Scotch & Soda’s fashion is individualistic, eclectic, says CEO Dirk-Jan Stoppelenburg
New Delhi: Scotch & Soda is an unusual name for a fashion brand. As it turns out, the name was inspired by a simple coin trick. “When I was first approached by the owners to join the company four years ago, I checked about the name. They told me it came from one of the most basic, classic magician’s tricks,” says chief executive officer (CEO) Dirk-Jan Stoppelenburg. Scotch & Soda, he says, draws inspiration for its clothes from almost everything. For instance, the Spring-Summer 2017 collection, on display at its Noida store, showcases the jungles of Congo.
Founded in the 1980s, Scotch & Soda was rebranded and relaunched in 2001. After clocking almost €1 billion (around Rs6,800 crore today) in retail value of products sold annually, the Dutch brand has entered India through a franchise agreement with Reliance Brands. It opened two stores in India last month—at the Mall of India, Noida, and Palladium Mall, Mumbai. A third store is coming up soon in New Delhi’s Ambience Mall.
Stoppelenburg, 49, says Scotch & Soda represents Amsterdam, its fashion and eclectic state of mind. “Just like its culture which is very cosmopolitan, its (Amsterdam’s) fashion is also very embracing. It takes things from across the world and mixes them up to make its own style,” he points out.
Edited excerpts from an interview:
What made you come to India at a time when some other luxury and lifestyle brands are shutting shop?
The only fair answer is because Reliance Brands found us and vice versa. The world is vast; we are there in some countries and not there in others. We don’t think in terms of “oh, we have to be in that country”. We wait for the right partners to come along. We have gone to smaller, less significant countries before we entered the more important ones. As a fashion company, you present your soul to the world through the clothes and accessories that you create, and you can only do that if you have a local partner who understands and embraces it the way you do and is able to present it the same way to the target clientele. Had Darshan (Mehta, president and CEO of Reliance Brands) and I met seven years ago, we’d have been here then.
Tell us more about the brand’s history and legacy.
We are a young brand and I think still at the level where we are discovering ourselves. We didn’t do any kind of marketing until very recently. And yet we will close this year with brand sales of about €1 billion. So we have become significant but without marketing. When I speak about this to colleagues who have been here longer, they tell me that it is not unusual. Word-of-mouth publicity has been our best bet so far. Even our stores are designed very subtly. I knew there was a Scotch & Soda store in Amsterdam, my home town, and I even had its address but I walked around it several times before I finally found it. So this is a brand that you discover. That’s how we have been built and grown.
What do you bring to the world of fashion?
The world of fashion can be explained as an archipelago. One of the islands is American sportswear. The brands that dwell in this island make apparel to suit the tastes of the American east coast. Then there are Italian luxury and classic French islands. There are also the Scandinavian minimalists on one island. Scotch & Soda inhabits a completely different island because no one else does Amsterdam fashion. You know, most brands are associated with their places of origin. If you say Paul Smith, you know it is British. In the same way, Scotch & Soda conveys the eclectic feeling that Amsterdam is to the world. Amsterdam is much less known as a fashion destination. So the idea behind the brand really was to present Amsterdam’s fashion.
But then what is Amsterdam fashion, you may ask. Let me explain. People in different cities dress differently. They have a certain dress code. If you bring 10 people here who are dressed according to the city they come from, I can easily tell you who is from where. The Italian dressed in a black tailored suit will never wear pink socks with it. But the British most certainly will. In Amsterdam, the code is significantly wider. Especially for women, the possibilities of mixing things is enormous. And it has been so since World War II. You can see a woman on a bike wearing green football socks, a fur muffler of her grandmother and pants that she would have bought during a vacation in Morocco. Everyone does that and that is the only common thing. It is highly individualistic and eclectic. What Scotch & Soda does is it mimics that approach year after year, season after season. And we are the only brand doing this.
But aren’t all the brands projecting a certain kind of identity? How then do you convince people that your identity is better than theirs?
We don’t. We just do what we do and there are people who identify themselves with us. They wear our clothes and people like it. It is just the way cool restaurants work. We are not saying that Amsterdam fashion is better than Paris or Milan. We are just giving our unique take on fashion and people seem to like it. Also, when you look at big fashion brands, most of them optimize profit by doing big product runs. There are brands that get more than 50% of their revenues from one particular style of product. We make about 12 million apparel products every year for the global market. The biggest product that we have is about 18,000 pieces. We make about 1,200 styles in different colours so there are not many pieces in one particular colour.
You’re big on storytelling and quirkiness. How do they translate into your designs/clothes?
Our creative director Marlou van Engelen sets the tone at our design studio that employs 100-odd people. She sets the inspiration. What she normally does is she finds a place in the world, a time in history and key people or things that were associated with it. So, for example, for one of our winter collections, the inspiration was the South Pole, the time chosen was the 1920s and it was about the Norwegian explorers. That was the starting point. Then she started to build the theme in various directions. The team started collecting things, patterns, colours, anything that depicted the key theme. Our design studio, a beautiful 17th-century church in the middle of the city, was transformed into a place that was filled with things that represented her inspirations. And suddenly there was a flag that was made into pants. This is how things work. Another time the theme was the desert in Morocco. This time it is the jungle in the Congo.
Are you only going to sell offline?
We haven’t yet agreed on the model yet, but, say, five years down the line, a Scotch & Soda website might become the biggest store we have here. But that would be a mono-brand selling place not multi-brand.
What is your target clientele? Indians are very price conscious. How do you plan to tackle that?
Our target clientele is anyone who likes and understands what we do and is prepared to pay what it costs.
What is the current global fashion trend?
Casual wear eats up a larger chunk of the total pie every year. But that is the larger trend. And while that continues, casual wear has become more chic and elegant. In the past decade, for example, we went through too much distressed clothing, the vintage look. Now the styles have become cleaner. So no more ripped or washed pairs of denims. On the women’s side, one of the big global trends is use of rich and complex embroidery and patterns, complex material combinations, silhouettes, etc.
What is your product mix?
Right now, we have a mix of 60% for men, 30% for women and 10% for kids. But it is not a model. We started purely as a men’s brand and some seven years ago, we introduced women’s clothing. So to have 30% as the women’s segment in just seven years is great news for us. But we are never governed by any particular kind of split. We are ready to flow with the demand.