 2009, which is the same year they hired me to work on their sales. The first product was a blue and white logo blanket, it was the first thing we got our hands on. Mats and Johan had previously worked with denim brands such as Edwin, Levi’s Vintage Clothing and Levi’s RED – there history goes back even further – but those are the two companies that they are known for working with. They had a certain synergy that lead them to start Indigofera. Europe and the United States of America are the primary markets. In Europe I would say Middle and Nordic Europe are the strongest markets. In the States, it is the West Coast as well as Texas and Colorado where there is a good representation. For the rest of America I would say the market is growing. We are now expanding to the East Coast and Northern parts of the States.
FH: What for you is the philosophy behind Indigofera?
KS: To best understand the label you have to refer to the full name of the brand which is Indigofera Prima Jeans, where Prima is the Swedish for premium. And when you stamp that on a leather patch you have to be at that premium level. When you think of denim production, what we aim for is the best quality. It for us is the modern representation of the finest denim production period between the mid fifties and the mid sixties. After that period people started to concentrate on the speed of production rather than the quality. Our focus is on that golden period and to reproduce clothes the way in which they were made then, the type of stitching, the kind of machinery that was used and with the use of modern technology we can even produce a better quality product than back in the day. For us it is about maintaining that quality and owning the whole process of production. Rather than going to agencies to buy denim, we go to the mills and buy the yarn to make the fabrics, so we can insure the level of quality. The process is also transparent and it is visible to see where everything comes from, the entire production chain.
FH: Can you tell us a little bit about the goals for the brand?
KS: For us 2013 was the turning point. Back in 2011 our current production guy Pontus started working with us, side by side with Johan. At the end of 2012, Pontus began to take over and in 2013 we revamped the focus of the brand and style became a bit tougher. Then we made a plan regarding how we grow the brand – we needed to grow the presence of the label. So we made a road map that brought us to the end of 2016 and allowed us to reach our goals, regarding growth and how it should be done. Now we are at the point we call ‘freebies’; we had been banging our heads against the walls, for a long time we were a brand that stayed under the radar – even people in the industry were unaware that Indigofera is a brand to follow. Getting new shops on board was a bit of a challenge, but now we see season after season that there are more shops reaching out to contact us, more books and magazines are covering what we do. Now we are at the tipping point where growth has become faster, we are doing bigger volumes with production. We are sticking with tried and tested routines and we keep our focus far ahead. We are not in a hurry to grow, but growth is happening organically and we are enjoying the ride. We aim to give service to our stores, instead of just selling – we do a follow up. The sales meeting is only one part of what we do, we also do store events and we do weekly follow ups and we do it all in-house. We don’t work with distributors or agencies. All of our clients have our phone numbers so they can contact us. If there is a customer in a store who has a question or if the shop is missing a size or anything else they may need help with. There are very few brands that offer that level of service. We will work with and hire people if needed so that we can grow the brand from within.
FH: What are new directions for 2017?
KS: Our direction is that there is no new direction, that is one key element of Indigofera. As we grow and we get more money coming into the company there is a drawer full of ideas. What limits us from doing some products that we really want to do is the money needed – for fabric development and the time that goes into making design prototypes. As we grow we get to expand the collection, making it a bit richer, but the key focus is also on the products that work best and we examine how we can fine tune and make them better. We revamped all of our labels, hang-tags and pocket blasters. We don’t change that much from season to season. We want to make Indigofera a go-to brand, where if you find a product that suits you, you can rely on it being around for years to come.
FH: What do you see as being the strongest trends in heritage fashion at the moment?
KS: When you work in the clothing industry and you are deep in it, you don’t really have time or even interest to follow trends or to follow where men’s style is actually heading. With a brand like Indigofera you keep your head down and look forward to the goal you have set for yourself rather than looking at what is around you. As I am the guy who gives a face to the brand and travels and knows the market, I find it is more important for me to know what we are doing rather than what people around us are doing.
FH: What do you see happening for the brand in the next twelve months?
KS: I would say the next twelve months are going to be very interesting – we have a lot of new stores contacting us, we have a good set of existing stores that we have time to visit. There has been some interesting new stores opening up in Europe, so there is a lot of potential to grow here and in the US the stores have been very open to Indigofera over the last few seasons. We are looking forward to the ride over the next twelve months.
FH: Who is your average clientele?
KS: Our clientele is very diverse. I would say one of the key features of Indigofera is that we never wanted to be labelled for some specific sub-culture. We have never been a skater brand, we have never been a motorcycle brand, a hot brand brand or just denimheads. We are just a men’s clothing brand and anyone who is looking for quality is a customer for us. An Indigofera guy, is a guy who has good self esteem and understands quality. The brand is still relatively small and you need to have some kind of faith in your own sense of style when you go for an Indigofera piece that is put side by side with a more established brand. And that you know by wearing one of our pieces you will get acceptance from those around you.
FH: You used to have a women’s collection, but do you still have women clientele and what are they looking for from a men’s label?
KS: Let’s put it like this we get requests, but we don’t have women’s clientele per say anymore. And to be honest we never really had it to begin with it. When we started we had both men’s and women’s, but the brand was too small, we needed instead to focus on the men’s collection. We do however have women who wear Indigofera, they like our ponchos and shirts. We do get requests to bring back the women’s line but we are still too small, We are four guys, if we were to do a new women’s collection we would need to find a woman who has the same passion and vision.
FH: What is your advice for first time customers?
KS: I would say try on different styles, try on different sizes and find what fits and feels good for you. Sometimes when I do store events people come up to me asking are they trying on the right size, I can see if the fit is right. What I say is if it feels right – go for it. Is it something that they are comfortable in, is it something that they are going to wear? I do not want to sell something just so it will sit in their closet. Don’t listen to advice too much, buy what feels good.
FH: Can you tell us a little bit about the Pancho and Lefty store?
KS: There is a guy called Mikko that runs the store. Mikko used to have one of the greatest stores in Stockholm called Mr. Mud and Mr. Gold. Mats and I used to go there regularly to see what he had and to hang out with Mikko. For different reasons, that I am not going to go into, the store changed its concept, Mikko stopped working there. We decided we wanted to do something with Mikko, we gathered a group of people and we started brainstorming about Pancho and Lefty and how it should be done and why it should be done. The reason we wanted to do it was we wanted to have a platform that we could place Indigofera into and to show what kind of brands Indigofera sits next to. We didn’t want to have a mono brand online store that would take business away from the existing accounts that we have, instead we wanted to contribute to the scene. Pancho and Lefty being an European store – we have a lot of brands that we have introduced into this market, we are either the only retailer for them or the first one to stock it. Our goal is not to take take anything from the scene but instead contribute to the Scene. Mikko is a top notch professional and his knowledge of Japanese brands is so valuable, you could say priceless. And for us it makes sense to work with Mikko.