Bcn Brand Sneakers Striding Out in the World
22 September, 2014
The creators of Bcn Brand sneakers like to say they are a family company with a team behind their project and, above all, that their dream is to still be around in 20 years’ time.
The first Bcn Brand shoes which will shortly hit Japan are displayed on a stand reminiscent of the colourful Modernist trencadís tiles of Gaudí’s Parc Güell, patterned espadrilles with motifs inspired by the tiles of Barcelona’s Passeig de Gràcia. This is an order that must serve as the Barcelona-based firm’s calling card for Japanese purchasers. “We met [a Japanese firm] at a trade fair last year and they told us they never buy a new brand the first time they see it. They wait until they see it at the next fair to be sure it’s a company that can respond to demand. They want guarantees that any future commercial relations will go well,” says Pablo Caralps, one of the three founders of the firm, recalling the considerable investment involved with appearing at an international fashion fair. With regard to the new Japanese contact, they know for sure that if it likes their products – a selection of accessories including wallets and handbags will also travel to Japan along with the espadrilles – they will find a loyal customer base. “Once you have won them over, the Japanese are highly committed partners and will enter into long-term, very serious relations,” Caralps says, with a certain degree of contained excitement.
He, his sister Loles Caralps and Elena Ballús decided one day that the word ‘Bcn’ (the name Bcn Brand was registered by their advertising agency) would feature predominantly on their sneakers. They had never imagined a business future in the world of fashion before then. Inexperience was no obstacle at the time and it still isn’t today. No doubt, as Caralps also says, their lack of sector know-how allowed them to take an approach free of preconceived ideas and with more enthusiasm than previous experience sometimes permits. “We don’t hail from the world of fashion and that has its advantages and its drawbacks. We went into the sector without any predetermined ideas and are learning as we go,” he says.
Thinking in the long-term
“We want to still be around in 20 years’ time; that’s why we’re not in a rush. We want to be careful about the steps we take. For example, we chose to turn down a number of stores that didn’t fit our target public in order to prioritise the brand concept we are creating. We aim to take it slowly,” Caralps repeats like a mantra throughout our conversation. We meet at the company’s headquarters in Barcelona, a space that also houses the advertising agency where both he and the rest of the Bcn Brand team spent a good part of their careers before branching out into this new project at the start of 2013.
As Caralps says, in addition to breaking onto new markets, another of the firm’s core challenges is to consolidate the brand image. “Bcn Brand evokes Barcelona, which is synonymous with happiness, life and everything cosmopolitan. Wherever we go, people know ‘Brand Barcelona’ and it opens up opportunities. Of course the name ‘Barcelona’ is very helpful in getting a foothold in different places around the world,” he says.
But to consolidate a complete brand concept, they also realised they needed more than just sneakers. “We showed at 080 Barcelona Fashion for the first time in July 2013 and realised we had to do something in addition to shoes, so we started the first collection of polo shirts and swimwear. We expanded these collections and added new shirts for the 2014 show. Customers want to see that you are able to release new lines and to innovate. However, we know we must concentrate on two or three lines and can’t expand our product range willy-nilly because we don’t have to capacity to do so. That is quite clear to us”.
Bcn Brand shoes are mainly manufactured along Spain’s Mediterranean coast, while the clothes are made in Catalonia. Local manufacturing is clearly another of the firm’s strengths when it comes to travelling the world in search of new customers.
Starting out abroad
In a few days’ time, the team will travel to the major Russian fashion show CPM Moscow. “This will be our first time there. We wanted to meet our Russian customers face-to-face to consolidate our relationship with them. It’s important to meet the people you will end up selling your product to,” Caralps says.
The trip also marks the opening of a new round of visits around the world to attract new customers, forge closer links with current ones and seek out collaboration proposals.
When Caralps lists the countries they have visited to date – in just two years of existence – I realise that when he says the company wants to take it slowly he is not referring to sounding out new markets. Since they began, the team has travelled non-stop. In just over a year the company has featured at fashion shows in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Cannes and Paris. They will be back in Paris in January because “it was the most successful fair that we attended last year”.
But as well as exploring new opportunities on the ground, from here they are also working on breaking the Korean market, which often looks to what its Japanese neighbour is doing in terms of committing to brands and trends. “If we get a foothold in Japan that will make it easier to launch in South Korea”. Korean department store Lotte recently put out feelers, via the ICEX Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade, to establish contacts with Spanish companies and market Spanish brands in its stores. Bcn Brand is keen to be one of them. “For now we have answered all the questionnaires they have sent us and we hope everything goes well,” Caralp says.
Bcn Brand has been around for two years and its products on sale for 18 months, when the first sales operation began in March 2013. Although they haven’t forgotten to take stock and improve on decisions taken to date, Caralps says, “We’ve got where we are almost without realising it and we try not to look back so we don’t get overwhelmed”. He says this considering that in this time the company has started up in the US, a market which is not at all easy for small Catalan firms to break onto, as well as France and Dubai. A recent agreement saw them deliver their first order to a clutch of high-end stores in China, and they signed a deal in June to sell in Ecuador, Peru and Panama.
The current economic situation led the team to take their first steps with Bcn Brand on international markets, specifically Los Angeles, where the first showroom was opened. “Our idea was predicated on us being able to firstly break the US, knowing that this would open up opportunities at home further down the line. We had no doubt that we had to work on America first, so we could approach other markets with greater guarantees,” Caralps says.
The outcome has seen them forge a presence not just in Los Angeles but also San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Texas, California and West Hollywood. “America is a very particular and enormous market. We still haven’t reached a deal with a large chain store, which would boost our renown and make it easier to explain our products to other customers. We are working on making this happen,” Caralps says. “At the same time, and considering that we come from Barcelona, we will be happy if we can make headway here, too,” he says, when asked about the domestic strategy. Indeed, the first sales points are opening in Catalonia now, he says.