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