LONDON — Holzweiler, the Oslo-based, family-run label, had a steady growth trajectory ahead of it before the pandemic hit.
More and more requests from international buyers were coming in and the company was able to invest in new hires, better warehousing and IT. Its conscious designs and love of nature and the outdoors added a new dynamic to Copenhagen Fashion Week, where it’s been holding its seasonal runway shows.
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But when COVID-19 began to spread through Europe, Holzweiler faced the same issues as its peers in the design world: Retailers were retracting orders, there were production delays, and all five of its retail locations across Norway shut.
But the brand not only maintained momentum throughout 2020, but saw significant growth across all its channels. Wholesale rose by 49 percent, the brand’s own e-commerce saw net growth of 176 percent, while its retail business in Norway was up 38 percent, bolstered by the slowdown of travel and rise in local tourism.
Things are looking further up for 2021, too: The label’s digital presentation during Copenhagen Fashion Week earlier this month was singled out by international buyers as a highlight. Wholesale orders are up 89 percent compared to 2020.
There are new shoe and jewelry categories in the works, as well as a concept space in Oslo that will see the brand’s owners realize a longtime dream of getting into the restaurant business and building a lifestyle around Holzweiler to complement the fashion.
They would argue their success comes from focusing their efforts, and downsizing their expectations.
They scaled down the number of retailers they worked with in order to focus on “deeper collaborations” and strategic tie-ins in markets that showed a strong appetite for the label’s utilitarian clothing and trendy puffers, including the U.K., China and Japan.
“It was a very healthy thing for us to not achieve the [wholesale] growth that we had thought would come for fall 2020,” said Andreas Holzweiler, who founded the label with his sister Susan and wife Maria Skappel Holzweiler.
“We then hired a new partner within the U.K. for our international sales. It was maybe a weird time of doing it, but it felt right to work with somebody more in-house who really believed in the brand even during such a tough situation,” he added.
The accounts with major retailers across the U.K and Asia will contribute to projected growth of 12 million euros for 2021.
Holzweiler also said that lockdown helped his team engage better with buyers.
“We actually got the time through our digital showroom to get their attention because they were working from home, and not running from show to show and fashion week to fashion week,” said Holzweiler, recognizing that the brand’s lounge wear, cozy knits and puffer coats suited the mood of the moment.
But the brand is also evolving its collections to ensure it remains relevant when the world opens up and customers are in the mood to dress up again.
The fall 2021 collection was presented digitally during Copenhagen Fashion Week, and the label mixed in lockdown-appropriate tonal knits and cocooning outerwear with glossy leather parkas, loose tailoring and a series of more experimental deconstructed puffer jackets that got the thumbs up from retailers.
“Holzweiler was incredibly strong this season, in particular the more feminine aesthetic they showed was a real pivot for the brand and was exciting to see. It was great to see some subtle color coming through too with a great mixture of informal to formal looks, which I believe in the end, consumers will react well to,” said Poppy Lomax, Harrods’ women’s and children’s wear buying manager.
The brand has also been pouring more effort into the way it communicates, and digging deeper to find the purpose behind each of its initiatives.
“We got to focus and to ask, ‘Why are we doing certain things?’ A lot of things you often do because it’s expected of you, like hosting huge shows or partnering with certain people. That’s still relevant. But it’s more about being very honest and finding people to work with who really believe in the brand,” said Holzweiler, pointing to family, a love of nature and conscious consumption as some of the values at the heart of the brand.
The label has always tried to use its platform to make bigger social statements, by banning phones from its catwalk shows, or delivering an activist message rather than new product for its spring 2021 presentation last summer.
“We’re not rigid in a way, we want to be playful and open to a new way of thinking. Everyone was talking about offering experiences in the past, but that’s not enough, you have to take a real stance,” said Holzweiler.
“It’s important to have a good story, especially being a small brand in this pot of bigger amazing brands. If you try to be something you’re not, it’s very see-through these days.”
The brand is also planning to open a flagship that will marry fashion retail with a restaurant in the center of Oslo, right next to the Opera and the New Munch Museum.
“We never stop dreaming of these concepts. Having our own restaurant has been a dream we’ve spoken about for a couple of years, followed by our own hotel one day,” noted Holzweiler, pointing to the importance of first developing a strong home market. “It’s scary because it’s new. The food, and the restaurant industries are totally different, but at the end of the day it’s about building a community and a lifestyle. It’s not only about fashion, fashion, fashion: A brand in 2021 needs to think about the whole package.”
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