Interview with Danish Knitwear brand Asneh
"Too many are also still relying on the old wholesale business model"
- Lone Schmidt Janssen
Eponymous is the platform for independent designers to showcase their collections and proudly share their creative flair and unique take on a myriad of fashion and lifestyle products. They dare to be different and we love them for it.
The BRANDM.A.D.E. Focus series introduces you to the person behind the brand and casts a light on what lead to the creation of a collection, the journey launch and the fascinating backstory and wealth of skills that lies beneath a brand name.
The latest feature brand is Asneh, the Danish knitwear artisans focusing on sweaters, tops and scarves made from cashmere, silk and natural fibres. Asneh means love and brand creator, Lone, clearly has the passion and knowledge of her industry to inspire fans and followers alike, injecting the ever popular Scandinavian aesthetic into everything she does.
What was the driving force behind you starting your own business?
For a really long time, I had toyed with the idea of starting my own company and as I struggled to find cashmere that was unique, smart enough for work and good quality at a price range that was still possible to pay for by most consumers, I decided to start creating it myself.
Furthermore, I really wanted to create a brand that has good karma. At the heart of Asneh is love. Love for quality, for well-thought design and a core belief that you can build a successful business on humane values.
What would you say your personal business strengths are and did they come naturally to you or did you have to develop those skills as you worked?
Apart from the obvious, design, I have three professional strengths that have worked well for me - and that I have been employing my whole professional life. These three are:
A. Organisation and planning including project management
I have very strong organisational and planning skills. Obviously, I don't have a large organisation to run anymore, but it has stood me well in diverse areas such as in finding reliable and skilled producers, managing my cash-flow, business-growth and website construction and maintenance. Boring stuff for some, but if your foundation is not strong, it is very easy to crumble despite early success.
B. Industry knowledge in Northern Europe
There are still a lot of cultural and structural differences between otherwise seemingly similar countries like the Northern European ones, which clearly have an effect as well on the fashion industry and the retail market. Even within some countries there are some pronounced regional differences. Since I've worked for years in various industries located across different North European countries. I have had the opportunity not only to develop a deep understanding of relevant businesses but also to better understand the importance of regional differences and cultural sensitivities - and I do speak most of the languages, which obviously helps.
C. Media, branding and advertising
Because media and advertising is very important for a fashion brand, and increasingly so, it has stood me well that I have a solid knowledge base of media and advertising from working in very large media companies - TV, print and in the later years with digital platforms. In my last job, before starting Asneh, I held a position where I was commercially responsible for 30 online brands for mainly lifestyle and fashion magazines. Fashion and media are very closely linked, not only because they often work in tandem, but also because they are facing the same challenges: the old media and the old retail models are declining fast because they cannot generate enough revenue anymore. It is a structural change and also a paradigm shift that we are right in the middle of.
Which elements of business do you feel many companies can often neglect (e.g. no time for social media, not actively networking) and can you relate to the juggling act of having to fulfil multiple job roles in your own company?
I don't think it is necessarily one specific set of skills that companies may neglect. However, given my own background, what I see companies could do better is often related to my own experience and strengths as mentioned above.
Obviously, no one is good at everything, however, when you own a small company you have to do everything well. I think many can relate to the fact that small issues can take up disproportionately much energy and time. If you want to succeed you need to have a good enough grasp of all areas so that you can be in control and understand what is going on in your company.
Do you feel that there is enough support for developing businesses and has this been your own experience?
I think there is a lot of support to be had; the problem is that it isn't genuinely geared towards small design companies. What I have experienced and observed is that there are three issues:
There is help to be had from banks and various public authorities that have been created specifically with the aim of helping businesses. However, what I have found is that the advice is very general. It is very easy to create a business model or do a SWOT analysis, but unless you have a genuine understanding of the market and how it works for small companies like yours, then they aren't useful for structuring your company plans.
The help that is to be had from people with specific industry knowledge is very often geared towards large companies - and therefore financially unrealistic and hence not very helpful. It is so easy to tell the brands how to spend the money (hire Mario Testino, go to Paris etc.), but less easy deciding where to focus and invest with a limited budget. Too many are also still relying on the old wholesale business model, because that used to be the road to success, however, this model is undergoing a complete transformation, and will probably not exist in its current form 5-10 years from now. On top of that, it is often overlooked that there is a vast difference between country profiles and how they dress, how they shop and what the retail market is.
Fashion is intricately linked to life-style, and hence PR, media and branding. Often when I speak to fellow independent designers, I hear them talk about how difficult the media/advertising/PR aspect is for them - and it is also something I often observe looking at other brands. But unless, you have large budgets (notice the plural) it is a tricky one. As it is now designers have two options: either they can use a media agency, but for that they need unrealistically large advertising budgets, or a PR agency, which is more payable, but still expensive. If you have a limited budget, agencies cannot dedicate many resources to analysing your brand, so unless you bring the insight yourself, you most likely won't get the full return on your expenditure. Another issue is that when you use media agencies and PR bureaus, the benefit from using them pretty much dies out once the money is spent, and then you are back to square one. It is not the fault of the agencies, but reality is that you either need to gain some proper knowledge yourself or you need to allocate a lot of money for it.
What guidance do you think you could provide to a newer company or one in need to some fresh thinking if they chose to connect with you through BrandM.A.D.E?
Since, I've already covered a lot of this in the answers above, I've summarised my skills below and encourage any interested designers to read through the whole interview. I can help designers grow their companies in three areas:
1. Organisation & Planning including project management
Having built up my own company, and before that set up new departments in established companies, I have a lot of experience in what is important and what is not. I believe in empowering people, so my role would be as an adviser and as someone who can ask the right questions in order to enable them to make the right decisions.
2. Northern European markets.
I live on mainland Europe and, obviously, I know the Nordic countries well, but also Germany (I speak German) and The Netherlands and Flemish speaking Belgium (I speak Dutch) plus UK (I've worked with fashion/lifestyle in London). Over the years, I have worked with and for some very large fashion brands, plus I've learned a lot by setting up my own brand. It is not only a question of which market is right, but as to what is important here, what will you get out of it, where to spend the money, where to save. It all comes down to using your money wisely. I can advise and guide designers on which markets to aim for, and the "why" and "how".
3. Media, marketing, advertising
The options facing small designers are limited unless they have access to large advertising and PR budgets. Obviously, anyone can Google how to get more followers on Instagram or use Apps that guarantee you more likes/followers, but neither is worth anything if there is no deeper insight.
As mentioned, I’ve worked in very large media companies and I have substantial knowledge of advertising, media branding, contact costs and online shops. I can help you find the right branding strategy, advertising/PR outlets and prices.
If you'd like to discuss your business requirements with Lone, you can email email@example.com to find out more.