As you probably already know by now, I am intrigued by the business behind fashion. The environment cannot be forgotten: successful companies are built on steady foundations. Nowadays, businesses have a responsibility towards our community and the world.
This is what we call Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). And that strategy is exactly what Ellen Kegels, founder of LN Knits, is implementing in her business.
You’ll probably all know the Belgian fair fashion brand LN Knits. A brand that tries to accomplish social, ethical, and economic goals all in one! At the moment, LN provides work to 350 women in Peru, has its own LN Knits farm and puts several grannies to work in Belgium. Furthermore, the brand is currently in the process of crossing national borders!
Aaaand, I got the opportunity to interview this talented lady! Prepare for an interview (see below) with a one-of-a-kind business women with a great heart and a fair practice-minded soul. I hope you’ll love her and her vision as much as I do! Talking to her made me even more aware of the current responsibilities enterprises have.
As you can see, LN Knits is a brand with a mission. The combination of slow, yet innovative fashion and a fair practice absolutely stuns me. Big thanks to Ellen for the chat and sharing her vision with me.
Read the exciting interview below, my loves!
- When and why did you start with LN Knits?
“I started knitting when I was 15 years old. Every year, I went snowboarding for a couple of weeks and here I saw that many people made their own beanies. Of course, I wanted to try this as well. Once I had started, I never stopped. Eventually, I even got some requests from friends, family, and even strangers. Therefore, I started collecting the orders in booklets and to this day, I still have them! I didn’t feel like becoming an entrepreneur. I wanted to practice advertising, and I ended up in London for a graduate program. During this internship, we had to conduct a study which brought me to the four basics of LN and explains our strategy; crafts related to good cause, a natural aspect, personal branding and entrepreneurship. These four basic elements brought me to the Baby Alpaca, the grannies and so on. I actually wrote my business plan during my time in London. Afterwards, I worked in Belgium for 6 months, and became a full-time independent in 2011, when I was 23 years old. Hence, I have been working full-time at LN for 6 years now.”
- How did you determine the demand of your product?
“I could no longer keep up with demand. Eventually, I had to knit around 6 hats a day, even though I was already working with a few grannies. During the first year, in 2011, the stock was made by me and the grannies, which was feasible at that time. Simultaneously, I started a project in Peru. I launched the first collection in January, which is a strange time for a winter collection. Despite this, our products sold very well. After that, demand became so huge I needed more people.”
- Which mission do you transfer to the client?
“We offer a total experience, our story is 100% fair. We also sell to luxury shops, but they have to tell our story to the customer. Our product is fair and sustainable, and through the right people, we deliver our mission to the customer. We often find that our customers get addicted to our products, because it helps the world, and it is lovely to wear. Hence, what we sell is more than just a product. It’s a lifestyle.”
- Can you assess financial phases in the business cycle?
“Not a single euro is external to the company. All funding comes from the sale of our products. I invested all my savings in LN; the website, the first stock, the grannies and so on. LN had a very fast start. However, every year you become larger, and everything has to be better than before, which eventually means: increasing your costs. We sell well, but our costs have risen, which makes sense.”
- Does the company work with certain determined budgets?
“From our sales revenue we pay our expenses. We don’t really work with certain predetermined amounts of money. We pay ourselves a salary, but every euro is reinvested into the company. Of course, we also have to pre-finance (the collection): we pay our bills in August, but we sell later on.”
- How do you deal with stock surplus?
“We always try to have zero waste. When we do have stock surplus, we work with a stock sale of the Alpaca bouclé. As we need money to make our stock liquid, we sell every last piece at a discount. This creates additional capital that we can reinvest in new projects. Furthermore, sometimes, we sell through Vente-Exclusive.”
- Could you tell something regarding the costs of a scarf for instance?
“Currently, we are not working with fixed budgets. We need to save on certain items, so actually it would be appropriate to start with predetermined budgets. One scarf is equal to one week of work for a woman in Peru. Therefore, we cannot exactly say which amount of the price of a scarf goes to the women in Peru.”
- How did you set up the branding on LN and where do you see LN Knits in 20 years from now?
“We spend zero euros on marketing. We work with free social media, and ensure that we can tell interesting stories online. We try to achieve full media coverage. After a while, journalists start to follow you and you create a network. Yet we have one advantage, we can tell stories in all kind of environments. For instance, we can tell our story in ‘Flair’, while also being in ‘De Tijd’. We have also been to Japan together with the king and queen, and as a result, more qualitative press recognizes you.
Besides, we remain faithful to our customers. In 20 years from now, we want to stand out as a solid label with a permanent design team. This would mean that we could outsource certain processes and expand our sales.”
- If LN wouldn’t have existed, what would you be doing right now?
“I have no idea. Sometimes I think ‘what if’, even though I’m still very passionate about LN. Entrepreneurship is really stressful and very heavy, but that’s part of the package.”
- What is the most important lesson you’ve learned?
“To care for yourself. You have to switch your brain off sometimes and create a stable work/life balance. I have learned to solve different cases and problems and to relativize without having a breakdown. Taking time for yourself is important, you cannot work all the time.”