LONDON — In the past 12 months, Budapest-based Nanushka has gone from a relatively unknown, locally operated label to a sought-after contemporary global brand, thanks to an investment from a Hungarian private equity firm — and some quick thinking on the part of its founders, Sandra Sandor and Peter Baldaszti.
The brand has partnered with major retailers such as Net-a-porter, MyTheresa and Brownsfashion.com and hosted its first New York Fashion Week presentation, while its sleek, candy-colored slipdresses and trendy puffer jackets continue to make waves on social media. A few days ago, Sandor and Baldaszti opened the doors to the label’s first permanent location in their hometown of Budapest and have planted the seed for an ambitious retail rollout.
“We wanted to create a space that reflects our brand values and could serve as the first flagship store for us,” said Sandor, who sees the 4,300-square-foot location as a way to engage the local community and the brand’s young, mobile, international audience. “Budapest is becoming an increasingly popular destination, and we felt that customers are more eager to discover new brands, particularly from less obvious fashion and design destinations.”
The store has been designed to feel like a second home with a fireplace, a corner café and a mash-up of vintage-looking and more modern, minimalist furniture handpicked by Sandor to reflect the brand’s ethos of “creating a bridge between functional and creative design.”
Baldaszti added that the biggest aim is to create a space where people feel comfortable to shop, but can also hang out.
“I don’t think it’s groundbreaking to have a coffee corner in a retail store. The reason it was important to us was because we are focused on building a community. By having the possibility to serve people a good cup of coffee, you are providing space for your community, which could mean local customers, or travelers,” he said.
The Nanushka customer, he added, is “always on the road” and on the lookout for new destinations and local experiences. “Our intention was to create a space where people can enjoy themselves. It’s not just about selling clothes. We wanted to create something that might be less on-trend, but more personal and can remain relevant in the next five or 10 years.”
While the brand sees itself as digitally native and credits social media and its partnerships with select influencers for its international success, it still believes in the importance of physical retail.
“The brick-and-mortar store is the most important media channel for a brand. It’s the best way to translate who you are. You just have to adjust your approach to the new way of doing retail, which requires the right experience and the right product, marketed to the right audience,” said Baldaszti, pointing to plans to open additional doors in key markets such as Los Angeles and London in the near future.
The brand has already opened a small pop-up unit at L.A.’s Platform retail space as a means of testing the waters for a permanent location.
Having its own retail space will provide an opportunity for the brand to expand its offer and build on the success of its belt bags and croc-effect slippers, which are made using vegetable-dyed or vegan leathers. It already has full footwear and bag collections in the works.
The duo, who are partners in life and in business, also talk passionately about the importance of staying put in Budapest, even as the company transitions to become “a more international organization.” Their goal, they said, is to help nurture the city’s creative community, as part of a cultural mission they started spearheading in the last year.
“It’s not easy gaining international exposure. Fashion and design talents are usually drawn to the major fashion capitals, and many people left Budapest when Hungary joined the European Union. However, the trend is now changing and more talent is willing to come back,” said Baldaszti. “We need more brands like Nanushka, both in Budapest, and in neighboring capitals like Prague, in order to be able to create a region that keeps people here.”
Creating an interactive retail space that “meets the standards of an international audience” is one part of Nanushka’s cultural mission.
The brand is aiming to develop its manufacturing facilities locally in a bid to create more job opportunity for Hungarians and promote the country’s high manufacturing standards. “Despite international trends of outsourcing, we believe that a vertical integration model makes sense even for an emerging brand like Nanushka. We are closely looking into options, to create our own manufacturing capacity,” added Baldaszti.
The timing seems right for Nanushka to promote its roots and start building a global company out of Budapest as the digital world erases time zones and retailers start to look for new names outside the big four fashion capitals.
Net-a-porter’s retail fashion director, Lisa Aiken said last month that as retailers strive to maintain a point of difference, having a “global outlook” is key. Net’s team has extended scouting for brands to Copenhagen, Seoul, Tbilisi, Los Angeles, Stockholm and Berlin, as well as Hungary.
Sandor and Baldaszti also said understanding the brand’s global appeal while staying true to its Hungarian roots was part of what kept it alive. The label, which was started by Sandor in 2005 right after her graduation from the London College of Fashion, faced numerous struggles and almost folded in 2016, having failed to expand internationally.
By shifting its sales and marketing strategy, receiving fresh investment from the Budapest-based private equity firm GB Partners and utilizing the power of social media, the duo succeeded in changing the brand’s fortunes. “When we started this we were very local and social media gave us a way to access a multinational audience. We had a chance to have this dialogue with customers, and we realized that there is actually a huge demand for what we’re doing globally. If we stuck to operating locally, without a global social media presence or e-commerce, we wouldn’t have been able to make it work,” said Sandor.