Esprit’s global business manager for denim tells Emily Norval about its new jeans division and her early passion for a pair of 501s.
Tell us about the new Esprit Denim line. What was the thinking behind setting up a separate denim division to the mainline?
We wanted to set up a centre of excellence for denim, bringing together a global team of dedicated experts who live and breathe denim. However, the division doesn’t sit separate to the mainline, but is a focal point within the Esprit Casual area. The denim collections can still be cross-merchandised with both Esprit Casual and Collection.
How long has Esprit Denim been in the pipeline and why set it up now?
There has been denim in the Esprit collection pretty much since the business started in 1968 but it was housed within the different divisions. Across the whole brand we aim to deliver premium product leadership in every category. This new division has enabled us to raise the bar and offer our customers a better product.
Where do you see Esprit Denim sitting within the denim market?
Esprit Denim gives the look and feel of a designer brand, but we have a price positioning that is far more accessible.
We bridge the gap between the high street and the lower-price designer brands.
How does the range differ from Esprit’s previous denim offer?
All fabric qualities have been upgraded. We offer a comprehensive fit portfolio and all the fits have been renewed. We’ve completely redesigned our branding and iconography and there is a focus on attention to detail and craftsmanship.
You linked up with Yvan Rodic of street style blog Face Hunter for the campaign - why him?
We’ve collaborated with Yvan a few times now. His pictures demonstrate an effortless style. This spirit is something we are also trying to capture in the collection.
What other aspects of Esprit’s autumn 13 offer are you excited about?
In August we’re launching a collaboration with Turkish denim fabric mill ISKO. It’s called the Esprit 24 Hour jean, a skinny-fit jean that you can wear around the clock 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The fabric is amazing and offers fantastic comfort, but is also refined and sophisticated.
Your experience includes roles at Levi’s and Diesel - how long have you been interested in denim?
I’ve always been into denim. I can remember begging my mother to buy me a pair of 501s in the 1970s. At the time they were about £20 but she said that was too expensive. She eventually found a discount store on Westbourne Grove called Dicky Dirts (which sadly no longer exists) and I got my first pair.
Double denim - yes or no?
Yes, love it.
It comes from an authentic place. Look at old workwear pictures and you often see double denim being worn.
Did you attend any other trade shows this season? What are the benefits of presenting a new collection such as Esprit Denim at a trade show?
We did attend several trade shows this season. For us, showing at Gallery in Copenhagen was really beneficial.
We brought Esprit Denim to a new audience and we hope we’ve surprised and delighted people with our products.
You showed Esprit Denim at Gallery in Copenhagen this season – how was that?
It was really special. There is a sense of community among the exhibitors, which gives the show a relaxed and less corporate feel. The visitors are very diverse and there is a really open friendly atmosphere, which fits with the core values of Esprit.
Esprit puts an emphasis on ecological and social consciousness in fashion – how is this maintained in the denim line?
Esprit was one of the pioneers in eco clothing and this type of thinking is rooted in our everyday life and thinking.
We apply the same set of standards across the whole supply chain and have a dedicated team of people focusing on sustainability. We’ve just developed a series of commitments together with Greenpeace to eliminate the industrial release of hazardous chemicals in textile and garment production.
What’s your favourite denim style?
I do tend to have a lot of favourites but at the moment it’s the Esprit Skinny roller in a rip-and-repair finish which is currently in store. The finish comes from a vintage jean that I bought at the Rose Bowl flea market in Los Angeles and the fabric is a cone comfort stretch. The style has a slim leg and square top block and is right on point to capture today’s resurgence of the boyfriend style.
Which other high street retailers do you admire?
I’m a big fan of some of the Japanese retailers. I really love [Japanese chain] Journal Standard. Everything in the store somehow feels just right.
You’ve had a diverse career working for many major brands, so what’s been your career highlight so far?
I’ve really loved launching Esprit Denim. It’s been great working across both genders and having the opportunity to create a complete new branding and labelling strategy from scratch. We have really supportive leadership and the team I work with today feels more like a family. We all have indigo blood in our veins. I feel that I’m always the most passionate about my current projects but throughout my career I feel very blessed to have had so many amazing experiences and to have worked with so many fantastic people. My real highlights are to have had business success and to have trained and developed the people in my team.
Stonewash or raw?
Raw for boys, stonewash for girls. Girls are never that keen on wearing a raw denim.
If you could visit any country, where would you go?
I was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1964. It’s like a magnet to me, always pulling me back.
What do you do in your spare time?
I’m crazy about all things vintage. When I have some spare time you’ll find me searching through the flea markets of Europe looking for that thing that captures my imagination at the time. Taxidermy today, old school maps tomorrow.