Ganni girls like to have fun

Here’s the first question for any fashion label touting substantial growth along with its sustainability benchmarks: How is selling more dresses, sneakers and handbags on a planet already flooded with the stuff remotely in line with a commitment to sustainability?

>> Jessica IredaleThe New York Times
Published : 19 May 2022, 09:51 AM
Updated : 19 May 2022, 09:51 AM

It’s a question Ditte and Nicolaj Reffstrup, the couple behind Ganni, the cult Danish brand, have asked themselves again and again.

“There have been times where we’re like, ‘Maybe we should just quit,’” Ditte Reffstrup said, sitting with her husband in the lobby of the Greenwich Hotel in New York City last month. It was their first trip to the United States in three years. “But we all know that fashion is not going to go away. If we packed our stuff and closed everything down, there would just be someone taking over and maybe not trying to do better,” she added.

The legions of Ganni girls, as their base is known, don’t want Ganni to call it quits, as indicated by the company’s report of 58% growth in sales last year. There are multiple stores in New York and California and plans to open 20 more this year, with at least 10 in North America — Austin, Texas, Dallas, Houston, Toronto and a pop-up in the Hamptons — and two in China. The brand specialises in bright dresses in happy prints, patchwork denim and tailoring infused with a designer sensibility at a relatively affordable price. The majority of the collection is in the $200 to $500 range.

There’s a lot of talk of “community,” which means that those who wear Ganni telegraph their identity — their tastes, their interests, their socioeconomics — by wearing the brand. Fashion-loving Ganni girls are flush with the spirit of youth and like to have fun. The company also does a lot of collaborations, recently teaming up with New Balance, Levi’s, Juicy Couture and British designer Priya Ahluwalia, who works with deadstock and upcycled materials, was a finalist for the LVMH Prize in 2020 and has done projects with Gucci.

Yet the fact that Ganni has built responsibility — a word that has replaced “sustainability” as the preferred terminology for climate and social consciousness — into its business model may not be top of mind for most customers. “It’s a nice add-on, but I don’t think that’s why they are buying,” Ditte Reffstrup said. “Mostly, they love the clothes,” Nicolaj Reffstrup said. For their part, the designers believe a responsible approach to fashion is an obligation.

Bigger companies have noticed Ganni’s success. L Catterton, the investment arm of LVMH and Groupe Arnault, acquired a 51% stake in Ganni in 2017.

The Reffstrups took over the small cashmere brand, founded by Frans Truelsen, in 2009. At the time, Ditte Reffstrup was a buyer in Copenhagen and felt boxed in by the stereotypes of cold androgyny or flower-crown-wearing bohemian that defined Scandinavian style. Nicolaj Reffstrup was a former tech executive who had raised capital to introduce artificial intelligence software similar to Apple’s Siri assistant.

Ditte Reffstrup, who loved to wear Isabel Marant and Adidas, wanted a new way of dressing. Nicolaj Reffstrup had his tech ideals. “If you have a product that’s 3% better than the other guy’s, it will end up dominating,” he said.

Well-being and the common good are central to Denmark’s socialist society. It’s no coincidence that Copenhagen, home of the Global Fashion Summit, emerged as the nucleus of fashion’s climate awakening. “When I met Nicolaj 18 years ago, he was talking about global warming and climate change,” Ditte Reffstrup said. Ganni hired its first responsibility manager in 2013 and started mapping its carbon footprint in 2016.

“I felt that that was way too late, but looking back now, it feels very progressive,” Nicolaj Reffstrup said.

Sourcing responsible fabrics have always been part of Ganni’s mission. In its spring 2022 collection, at least 50% of the styles’ composition materials are made from certified organic, recycled or lower-impact fabrics. By next year, it plans to be rid of virgin leather; the company is testing out leather alternatives made from grape skin waste, mushroom-like materials and a cotton alternative made from bananas.

Resale is being tested in British and Scandinavian markets, and Ganni’s re-cut collection, designed from deadstock and upcycled materials, is now among the bestselling products on its website. The company has committed to reducing its greenhouse emissions by 50% by 2027.

If all this responsibility sounds incredibly ambitious, the Reffstrups say it is and it isn’t.

“A lot of brands or businesses are hiding behind the fact that it sounds complex and esoteric and abstract,” Nicolaj Reffstrup said. “There are so many things you can do. There’s only one problem: It’s going to cost you money.”

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Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher