The denim world has become littered with designer collaborations and non-denim products that have nothing to do with brand heritage. One Dutch store is making a stand against the sea of unnecessary denim on the market with a more democratic approach that celebrates heritage and craftsmanship.
‘The way we operate when it comes to collaborations is that one and one is three,’ says Menno van Meurs, co-owner of Dutch denim boutique Tenue de Nîmes, which collaborated with Canadian jeans brand Naked & Famous to create a range of jeans inspired by fabrics used by the military during the Second World War.
‘The reason for these types of design collaboration is that we believe two companies can add value to a product that they can’t offer when they’re alone,’ says van Meurs.
Van Meurs adds that Naked & Famous is respected in the industry for its focus on selvedge denim products. He wanted to apply his store’s democratic view on denim and expertise to the vintage world to ‘add something that would make his products a little less extreme but more traditionally focused’.
The result is a limited-edition line of 24 pairs of jeans, individually numbered and hand-finished with reproduced army surplus pocket linings and a Amsterdam vs Canada embossed leather label. The colour and texture of the denim, sourced from a Japanese denim mill, was matched with a personal collection of vintage tarpaulins, bags and uniforms belonging to the manager of the mill.
A natural fit
Design collaborations should be a natural process. Van Meurs says the best ones happen when there is a mutual appreciation between two brands that complement each other.
‘It is not about re-inventing the wheel, it’s about finding ways to complement what already exists,’ says van Meurs. ‘We try to be respectful of the original vision of how jeans should be, but adapt it to a 21st-century client.’ This collaboration tactfully builds on a classic design, and the re-appropriation of military fabrics creates a narrative for the collection.
The power of narrative
The process of storytelling when it comes to selling product is integral to the way Van Meurs operates in his store. ‘There is so much rubbish for sale that it’s becoming harder to explain why we charge €150 [$215, £132] for a pair of jeans compared to €50 [$72, £44] at H&M.’ He says the great benefit of using the service element of storytelling is that your customers become enthusiasts of your product. ‘They become rational about supporting you because you’re true to your word,’ he says.
Van Meurs believes that after only three years of trading, customers at his store buy in to his reputation. ‘If one of my customers buys a pair of jeans from me that rip after 10 months they know they can come back and get a new pair. I trade on conservative beliefs, similar to the service of the old grocery stores. The right mix is about knowledgeable staff, pure product and tremendous service.’
Top five take-outs
1: Be respectful. Design collaborations need to add value and respecting another brand’s heritage is part of the process.
2: Be passionate. ‘It’s not a money-making process, it’s showing your passion and what you’re able to do,’ says van Meurs.
3: Re-appropriate heritage. Adapting is key when it comes to handling heritage products. Make it modern but retain the heritage values.
4: Be limited. If you’re going to reproduce heritage product, retain an element of exclusivity in line with the value of history.
5: Use storytelling tactics. The point of storytelling is having a point of difference, a narrative that customers can believe. Brands or stores that are true to their word will see enthusiastic customers returning.