Indie BRANDS | The Denim Edition

“Stop selling, start storytelling,”[1] declared Anneloes van Gaalen at the opening of the highly anticipated Indie BRANDS Event at Pakhuis de Zwijger*, Amsterdam (10 May 2012). Dubbed The Denim Edition, the gathering was a sequel to the successful launch of Indie BRANDS (December 2011) – a recent publication chronicling 30 independent brands, their tantalizing products and the creative minds behind them.[2] Aptly chosen, the denim-centric theme played an instrumental role as a reference point for a night of thought-provoking talks, passionate debates and lively conversations on all things Indie.

Focusing on heritage, sustainability and innovation, the event was a unique blend of keynote speeches, brand interviews and panel discussions. Ninke Bloemberg of the Centraal Museum kicked things off with a brief history of denim. Her scholarly address shed some light on this most democratic of fabrics, emphasizing its societal impact on culture and identity.

James Veenhoff followed suit, calling for the foundation of a viable denim industry in the Netherlands. His project, House of Denim, aims to establish a sustainable ecosystem of selvage production –from cotton weaving to patternmaking– with its headquarters in “Denim City”, Amsterdam. Overlapping with Sander Jongerius’ (KICI) remarks, the pair urgently discussed the environmental impact of jeans production, particularly the copious amounts of water and toxins used, as well as the immediate steps to be taken. Both men agreed that cooperation, education and investment within the industry and across adjoining sectors are the keys to going green.

Accompanying the talks were the roundtable discussions. Eager to share their views on the issues at hand, a slew of independent brand owners were faced with what seemed to be the modern equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition. Premium denim label, Kings of Indigo (K.O.I.) and new heritage watchmakers, Fromanteel were directly accused of being unoriginal for referencing the timeless designs of their well-established predecessors. Sustainability was considered obscene, James Veenhoff’s vision was repeatedly shot down and “future friendly” (electronics) accessories brand, Ikku® was charged with fraud.

“It’s so Dutch,” commented Mathijs van Hassel, referring to the interrogation that had just transpired. The Formanteel co-founder was quick to confess that their brand is well received overseas, compared to their own backyard. That they were denounced for their lack of innovation left Van Hassel unfazed. “What we like to wear, we like to make,” countered his partner, Alfredo Silva. “I want [Fromanteel] to be the best!” he added, implying that modesty and small thinking will get an indie brand nowhere.

Indeed, at a time when even the most Machiavelian of corporate giants exploit social causes, heritage and innovation to turn a quick profit, public skepticism and contention do not seem misplaced. Be that as it may, the misconceptions that sustainability is a mere trend and that independent brands do not innovate are flawed beyond question. With mainstream brands dominating a highly competitive market, independent firms must offer their consumers specific, added value. Thus K.O.I. and Ikku’s reuse of recycled denim, Gluejeans’ handmade fabrication and MINT’s “forward fashion” philosophy.

It is at this precise moment that storytelling takes center stage. As society is constantly saturated by advertisements and sales, consumer preference weighs on the side of authenticity. In the case of indie brands, this authenticity lies in their storytelling. As far as narratives are concerned, theirs are unapologetically far from picture-perfect.

“It is what it is,” confessed Ms. Van Gaalen. Rough as they are, these brands do what they can with what little they have. Thriving on a constant state of improvement is inherently indie. At the end of the day, founding a business is no easy task. That said, finding fault in their endeavors is never the way forward. ✌

[1] Quote by Onswipe CEO and co-founder Jason L. Baptiste in his Call to Arms, claiming, “[…] successful entrepreneurs are never selling, and always storytelling.”

[2] Indie BRANDS has been nominated for Best Book Layout at the European Design Awards 2012.

☞ 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 Percy Cecilia Jr. of Eight Crowns Photography. For more information about his work, visit his website below:

Eight Crowns Photography

Indie BRANDS x phillipqgangan

Indie BRANDS Event | The Denim Edition

Following the highly successful launch of Indie BRANDS last December (2011), Pakhuis de Zwijger* (Amsterdam) will play host to the 2ND Indie BRANDS event this coming 10 May 2012. Dubbed The Denim Edition, the gathering aims to celebrate this most democratic of fabrics with a night of thought-provoking talks, independent brands and their must-have products.

This being an Indie BRANDS event, the denim-centric theme is but an introduction to a deeper conversation on all things Indie. With a focus on entrepreneurship and innovation, independent brands —from new heritage clockmakers to sustainable denim (goods) manufacturers and viable denim (fabric) industry founders— will converge in “Denim City” to share their insights, talk shop and be a source of creative inspiration for the next Indie generation. ✌

☞ For more information on Indie BRANDS and Indie BRANDS: The Denim Edition, visit the websites below:

Indie BRANDS and Indie BRANDS: The Denim Edition

Follow Indie BRANDS, Anneloes van Gaalen and phillipqgangan on Twitter: @IndieBrands@Anneloesvgaalen and @phillipqgangan

Thursday, May 10, 2012
Pakhuis de Zwijger, Amsterdam
Tickets:10 Euros


Indie BRANDS, the Launch

Indie BRANDS (BIS Publishers). Photo Courtesy:

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.

Indie BRANDS Event
Indie BRANDS Event. Pakhuis de Zwijger Amsterdam. phillipqgangan (2011).

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.

Indie BRANDS Panel Discussion
Indie BRANDS Event Panel Discussion. phillipqgangan (2011).

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.

Indie BRANDS Panel Discussion
Indie BRANDS Event Panel Discussion. phillipqgangan (2011).

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)

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