Bart Verdoorn is overseeing the clothing relaunch of footwear brand K-Swiss in his own way.
US heritage footwear brand K-Swiss is launchings its first clothing collection in Europe in more than a decade for autumn 18. It stopped selling clothing in its lifestyle category 10 years ago to focus on growing its share of the footwear market, although it continued to develop apparel in the performance category.
Wholesale prices for the new line range from €7 (£6.24) for T-shirts to €32 (£28.54) for denim, and stockists in the UK include Asos and Footasylum.
European brand director Bart Verdoorn joined K-Swiss in 2011 from Adidas Group, where he was senior merchandise manager for the Benelux division, and later key account/product manager for Foot Locker Europe. Before that he designed and developed footwear collections for several private label companies. Here, he tells Drapers about his role at K-Swiss, and why now is the right time to bring back clothing.
Why relaunch K-Swiss clothing now?
When I moved back to the Netherlands from the US in 2016, after heading up global product there for three years, I analysed the European and UK markets. There is an ongoing demand for heritage products, especially from authentic brands. I saw this as a big opportunity to offer the consumer something new. Footwear is at the heart of K-Swiss – it is where we started and what we are known for – but now, more than ever, customers want a head-to-toe look. With our back catalogue of styles, and the sports heritage trend the strongest it has ever been, we wanted to tell a wider brand story and help get K-Swiss on more people’s radars.
What inspired the collection?
We had no archive, so we had to make one. We spent months buying back as much K-Swiss product as we could find online, from sellers all over the world. We knew it was important that our first collection stay as close to the original pieces as possible. We curated a collection of vintage pieces, and worked with a designer to help fill in the gaps and add additional colourways.
We wanted the collection to be unisex and premium quality with a slightly oversized fit. We updated the pieces with details such as rich embroideries, tapings and cut-and-sew panels.
How would you describe the working culture and ethos of K-Swiss?
There is a lot of trust in the company. Being able to run the brand in another continent in my own way, despite the fact that K-Swiss is an American brand, proves that. Of course, there are global initiatives and directions, but how these are applied is left up to me.
What is the best part of your job?
Having an idea, and being able to execute it from start to finish.
What are some of the challenges you face?
Fighting against some big brands, despite the fact our product is not any less, or is even better. And consumer shopping behaviour remains challenging, so having your own vision as a brand is important. As a heritage American tennis brand, “We outfit and inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs”. Many follow the same paths among sportswear and fashion brands. If you can’t be first, be different.
What first drew you to working in fashion?
I wanted to work in the commercial field, but also know I am creative. So, I decided to study fashion management in Amsterdam in 1997, graduating in 2001. I specialised in footwear because the rest of my student colleagues only focused on apparel, which made me one-of-a-kind.
How would you describe your working style?
Hands on. I like to always have an active role in the field, but I do let other people shine. Staying humble, but proud of what has been accomplished, is important.
Whom in the industry do you particularly admire?
Sir Paul Smith – he is such an inspirational man, who runs his business in such a unique way, and is always innovative but still authentic. Some sort of collaboration is high on my personal bucket list.
What drew you to working in product manager roles?
I always liked to be the spider in the web, working with all departments. Together we make a bigger change. My philosophy is to listen, lead, but still participate.
How would you describe your product conception and development process?
I analyse first. Without data you are just another person with an opinion. Then take a step back (with a helicopter view) and do something unexpected. And I believe in new ideas. Just make sure to defend them strongly.
How do you stay motivated?
I keep my eyes open, 24/7. I always want to know what is going on. Meeting different people and travelling to different places drives my creativity.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Work hard, play hard, but don’t get greedy. Respect, trust and acknowledge that things do not happen overnight.
What advice would you give to yourself at the start of your career?
Read a bit more. Knowledge is power. And enjoy the experience. I wish I’d done that a bit more while travelling all over the world. I sometimes wish I could go back in time.
Where would you like to progress in your career and with the brand?
Build out the brand K-Swiss further, make it successful and flourish where it deserves to be.
And in the long term, I hope to keep inspiring young talent with my own experience and insight, and they can keep me young with theirs.
Favourite clothing brands
Samsøe & Samsøe, Comme des Garçons, Scotch & Soda, Carhartt, Diesel, Raf Simons, Wood Wood, Prada
Favourite places to shop
Copenhagen, Tokyo, Paris and London
Last fashion purchase
A vintage shearling jacket
Last book you read
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
Last film you watched
At a sneaker store called Seventy Five during college
Architect. Building dream houses in a warm climate
What would we find you doing at the weekend
Spending time with my three kids and my wife. Doing repairs in my new house, running, shopping and spending time at the beach