Ditte Reffstrup on Ganni's key to success and the brand's sustainable business model
The wait is over for the Ganni fashion show which is to be held today, February 2 in Copenhagen. Ahead of the event, one of the most highly publicised and anticipated within the Danish fashion community, FashionNetwork.com went behind the scenes to to uncover the key to the Scandinavian brand's success. Ganni was relaunched in 2009 by Nicolaj and Ditte Reffstrup, former CEO and creative director of the brand respectively.
It was the latter that welcomed us to the brand's headquarters on the rainy Tuesday afternoon, a few days before the show. The four-storey building is located next to the label's boutique, at 4 Bremerholm Street, a central shopping street in the Danish capital. This is where Ganni's projects take shape and where the brand's famous optimistic garments are designed. In the middle of a casting call for the show's models, surrounded by moodboards, polaroids and sketches, Ditte Reffstrup greeted us with enthusiasm.
The hours counting down to the fast-approaching fashion show did not seem to overwhelm the brand's team nor the entrepreneur, who boasts an extensive track record as a buyer. All was running smoothly at Ganni's colourful offices. And Reffstrup was quick to share her thoughts on the industry, her business model and the future prospects of her profitable brand.
The results speak for themselves: Ganni closed the 2021 financial year with a turnover of 120 million euros and with the United States as its main market in terms of turnover. The brand currently operates through an international retail network of more than 40 of its own shops, more than 600 points of sale and employs more than 400 workers in its offices in Copenhagen, London, New York, Paris and Shanghai. In 2017, the LVMH-owned investment fund, L Catterton, acquired a majority stake in the company, although last summer rumours surfaced about the potential sale of its shares for a sum of around $700 million.
FashionNetwork.com: Can you tell us about the creative process behind your latest collection? What are some of the surprises in store?
Ditte Reffstrup: This collection is one of the most special collections I have ever made. After the pandemic and everything else that has happened in the world, we all felt the need to know what we are doing and why. There has been a huge change and things will never go back to the way they were. That was my starting point for imagining this collection. Last season we developed the butterfly concept with Esben Weile Kjær, a talented artist we've worked with for years. It's super interesting. It's hard to break out of your day-to-day routine when you're immersed in it. His vision has allowed us to transform into a kind of butterfly and to design the 30 looks that make up the collection we are going to present. It represents a process of metamorphosis, of accepting differences and diversity. Generally speaking, I think it is a more feminine collection than our previous ones, with lots of dresses. We also faced the major challenge of finding a material that can replace leather, which we stopped using in our collections several years ago.
I have worked in the fashion industry for many years and I have always been frustrated by the limitations we put on ourselves to feel like we belong to certain groups. I have always hated having to be or dress a certain way in order to fit in. So for me, welcoming everyone into my brand has been fundamental since its launch. Brands should care about their communities and do what they can to make them feel comfortable in their own skin, more than anything else. So while it sounds a bit hippy, I found the concept very appealing and it also resonates perfectly with our approach to sustainability and social responsibility. Therefore, the metamorphosis of butterflies felt like the best way to represent the transformation process that Ganni has been undergoing for the past 11 years: how we have been able to draw on our heritage to evolve towards the future.
FNW: Where and when do you find the inspiration for your work?
D.R: I am a very creative person. I can't press an off button and put my thoughts on pause. I'm constantly inspired by everything around me, even when I don't think I'm feeling anything at all. All of a sudden, I pass someone in the street or listen to a song and the magic happens. I'm also lucky enough to work with a very talented group of people, which helps to keep me in a constant state of creativity.
FNW: Your brand has recently been collaborating with many other brands such as Levi's, Barbour, and Juicy Couture. Will you continue this trend? What is the strategy behind this and what do these alliances bring to the table?
D.R: I am very passionate about collaborating. I believe that when two brands come together and share their ideas, when a collaboration is the result of a strong bond between the two parties, there is a fun balance in the creative process. I'm very proud to be in a position where we can invite people and brands to collaborate with us. We're very lucky. I love it and I'm completely open to continue collaborating with artists and with larger or smaller brands.
It's something that brings a lot to the table. I also know this from my experience in playing football. In team sports, you learn very quickly that you can't succeed alone, but that your victories are the result of teamwork. You have to play together, bring the best out of your teammates and move forward as a team.
FNW: Priya Matadeen has just recently joined the Ganni team. What will her position as chief brand officer entail? How will you share responsibilities?
D.R: I am extremely excited to be able to work with her. Continuing with the football references, I feel like I've just recruited Messi to my team. Her job will be to coordinate public relations, marketing, production, the creative department, etc. She's kind of like a coach with a global vision.
FNW: What is the reason for Ganni's success, in your opinion?
D.R.: Honestly, I never gave it much thought. I don't take the time to think about it, I just move forward one step at a time so as to not break the spell. But if I had to choose one fundamental element, it would be our sense of teamwork that has brought us to where we are today. One of our main strengths has been not being afraid to hire people who are better or more talented than us. I have no doubt that the entire design team is much better than me and that allows me to learn something new every day. In the brand's early days, we were very good at recruiting people before we had even determined the exact position they would fill. We relied on the potential and energy we saw when we met the candidates. Finally, I think it's absolutely necessary to be authentic and to have that reflected in your brand. When you try to be something you're not, it quickly shows and it never works.
FNW: How has the brand managed to remain relevant and maintain its position as a desirable, niche brand despite its international reach and high turnover?
D.R: Once again, we have been able to rely on our team. But I think a lot of people would be surprised if they knew that, internationally, we are not that big either. We are well known in Denmark, but abroad we are still very small. From my years of experience in retail, I tend to have a lot of trust in customers. We offer quality products that reflect my style at a democratic and accessible price, which we made a priority when we launched the brand. I want everyone to be able to relate to the brand, even people who are very different from each other, whether it's through saving up money in order to purchase a particular piece or buying second-hand Ganni from Vinted. Reaching a wide and diverse audience has always been one of our core values.
FNW: Recently, there have been rumours circulating that L Catterton might sell its stake in the company. At what stage are these negotiations at and what is it like to work with an equity fund?
D.R: So far, there have been no further updates. For me, working with them has been very rewarding in terms of developing the brand abroad, and it has also brought a lot of talent to our team. Of course, these type of partnerships are not always easy and require hard work, but I am extremely satisfied with what they have given us. In the event that L Catterton decides to sell, I will stay where I am now. As one of my friends was saying recently, I still love going to work and doing what I do with my team. I consider myself very lucky for that, so working at Ganni still makes perfect sense to me.
L Catterton has never forced anything on us, not even in terms of environmental responsibility. If we had not grown as a sustainable and responsible business, we would be twice as big today. But we have never wanted to compromise our environmental values. Even if they sometimes had a little difficulty understanding certain decisions that stemmed from this commitment, they have always respected our vision. And I think they are proud to have a brand like Ganni in their portfolio.
FNW: In recent months you have opened strategic stores in capital cities such as Berlin and Paris. Will you continue this strategy? Where do you plan to open next?
D.R: This year, we have three store openings scheduled in China and very soon we will open a new shop in Hamburg. We have some very interesting projects lined up.
FNW: To what extent are physical points of sale still important for a brand like yours that does so well online?
D.R: In my opinion, they are essential. Personally, I don't consider myself to be a big fan of online shopping, even though I do shop on Vestiaire Collective often. I see physical stores as fundamental meeting points for our community that also allows them to get to know the brand better. At the end of the day, what I enjoy most is putting faces to people and really getting to know who's behind each brand. I enjoy this experience, even though it may seem old-fashioned to many people, and I want to preserve it.
FNW: What strategy are you implementing on social media and how are you using new formats to keep the brand relevant?
D.R: I think, at the end of the day, we continue to apply the same strategy we have always had. We create content that is organic and in line with our philosophy, which is very much linked to our community and the real people who wear our garments. Inspirational content is what people identify with. We don't try to appear sophisticated or artificial, but to be approachable and real.
FNW: This notion of being real has always been fundamental when dealing with the women who represent your brand. What does female empowerment mean for Ganni?
D.R.: Of course, it is an essential issue for us. Over 90% of our employees are women. I'm not going to tell other brands what they should be doing, but for me it is an essential part of who I am and, consequently, it has to be reflected in my designs and my understanding of my brand.
FNW: How would you describe the women who wear Ganni?
D.R: I see them as free, confident women with strong personalities. I remember when I worked in retail that there were customers who, when they didn't feel represented by a brand anymore, would ask us what brand they should buy instead, as if they had permanent doubts about their own personality. Before buying clothes, the first thing you have to do is to clearly define who you are and what you like. It can't work the other way around. To me, Ganni represents a certain energy in people that when they walk into a room it is noticed immediately. I see beauty as the ability to awaken this fascination.
FNW: Why does the brand continue to hold its fashion shows in Copenhagen instead of opting for another major capital city?
D.R: To this day, I still love Copenhagen. Our home and our heart are here and it seems coherent for us to be part of this fashion week. You can never say never. But for now we are happy to be here and we can count on the tremendous support of our local community and the Fashion Week organisation.
FNW: Where do you see yourself in a few years' time?
D.R: It's hard to say because I really like my life as it is today. I've learned a lot from watching my parents evolve now that they are no longer working. I am a person who likes to work a lot, even though many people see it as something negative. I need it in order to find balance in my life. I completely respect anyone who makes this choice, but I would go crazy if I dedicated my life only to my children.
Of course, work is not always easy and sometimes I feel like I can't do it anymore, or I become obsessed with what I'm doing for a period of time. But the truth is that I like it that way. I was just telling Nicolaj (Nicolaj Reffstrup is Ditte's husband and former CEO of the brand): there's not a day that goes by that I don't laugh at work. That's one of the most important things about my career. In the fashion industry, we often tend to hate things, but we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that it's a very fun industry where we can create, collaborate, learn and meet super creative people all the time.
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