Interview with Abbie&Rose ready-to-wear label for men in Brussels

Cristian: Hi Gilles and welcome! When I heard that we are going to talk about a new business in Belgium I said to myself “I bet this would be about beer”. Well, it’s not, so what is it about?

Gilles: Hi Cristian. You’re right, at Abbie&Rose, we don’t brew beer, nor do we produce chocolate… as I have friends that have created their own business in both sectors, I didn’t want to compete with them! More seriously, Abbie&Rose is a new Belgo-French ready-to-wear label for men based in Brussels, Belgium. The brand was launched with a first collection in February.

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Cristian: How did everything start? I’ve read on Abbie & Rose’s website that you are 3 founders and partners, how did you get together?

Gilles: That’s correct, I have 2 business partners: Eric and Jacques.

Long story short, after almost 8 years in finance, I decided it was time to take my future in my hands and find the project that would keep my days (and, so it turns out, nights) busy for the next few years. However, I wasn’t keen on taking unnecessary risks, so I decided to take 6 month sabbatical from my job. I then used my free time to meet with entrepreneurs I had met in my previous career.

That’s how I got back in contact with Eric. He then introduced me to one of his long time friends, Jacques. They both have over 35 years experience in our sector and have already successfully managed projects together. We quickly realised that we were complementary and decided to go for it: Abbie&Rose was born. Well, almost…

Cristian: What makes Abbie&Rose special?

Gilles: The first reason is certainly the style of our collections: we offer a modern casual-chic choice of men’s shirts which takes inspiration from classic looks, with cuts that are fitted but with room to breathe and a strong attention to detail.

But the second reason is certainly because Abbie&Rose is not just a ready-to-wear label; it’s a fully blown project: at Abbie&Rose, we have a wider vision than just fashion and we want to use the operational activity as leverage to have a positive social impact around us.

Cristian: How would you describe Abbie&Rose in just a few words?

Gilles: This is a tough exercise… I would say only 5 words: style, passion, fun, friends and positive social impact! (well, ok, I know that’s more than 5!)

Cristian: Yes, I have read that you’re giving away 10% of your profits to local charities. How important is giving back? What projects do you intend to support?

Gilles: That’s right, but we don’t do that to give a nice image of our project or to sleep well at night… At Abbie&Rose, we are convinced that the social role of businesses in modern society goes far beyond their duties as employers. We also think that this period of crisis has highlighted the special role that entrepreneurialism plays in the development of our society. We therefore consider that it’s part of our role to act and we have decided to do it, notably by supporting projects that encourage social reinsertion through entrepreneurialism.

 Cristian: What makes people remember a fashion brand?

Gilles: This is a tricky question as (luckily enough) everybody has a different approach to fashion brands. I would say that modern guys are increasingly trying to differentiate themselves and stand out, including through the way they dress, meaning clothing choice is no longer random but rather a calculated decision in favour of original products which say something about the wearer.

They are also increasingly moving towards labels and companies that speak their language, as a reaction to the long-held supremacy of the big fashion houses. More than ever, I think, clothes are a form of expression – guys want to have a story to tell around what they are wearing.

Basically, I would say that a brand has to share interests and values with its clients, and that’s how they will remember it.

Cristian: How would you describe the collection?

Gilles: A blogger once wrote about our shirts that they are for people that can say “I’m cool and stylish, I don’t care but I’m cool and stylish”. I love this description…

Our objective is to make stylish, comfortable clothes in which people can be themselves without pretention: this is one of the reasons why our logo is quite discrete on the shirts – they make our shirts their own without turning the wearer into a ‘sandwich board’ with a big logo on their chest.

Cristian: Are there any specifics to the European fashion market? Is your product adapted to other European countries?

Gilles: There is certainly specificity in the different countries or regions in Europe, but that’s already sometimes true with two cities that are less than 100km apart… But once again, the objective of Abbie&Rose is not to be worn by every man: we target men that share our sense of style and our values – they can be anywhere, in Europe or abroad.

Cristian: Where can we find your products?

Gilles: Our products are sold via 3 main channels: partner shops (only in Belgium so far), the website (www.abbieandrose.com – we send our products virtually everywhere) and via pop-up stores. However, our ambition is to develop our brand further and find partner shops abroad as well. The future is bright for Abbie&Rose!

Cristian: So if I understand you correctly, people do actually buy online? My biggest fear when buying online is “will it fit”?

Gilles: To be honest, we sell more on-line that what we had initially expected; we have already shipped shirts to 8 different countries. But I completely understand your worries, which are shared by a lot of people. We always try to inform and help our clients as much as we can: we don’t want them to have unwelcome surprises!

In this context, we have developed a “size guide” that helps you to choose the right size. We want to go further and are always trying to think of new solutions (ideas are welcome!)… But be reassured, if you are not satisfied, you have 14 days to send your newly bought items back and we either replace or refund them.

The key for us is to show potential clients that they can trust us.

Cristian: Would you then say that customer care is part of your marketing plan?

Gilles: I would even say that this is the key of our marketing plan… If you ask me where I’m the most likely to find a potential client for Abbie&Rose, I would say without hesitation that they are the friends and contacts of our existing clients, that’s why we cherish our clients as much as we can.  We are constantly trying to improve our customer service.

Cristian: Did you make a proper business plan, got legal advice and so on? I ask because most of the creative people fail to understand that a business is more than just being creative.

Gilles: As I used to work for a bank, I knew how important it was to make a business plan, not only to evaluate the viability and potential profitability of the project but also to know exactly what we intended to create and where we wanted to go.

This was especially important for us for two main reasons. Firstly, because I have 2 business partners, it is important for us to know that we were heading the same way. The second is more practical: once the project is up and running, it’s sometimes difficult to keep in mind where you are heading; it’s easier if it was written first.

Cristian: What would you say to someone wanting to start a business?

Gilles: Enjoy! If you are not having fun, it’s probably better to get bored working for someone else… ;o)

Cristian: Any thoughts for the future?

Gilles: I think Abbie&Rose is a brilliant adventure that is only possible thanks to the people that are joining our journey… I invite every reader who wants to be part of this trip and wants to be kept updated to join our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/abbieandrose

Ah, and one last word: thanks for this interview!