Consolidate First and Then Grow – the Ese O ese Formula
9 March, 2015
Expanding during the present financial crisis has been within the reach of very few companies, but Ese O ese has managed to do it. The company’s turnover rose by 14 percent in 2013 alone.
The firm learnt how to ride out a storm long before the present downturn which began in 2008 and is still going on. It was in Barcelona back in the 1990s, just after the Olympic Games. Ese O ese, a small fashion label, had set up in the city a few years before, in 1988. Its budding growth process ran up against a market reeling from the exorbitant unemployment figures in Spain (some 24% of the population), a public debt of close to 68% of GDP and three devaluations of the peseta in just nine months. “We were on the point of folding. We were very small and suddenly the industry lurched to a halt. We didn’t think we would be able to see it through,” recalls Ese O ese creative director and founder, Eva García. Despite that, the firm persevered with its business project and took home many lessons from the experience.
Eva García laughs when we call Ese O ese a veteran, as the firm has two decades to its name. “It’s true! I hadn’t thought about it, but yes, we are veterans!” she repeats happily. Her words are always preceded with a certain amount of caution and a few moments of reflection. What did the company learn from that first crisis back in the 1990s? we ask. Again, she pauses before replying. “We learnt to face situations like the one we have now. I don’t mean that in an arrogant sense. That was when we realised it was necessary to keep a tight rein on the company, to control all the structure and processes and only take new steps forward when you have the previous ones consolidated.” She adds: “I am a bit leery of expansion. The key is to keep on working and to tie down the things you have achieved so far. The fashion sector is such that you can be on-trend one day and old news the next. It is important to constantly innovate, research processes and products and never stop thinking”.
Balance while you grow
Ese O ese is set to open a new store in Bilbao in March and will then transfer the premises they have in the Salt shopping centre to downtown Girona. “We couldn’t have afforded to open up there before, but now we can,” she says. Next year will be the turn of Palma, Saragossa and Seville. The Ese O ese flagship store opened on Rambla de Catalunya less than a year ago, in May 2014, in the commercial and tourist heart of the city of Barcelona. The shop covers 150 square metres and was formerly home to a couture workroom. These roots can still be seen in the furnishing and decoration of the new store. 2014 also saw the opening of another of the company’s own retail outlets, this time in Sant Cugat del Vallès, in October. “We might have more stores – in fact the younger members of the team are always encouraging me to open more. But you have to keep your head about you. Might we already have too many?” the founder asks.
Eva García confesses to being very pleased with how the company is doing. “If it were all to end today, I would think it had gone very well and I wouldn’t ask for more!” Even still, the inertia typical of the fashion market and the growth forecasts the firm has set require Ese O ese to boost its business structure at its own points of sale and in multibrand stores, on new international markets and, of course, in terms of personnel. “This year we have recruited someone to boost the online store. This is a priority for the coming months,” García says, by way of example.
People and products
Ese O ese’s turnover was twelve million at 2014, it is estimate that 2015 will be over thirteen million. In addition, they are planning to reach one million euros in sales in international markets this year –nowadays they are selling seven hundred and fifty thousand euros.
However, when asked about the core project, García references the cornerstone of any business project which strives to continue to succeed with its customers. “You must look after your team and improve your products”.
The Ese O ese founder apologises for engaging in a very classic discourse on products and people, “when really all anybody wants to talk about expansion,” she says. However, she is very firmly convinced that only by investing in innovation in new fabrics, threads, sewing processes and design can you continue to stand your ground against the competition. “It is a highly competitive business and on top of that there are a number of firms that copy our designs. The only way to compete in this context is to innovate and continue to be creative whilst also true to your style,” she says. “If we were to enter into a price war we wouldn’t come out of it alive. There will always be producers who keep their prices lower than us. We have to stand out by researching in fabrics and testing new things.”
Today is Tuesday, and every Tuesday Ese O ese holds a pattern-design meeting. Today’s ended a few hours ago and was attended, as is the norm, by a manager from one of the label’s 12 own stores. “What are customers saying about this blouse?” Eva García asks her. “That it is very comfortable, but they say the pants don’t fit well,” says the manager in attendance today. “Ok. Bend over for second, as if you’re picking up a child,” García directs the model at this morning’s fitting.
This scene can be witnessed in the Ese O ese offices every Tuesday. “It’s the most important time for us. We ask the store managers all sorts of things and run a great many tests with the clothes. We are always keen to know what is happening in the shops and the feelings the products are generating. That is more important than trends. And we do it thinking about your regular woman, who has to catch the underground, take her kids to the park and work. Your average woman,” says Eva García after explaining this morning’s pattern-design meeting.
Ese O ese’s design and innovation processes are fully centralised in Catalonia. Production of the firm’s pieces is spread between Portugal, with 40%, Spain with 30%, and the remaining in Morocco, Turkey and other Asian countries.
Here at home, Ese O ese upholds a close relationship with thread and fabric producers from Igualada. “We are constantly running tests with new combinations of materials to make different threads and fabrics. That is our essence. Also all of the tricot is made in Igualada, where they have some exceptional professionals and master craftspeople”.
Ese O ese’s creative director, who started out in the fashion sector at a very young age, together with the label’s other founder, Willy López, has learnt everything she knows by keeping a close eye on each step of the production process. She says that to be a good professional there are a number of important details you don’t find in drawings or at school. “The dyes, the colours and the finishes each piece needs – in short, the most industrial part of fashion is the key to a well-made product,” she says.