Pakhuis de Zwijger*, Amsterdam played host on Thursday (22 December 2011) to the launch of Indie BRANDS – a new book portraying 30 independent brands and their inspiring stories. Written and curated by Anneloes van Gaalen, the publication explores the Indie Brand concept as well as the creative minds behind them, the innovative products they make, their base of operations and sources of inspiration. Be it Tony’s Chocolonely slavery-free chocolate or O△+ biodegradable sneakers, erotic fragrances by Etat Libre d’Orange or hyper-caffeinated Frittz-kola, Ms. van Gaalen traveled the globe to investigate a variety of brands and what makes them tick. Accordingly, financial and creative independence, original storytelling and a firm grasp of marketing are unifying virtues inherent to authentic, independent brands as opposed to those in the mainstream.
Accompanying the launch was the well-attended Indie Brands Event. In participation with a number of brand owners featured in the book, the gathering combined keynote speeches and panel discussions on critical issues surrounding an indie brand lifecycle. From the initial idea generation and brand formulation to media exposure, cash flow and growth, the speakers presented valuable insights based on their own experiences and mistakes. More importantly, it was an opportunity for these individuals to share their personal stories and how they were inspired to throw caution to the wind and devote their lives to create something valuable.
Despite their good intentions, there was still a hint of skepticism among those in attendance, particularly in regard to the authenticity of these brands. A few members of the audience were not entirely convinced of the sincerity of the business owners and questioned whether or not their brands were truly independent. Intriguingly, with the introduction of each panelist, the crowd was bombarded with professionally executed marketing campaigns and audiovisual presentations. While both storytelling and marketing play an integral role in establishing brand identity, there is a tendency for companies nowadays to carelessly throw around terms such as sustainability, social responsibility and independence in order to boost their corporate image, hence the public’s suspicion.
Similarly, it seemed as though the main focus of the conference was entirely on the brands themselves and the products they represent. Albeit unavoidable at a brand-centric event, the pursuit of customer satisfaction was a missing element in the discussions. It is common knowledge that the success of an indie brand or any other brand for that matter primarily depends on the customers’ patronage. No amount of marketing gimmickry or storytelling will ever convince a dissatisfied customer, especially when it is the brand’s value-added services such as on-time delivery, after-sales and customer assistance that are substandard.
Nevertheless, Ms. van Gaalen thinks otherwise. As a veteran of the street art scene and a well-published author on the movement, her primary passion lies in good storytelling. Of the 60-odd brands she shadowed over the course of 2 years, only 30 were deemed worthy enough to grace the pages of the book with authenticity as a fundamental provision. What was most inspiring to her was when business owners openly admitted their failures, whether it was the incapacity to fulfill purchase orders, the abhorrence of their peers or a disastrous product launch, all resulting in the severe loss of capital. Sure enough, it is this sort of honesty, imperfection and struggle that separate these brands from the mainstream.
At the end of the day, founding a business is no easy feat. Leaving behind a lucrative career or starting out with no more than just a good idea in order to create something of value is a risk only taken by a few. Whether they are strictly indie or not is beside the point. What is clear is that these brands are the real underdogs. They are the products of creative thinking and grueling hours of hard work, facing insurmountable uncertainty with an air of confidence, unwavering commitment to what it is they do and the guts to dream. ✌
For more information on Indie BRANDS, Anneloes van Gaalen and the brands featured in her book, visit the websites listed below:
Indie BRANDS (BIS Publishers)
Anneloes van Gaalen (Paperdoll Writing)