Drapers meets Ditte and Nicolaj Reffstrup, the wife-and-husband team behind contemporary Scandinavian label Ganni
Cheering models sang along to Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit as they skipped down the catwalk during the rousing finale of Ganni’s spring 19 show. The cult Danish womenswear label proved to be one of the buzziest brands at this month’s Copenhagen Fashion Week, drawing an international crowd of prominent buyers, industry insiders and high-profile influencers.
Spotted on everyone from local girls cycling around the city to street style stars waiting to be snapped, Ganni has become the epitome of a certain kind of Scandinavian cool.
Founded in 2000 as a cashmere label by gallery owner Frans Truelsen, the brand was taken over by married couple Ditte and Nicolaj Reffstrup nine years later. It rapidly expanded into new product categories and has since gained a tribe-like following for its instantly recognisable printed wrap dresses, slogan T-shirts and vivid pops of leopard print.
Creative director Ditte is the force behind Ganni’s quirky, feminine style, and former technology entrepreneur Nicolaj is the label’s chief executive. Both friendly, fair-haired and effortlessly stylish, the duo chat to Drapers over green juices at the brand’s light, bright office in central Copenhagen.
“One of our friends founded the company – he did a little bit of cashmere and some T-shirts and, because I was a buyer [for Danish store Pede & Stoffer], I did a bit of buying for him,” Ditte explains. “It went very, very well and everything just went from there. I felt very strongly that we could do something different and that we needed to really go for it with Ganni.”
Nicolaj adds: “My background is in tech. I had tried to build a chatbot about ten years too early and $3m short – it was a cool project, but once we wrapped that up, I was looking for something else to do and we decided to go all in on Ganni. My only condition was that our aim would be to turn it into an international brand because, frankly, at the time I wasn’t that interested in fashion.”
Ganni has moved away from the monochrome, minimalist style associated with the Scandinavian fashion scene towards a more playful, experimental vibe, known for its mix-and-match styling. Key looks from the spring 19 show included broderie anglaise dresses paired with chunky hiking boots, tie-dyed denim and metallic knits, all inspired by Ditte’s childhood growing up surrounded by nature in rural Denmark.
The brand manufactures in Italy, Portugal and Turkey, as well in China and India. Ganni will also launch a collaboration with Icelandic technical outerwear brand 66°North for next spring.
Danish fashion is on fire and Ganni is one of the leading brands on the scene
Sasha Sarokin, The Modist
Today, Ganni has 21 stores across Denmark, Norway and Sweden. It plans to open a further 10 stores across Europe and 10 in the US over the next few years. The Reffstrups also hope to open their first London store in the near future, although Nicolaj describes rents in the capital as “crazy”.
Growing ecommerce is another goal for Ganni. Currently, less than 15% of total sales come from online, around 25% from own retail and the remainder from wholesale, but, ultimately, the brand would like its three channels to each make up a third of its overall trade. Although they refuse to divulge profits or turnover, Ditte and Nicolaj say the brand has had “steady top-line growth since 2009, at a compound annual growth rate of roughly 50%”. Ganni is set to match that figure again this year and is on track to do the same in 2019.
A well-thought-out wholesale strategy has been central to the brand’s growth, and it is stocked in more than 400 retailers and etailers around the world. It it stocked by sites such as Net-a-Porter, MyTheresa and The Modist, and its carefully selected 30 UK stockists include Browns, Liberty and Selfridges.
“Ganni is the darling of Danish fashion,” says Thea Jones, contemporary womenswear buyer at Selfridges. “Under the creative reins of Ditte, the brand has risen to global fame. Its effortlessly cool Danish style, combined with fun prints and motifs, makes the brand a staple for the contemporary girl’s wardrobe.”
Sasha Sarokin, buying and fashion director at luxury etailer The Modist, agrees: “Danish fashion is on fire and Ganni is one of the leading brands on the scene. The brand is perfectly curated, known for its gorgeous prints. It’s a strong growth brand for us.”
Ganni focuses on building close relationships with its impressive roster of wholesale stockists, gleaning as much data as it can from its partners.
“We’ve always tried to derive as much data from our performance in our wholesale stockists as we would from our own channels,” Nicolaj explains. “Through own ecommerce and own retail, you gain a lot of knowledge about how product is performing and working, but with wholesale accounts you can be a little distant from that intelligence. Engaging deeply with wholesale accounts and gaining a thorough understanding of how the customer perceives you through those channels is incredibly important.”
I’ve seen so many labels expand too quickly and end up killing their brand in the process
All too aware that buzzy brands are often replaced by the next new hot thing in fashion, the Reffstrups have been careful not to overexpose the brand, and keep a close eye on its distribution.
“For me, it is so important to take care of the brand,” Ditte says. “I’ve seen so many labels expand too quickly and end up killing their brand in the process. I want our kids [the couple have three young children] to grow up with Ganni.”
Nicolaj continues: “Some of the most important decisions we’ve made in the past with Ganni as a brand has been allowing ourselves to say no to a lot of accounts,” explains Nicolaj. “This autumn, we dropped around 100 accounts. One of those accounts made up around 10% of global sales. It was a great account, and a great partner to work with, but we felt that we didn’t control the brand message and that they were relying on us to drive traffic to their site.”
As the brand’s popularity has climbed over recent seasons, Ganni has had to balance growth with maintaining an air of exclusivity. One route, Ditte and Nicolaj explain, could have been to take the brand in a more luxury direction. Ganni sits at an “affordable luxury” price point. Customers can buy printed T-shirts for £60 and mini dresses for £120, but the collection also includes silk dresses that retail at £500.
“It has been a very important conversation for us over the years – how do you achieve exclusivity, how do you remain attractive?” Nicolaj muses. “We could have hiked prices to achieve that but we felt it was dishonest, in terms of where we come from and the brand’s DNA. We’d rather create exclusivity in terms of how we narrow down our distribution and through limited product runs.”
Ditte agrees: “I remember we had a particular green dress that was going mad a couple of seasons ago, because it had been shared very widely on social media. We were wondering whether to produce more and decided not to, because our customers want something that not everybody has.”
In tech, it is a huge victory when you bring on capital, and it’s an even bigger victory if you manage to sell your company
The brand’s relatively wide pricing architecture is also a key part of its appeal, argues independent stockist Ella Wells, director of Brighton-based premium independent Our Daily Edit
“We have stocked Ganni for four seasons now and love the collections each season,” she says. “Ganni is one of our bestselling brands, both in store and online. The range of price points really helps – because the brand sits between £50 and £500, all of our customers can be the Ganni girl.”
Consumer-focused investment firm L Catterton, a partnership between French luxury heavyweight LVMH and US private equity group Catterton, acquired a 51% stake in Ganni for an undisclosed sum at the end of last year. Although there was “more money on the table” from other investors, Ganni chose to partner with L Catterton because of its industry know-how and ability to nurture brands.
“It’s interesting – it’s strange for me, coming from a tech background, to come to the fashion industry where it is taboo to some extent to talk about taking on investment,” says Nicolaj. “Nobody talks about it, but everybody has it. In tech, it is a huge victory when you bring on capital, and it’s an even bigger victory if you manage to sell your company. I knew from the very beginning that if you want to create an international brand, you need the backing of someone who has done it before.”
Ditte agrees: “You have to remember – in 2009, the brand was just us two in a tiny apartment. We don’t want to lose everything between our fingers, and L Catterton has so much knowledge to guide us to the right strategy.”
The investment has allowed Ganni to expand its head office team to 70 people. New hires include Timothy Briggs, who has previously held senior merchandising roles at Burberry, Michael Kors and Rag & Bone, as the brand’s first general merchandising manager.
Ganni has also used the funding to develop a more comprehensive and cohesive product offer to fit its own retail stores and create complete looks, Nicolaj adds: “We’ve always had own retail, but we’ve been very wholesale driven – we’ve had the mindset of a wholesaler. If you’re a retailer, you need to develop a collection that fits your own store and is ideally mapped out to every individual rail. That starts early on in the process and it impacts the whole value chain, so it’s a big exercise. It was a process we’d started before the investment from L Catterton, but they’ve helped to drive it forward.”
A combination of ultra-cool product, an attractive price point and careful selection of stockists have helped to make Ganni one of fashion’s must-have brands. With the backing of L Catterton and a growing international presence, this Copenhagen local will need to continue its clever strategy and keep its product ultra desirable if it wants to go truly global.