There’s something fishy going on in Amsterdam’s hotbed of denim.
This story first appeared in the July 27, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Launching for spring, KOI, a new Dutch jeans label named after the Japanese carp, subtly draws attention to the fish’s natural habitat by saving resources through organic and recycled denim fabrics.
“Recycling is the next step [in denim],” said Tony Tonnaer, founder and creative director of KOI. “Instead of new cotton, we’re using waste materials.”
Tonnaer said the recycled share amounts to 45 percent of KOI’s business in its first season. But don’t call it an eco brand.
“It’s a denim brand,” Tonnaer said. “We purposely don’t use any green colors.”
The label is branded with a quirky illustration of an American cowboy riding a Japanese koi.
Prices are reasonable for jeans linked to one of the most expensive fish on the market. KOI jeans retail between 99 and 159 euros, or $141 and $226 at current exchange.
Tonnaer wouldn’t offer a sales projection, but explained that the brand is targeted at 50 doors in Germany, 20 in the Netherlands and eight in Sweden.
“We’re only focusing on Northern Europe for now,” he said. “Businesswise, the region is healthy and it’s close to home, so it’s easy to manage. My life lesson with businesses is to start with a few markets.”
Tonnaer, who worked as managing director at organic jeans brand Kuyichi for seven years, was inspired to start his own business after traveling to the U.S. and Japan. KOI is now aiming to combine authentic American denim styles with Japanese detailing.
“The styling is quite traditional, almost like old Levi’s constructions,” Tonnaer explained about the 12- to 13-oz. styles. “But we added details like backside rivets or striped lining inside the pockets.”
He emphasized that even the collection’s nondenim assortment, including chino trousers, basic jersey tops and small leather accessories, is meant to support the denim look.
“It’s all about blue, blue, blue,” he said. After all, the company’s name isn’t just borrowed from the koi fish, it is also drawing special attention to the blue dye. KOI stands for Kings of Indigo.
There are three styles for men and four for women available in two to three washes. To stick with the regal theme, each style is named after a famous king or queen, teaching customers a lesson in classical history. Philip, a regular men’s style, hints at the former king of Macedonia, while Juno, a women’s skinny cut, was queen of the gods in Roman mythology.
“We wanted to give each jean a personality,” Tonnaer added. “They become part of you, so it’s important to create a character that will change over time and develop.”
Even if development reaches the point of ripped seams, there’s a solution. KOI’s spring launch will also include at-home repair kits for such occurrences.