It was standing room only at Pakhuis de Zwijger*, Amsterdam during the 3rd edition of the Indie Brands Event (22 February 2013). In celebration of its 1-year anniversary, Indie Brands –a book written by Dutch author Anneloes van Gaalen, featuring 30 independent brands and their inspiring narratives– convened yet another night of fascinating talks, interviews and panel discussions, putting a spotlight on creative entrepreneurship, branding and competition. Despite the event’s predetermined theme, the evening’s conversations centered on a much larger issue: the truth.
“Indie brands are the frontrunners of truth,” declared John Weich, creative director of Monumental Propaganda. The writer and storyteller is convinced that communication is essential to independent brands, enabling them to enhance their products by conveying what is true. “There are two things you can do when starting an indie brand,” he said. “Find the truth and tell it. Or create a myth and sell it.” Though compelling stories have a way of captivating audiences, revealing the entire truth may not be in a brand’s best interest, particularly during the early stages of development. The strategic alternative is truth with a slant.
“We had to create a very good message,” admitted Bob Koning, co-founder of ecodesign label TWO-O. Despite their considerable expertise in the development of well-designed, wooden products, the brand employs a sustainability angle to help appeal to their target market. Halbe Bier, on the hand, has started a movement towards the salvation of the arts through the production of artisanal ale. The proceeds from each pint are intended to subsidize artistic projects in the Netherlands, rebuking government austerity measures across the cultural domain.
While original storytelling and marketing savvy are characteristic of indie brands, their ‘slanted’ messages must be grounded on actual truth. “You need to be genuine in what you’re saying,” claimed Liat Azulay, founder of the ‘broken hearts service’ Ludduvuddu. “After that you can create a myth, but you start with the truth.” The idea behind Azulay’s consolation service was based on her own personal heartbreak – a legitimate story that everyone can relate to. “Receiving thoughtful gestures could really help cure a broken heart,” she said. As a result, Ludduvuddu’s mission is to pay-it-forward and ‘cure all broken hearts in the world’.
Genuine though it may be, the truth is sometimes hard to believe, especially when an indie brand has already achieved great success. Profiting from community-driven design, Threadless has gone from an online T-shirt shop to a multimillion Euro industry. Nevertheless, co-founder Jake Nickell insisted that money was not the point. “[Growing] the business is not [a matter of] revenue, it’s helping people,” he said via a live interview on Skype. “I wanna have an impact on the people behind the creative process. I love people who actually make things and I want them to be in the spotlight more.” The brand’s crowdsourcing business model serves as a platform for independent artists across the globe to showcase their designs and possibly earn from their creations. With over 2.4 million community members worldwide, Threadless is an indie brand that is bordering on the mainstream.
Be that as it may, the road to success is not without its trials. Regardless of its current achievements, Threadless started out like any other independent brand, trying and failing until they got it right. “If you don’t make big mistakes, you are being too careful and you’ll never get anywhere,” Nickell said. “You have to make yourself uncomfortable and learn how to do things by doing them. You are going to lock yourself up in fear if you don’t put all those thoughts and insecurities aside.”
Indeed, failure is a truth that is hard to swallow and a risk that all brands must be willing to take. 2 years after its inception, biodegradable shoemaker O△+ is still in the process of improving its craft. “I want to make the shoes absolutely perfect,” argued Christiaan Maats. The designer openly described his brand as ‘100% good, not perfect’. In contrast, the pair behind secondhand furniture label As Good As New has decided to step down in order to focus on their original brand John Altman. “[…] we can’t put the effort it deserves in this brand [anymore], since we are spending all our time on baking cookies and selling wine,” announced co-founder Onno Lixenberg. “So now we are looking for someone who wants to take over this million dollar company to be.”
Overall, every indie brand is a work in progress. While larger businesses are highly resistant to change, independent brands thrive in a constant state of improvement, mitigating uncertainty with creativity and stifling the competition through innovation. Due to their inherent nature, these brands have challenged the construct of a traditional business, taking matters into their own hands and making the most of their unique situation. Truth be told, their strengths lie not in their own imperfections but rather in their ability to transcend them. ✌
☞ The Official Launch of Indie BRANDS (book) was featured in the phillipqgangan website and can be viewed here: Indie BRANDS, the Launch.
Indie BRANDS x phillipqgangan, features profiles and interviews on up-and-coming independent brands on the Indie BRANDS blog.
For more information on Indie BRANDS, the Indie BRANDS | The Denim Edition and other brands featured in the Indie BRANDS blog, visit the websites listed below:
Indie BRANDS, Indie BRANDS | The Denim Edition
and the Indie BRANDS Blog
☞ All event photographs featured in this post and in the Indie BRANDS Blog are courtesy of Bibi Veth of Visual Storytelling. For more photos of the 3rd Indie Brands Event and information about her work, visit her website below:
Indie Brands Visual Story Board and Visual Storytelling