It’s especially nice to hear you include your own team in your vision of inclusivity.
D: It’s about recognizing people’s skills and understanding how you can combine them for optimal results, rather than only giving attention to the person who… scores the goals, you know? If you approach it in the right way, it also fosters healthy competition within the team, and with external teams.
“In the creative world you do see people get a lot of attention with projects that are shallow fairytales, they just know how to make noise.” – Nicolaj Reffstrup
Nikolaj, you mentioned a “let the best argument win” approach. Do you have any advice for young people presenting their ideas for the first time? If you know your boss is hearing twenty different ideas in a day, how do you make yours stick?
D: When you meet people who believe in their own ideas, you can feel it. Don’t propose something only because you think it’s what your creative director wants to hear. If you do that, you’ve already lost. Also, don’t be scared to fail. Sometimes, you just need to go for it. If you don’t take a chance, you’ll never score the goal.
N: It’s important that you get a sense that people are genuine in what they present. I admit, in the creative world you do see people get a lot of attention with projects that are shallow fairytales, they just know how to make noise. But if you want to deeply collaborate with others, you need to get a sense that what they stand for is genuine. It can’t be shallow, otherwise, it crumbles in the long run.
D: Another piece of advice I would give to everyone who wants to work in fashion: it’s important to gather diverse experiences. Don’t just aim for design, try to work in retail or production as well, so you know who you’re designing for and who the consumer is.
“Coming into fashion, I quickly realized it was all about appearing bigger than you were, and arrogance was a tool to sell yourself.” – Nicolaj Reffstrup
Both of you have alternative backgrounds, that is evident when you say things like “we let everyone in the room speak.”
D: It’s the DNA of the brand. Ganni is a platform, a community.
N: It’s definitely our Danish culture, but also our professional background. I came from a tech background and it’s funny to see the cultural difference: tech is – or used to be at least – about open source, which means that programmers are always sharing their creations – it’s extremely collaborative and super dynamic. Coming into fashion, I quickly realized it was the opposite, it was all about appearing bigger than you were, and arrogance was a tool to sell yourself. I don’t say this negatively necessarily, but Ganni could never do that. We ran the company as you would a tech company, completely flat and open. Because of Ditte, we brought that understanding of why you need to be a team player.
Could you give more concrete examples of that?
N: I took a lot of management tools with me from tech, one of them is called SCRUM, for example, a method for running projects. Instead of setting up a massive project plan that determines your actions for the next three years, we would gather everybody in the company, daily or weekly, for around 15 minutes, and let everybody share what they were working on and planning to do. That way, everybody could align, you always knew what everyone was doing, and there was a high degree of knowledge sharing. We became a singular organism moving in one direction, rather than an army led by a single general. The method installs a sense of pride and boldness in people, they’re no longer scared to speak out when they have an idea.
That sounds very different from most fashion houses, which tend to be extremely siloed and hierarchical.
N: That is what we hear from a lot of the people we work with, especially those who come from luxury.
“If you knew how crazy the journey would be from the start, you probably wouldn’t do it… ” – Ditte Reffstrup
Ganni was first launched in 2000 as a cashmere before you took it over in 2009. Could you explain how such a take-over works? Was there an infrastructure in place, and was it easier than starting a brand from scratch?
D: This is something we talked about a lot at the start – why did we do this, why did we not start our own brand from scratch? Everyone had a perception of the brand which we had to rework, so that was one of the challenges we didn’t expect. When we took over the brand, it was owned by someone who was working on a lot of other projects at the same time, the office was in a corner of his private apartment, and there were three employees, one of whom was working part-time, so it was basically like starting from scratch – we just had the name.
N: The cashmere brand was simply an opportunity that allowed us to start our own business, rather than a business we took over. We spent the first few years trying to get rid of old stock, it was terrible. I wouldn’t recommend it. It was pretty random, but then again, it often is.
I’ve participated to many brand launches. I love it, I get so much from it because the older you get, the more you realise you need the feedback from the young. So young entrepreneurs ask me for advice on how to get started with their business and I need to tell them, there often isn’t really a plan. Everybody is looking for that one great idea that will solve everything, but it doesn’t exist. You just get up every day and you grind. You grind and you think, I can’t do another day of this, and then you get drunk and you have fun and you forget about it, and the next day you grind through the day hungover. And suddenly a year has passed, and you’re not exactly where you hoped you would be, but you realized you did make progress, and you learned a lot. So you get up and grind again. And slowly things fall into place and things become somewhat smoother, because you’ve accumulated knowledge and a bit of revenue, and suddenly you’re a business. Don’t wait for the lightbulb idea, just start hammering.
It’s encouraging to hear that you don’t need to have it all figured out from the start.
N: Sometimes you build the bridge while crossing it.
D: If you knew how crazy the journey would be from the start, you probably wouldn’t do it… Wait, maybe don’t write that. [laughter]