EDITION045 : BRAND

Meet The Founder of Sustainable Denim Brand Kings of Indigo

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We are delighted to be introducing our first denim collection to THE-ACEY, Dutch brand Kings of Indigo. We meet the man behind our first ever denim designer Tony Tonnaer and discuss how and why he wants to become the worlds leading sustainable denim brand. We discuss the beauty of Japan's ability to make something simple into something sensational and the importance of function over fashion.

In one sentence what is Kings of Indigo?

A sustainable denim brand from Amsterdam that combines the classic American denim style with a Japanese eye for detail. Kings of Indigo is ‘Quality wear for the next era’, we emphasise this notion in making quality denims and timeless designs that are created from long lasting, innovative fabrics and finishes. (Sorry that's two!)

Having worked in the denim industry for 20 years, at the likes of Kuyichi, Pepe and Ubi, what did you identify in the industry that pushed you to start KOI? 

I really enjoy finding the common ground between sustainability, design, quality and innovation. I did this for 7 years as CEO of Kuyichi and could not imagine myself working in a different way. With all the experience I gained in this field and in the denim industry it was clear that it was time to start my own sustainable denim brand in the way I envisioned it.

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It can be challenging starting a business from scratch, did you start Kings of Indigo alone?

I started Kings of Indigo with 2 partners: Frank van Santen (ex CFO of Kuyichi) and Guido Mathijssen (ex CEO of several IT companies). A good triangle of knowledge, I brought in the knowledge of product, sales and marketing from the clothing industry, Frank the financial knowledge and Guido the management and operations experience. 

I also had a great team of freelancers to develop the collection: Kyle Stewart from Goodhood (brand ID and graphics), Joanna Sindle from Goodhood (product design and concept) and Hiltje Huisink as pattern-maker. Besides that we had great support in our start up from the Interwashing group in Tunisia to develop our collection with small quantities. 
Right now our team consists of 11 ‘denim heads’.

 

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You’re based in Amsterdam, I was living there when I identified the need for a contemporary destination that celebrates sustainability. How does the city and your surroundings inspire you and in turn Kings of Indigo?

Over the last couple of years Amsterdam has really evolved. We are seen as the denim capital of the world, there is a lot going on in this field. Alongside many other denim brands we are involved in a jeans school, denim academy at Denim City (a little denim factory in the middle of the city), the yearly Denim Days and many more cool initiatives that are popping up. The good thing is that there’s a real community around the denim industry here in Amsterdam, we all stick together and team up in order to help the business grow even further, which is great! 

 

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Japan is a huge influence for you, what is it about their culture, products and lifestyle that inform the choices you make for KOI?

Both the USA and Japan are the most inspiring places for denim, workwear and concepts. I visited both countries many times with my past jobs. The Americans especially for their history in denim, and the Japanese mainly because of their way of developing denim to the next level. Japanese natural indigo which was initially developed for the kimono is a great favourite of mine, along with the Japanese culture that sees the most simple product or service transformed into something truly great. I have a trip to Japan planned for next week, I can’t wait. 
 
You say every design feature has a function. Can you highlight a couple? I notice a V shaped tack on the side of the jeans for instance?

Indeed, I hate deign details with no real function. The double bartack is the shape of a fishbone, referring to the KOI fish, but also has a function to provide double strength at the point where there is a lot of tension when you sit down. So extra reinforcement. We also have double bartacks on front pockets and coin-pockets. Same with the half line back pockets, it is an authentic detail from the past, it makes the pockets stronger, so they last longer - very sustainable!

As a brand or retailer in the 20th century fast fashion seems to be the norm and the way to do business, as a brand you champion longevity. Why is longevity important to you and what are the implications as a business creating products that last longer and in turn asking your consumers to ‘buy less’? 

I really want consumers to buy less, but better quality. By being conscious with what we buy, it means we really love the product and in turn wear it for a long time. The base of the collection is to be the favourites of your wardrobe. We do make more fashionable/relevant styles (culotte, panel denims, flares, etc) but they all are in line with classic styles that never really go out of style. And we make our styles in a way that they can be repaired or easily recycled. It makes me happy that our industry can sell a bit less of fast cheap fashion.

 

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I hear you have names for all your employees after Kings and Queens. Is company culture important to KOI’s DNA and why? 


The company is like a family. Personal respect, passion and clear communication are a few of the values that we find important. We encourage all our team members to make great things, work with the best people, keep learning, be proud and have fun. I feel like I live the life of a King, and I try to run the business with a 360 degree approach…all our denim styles are named after Kings and Queens of the past too.

 

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You say innovation is crucial in building a brand in this day and age, why do you think so? And how does KOI innovate?


Standing still is going backwards, and in terms of creating sustainable fits, fabrics and finishes we need to move forward, we are only at the beginning of this greener journey. The fashion industry is behind and we try to move forward with things and show other brands that you can make great quality, good looking garments that are sustainable. With suppliers we create new fabric constructions in organic cotton like the handwoven denim, veggie denim, warp stretch and selvage fabrics. We work with fabrics mills to create high quality recycled wool yarns that make our coats and knitwear. We work very closely with laundries to use less or no water, chemicals and energy, in an effort to clean up the washing process. We also work with the Fairwear Foundation to audit factories and make sure they treat their workers well. 
 
To finish what are your 3 favourite places to visit in Amsterdam?

I'd have to say my roof-terrace, relaxing with my wife and kids while looking over all of Amsterdam. 

There is also De Hallen which is close to my house, it's an old tram depot from the 1920's that has been converted into a hotel, food market, a denim development centre, cinema, library and few sustainable stores.

I also love Amsterdam Noord, the area where the KOI headquarter is based. It's an old industrial area where lots of creative companies are based, with more and more restaurants/bars and developments. It's looking to be the next cool (hipster) area in town.

Shop Kings of Indigo collection: HERE

Stay in touch with us on Instagram @THE_ACEY

See more Journal articles: The-Acey Journal

Images shot by: @iringo.demeter

 

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