van gelder

owner focus brands
October 2017
Isrid van Geuns - Recruitment - Specializing in fashion and luxury
interview by Isrid

'I feel inspired by happy people'

Tower 1
“Twenty-seven years ago I started working for Arthur Reddering Agency at the age of twenty-three. Back then, he was one of the largest agents in the building, covering almost the entire twelfth floor in Tower 1. I started out working as an intern and never left. At some point the company changed hands and was taken over by Kees and Annelies Boijenk who renamed the company Boijenk Fashion Group. At the end of 2009, my wife Sylvia and I, started our own company called Focus Brands. We started out as an agency carrying different labels and grew to add our own label and production. So you see, I have always worked in this tower, starting on the twelfth floor en ending up on the seventh floor.”

Digital growth
“Working as an ‘agent’ is no longer the way we have come to know it. Back in the early days an agent kept busy only four months out of the year and there wasn’t much else going on in between these periods. In those days I did spend five to six months on the road, visiting clients or taking them out to lunch. Nowadays there isn’t any time for that, we are all very busy. The romance and social connection have taken a back seat. We have changed from being a ‘people’s business to a ‘number crunching’ business. Store owners are less frequently involved in picking out their own collections. They allow their agent to select and order the collections, only voicing a certain budget.”

How does this new development influence the World Fashion Centre?
“The current situation sees a significant drop in visitors to the complex. The need for our clients to physically see us, has diminished, however, it holds no bearing on the amount of clients we have. Clients tend to do more online or make use of different platforms such as B2B. It is a positive turn of events and I understand why buyers come in less frequently but I pity the lack of feeling like we are ‘in it together’.”

'Diversity is of the essence to thrive in a creative environment.'

Building the WFC was born out of a need to join confection companies and move them to one location from Amsterdam downtown to the outskirts of the city. Back then the WFC was called ‘Confection Centre’ and meant a centrally located and accessible location for all working in fashion. The name changed to the WFC about ten years ago, sporting a brand new logo as well. It was an ambitious change with the focus being on fashion exclusively. I feel we have come to a new phase again and we need to change the image of the building by allowing not just fashion to enter the scene. The board of the WFC is looking to attract more fun and creative companies, perhaps changing the name to World Creative Centre, to lower the threshold for non fashion companies to move in. Diversity is of the essence to thrive in a creative environment.”

The WFC grounds
“Going back to the beginning, we had a gas station located almost right inside the building, near the main entrance of the WFC! All tenants were allowed to pump gas on account and through a card system you were billed once a month. It doubled as a meeting place, people were in no hurry and there was room for a chat. Across from the WFC there used to be a huge parking lot, now being replaced by apartment buildings. The parking lot was surveyed by police officers but things weren’t very strict, from time to time the cops even organised small gatherings to have a few drinks. I remember a guy operating his own car wash there too. We even had a seafood vendor on the grounds, who served buyers haring sandwiches in between doing their business.”
Benefits of the WFC
“There are a few good reasons why I am located at the WFC. First of all, I am an Amsterdam native and I prefer to work and live in Amsterdam. I am able to bike or ride my scooter into work. Secondly I like the location of the WFC. Centrally located, taking me a mere 10 minutes to ride my bike downtown and foreign clients are only a stones throw away from Schiphol airport. The area offers increasingly more shops and restaurants. At last, the building holds amazing spaces you can turn into something wonderful. Showrooms and offices have large windows throughout to let in plenty of light and they can open up. The space looks big due to the high ceilings. I am happy the WFC is planning on updating the main entrance of the building. It could do with a livelier, more modern feel to create a stronger and bigger pull to invite people to just walk in.”

“It feels great to run this business all together, we are a great team holding different colleagues. I enjoy this business because we work with the seasons. I like the changes it brings and the different colour, material and qualities that goes with it. I like the dynamics of it all, I am not per say a man who is very interested in fashion. In particular, I want to ensure that through the mix of our labels and personal service, we contribute to the business success of our partners. As long as I can achieve that goal, I am a happy man.”

How would you describe your own talent in the midst of these dynamics?
“I am reasonably able to find and create a balance between mood, collections and financial success. I like to facilitate that process, bringing things together in a conscious and reliable way with the purpose of making a good return. I am more prone to focus on continuity rather than a constant switch in moods and brands. Finally, the most important talent would be to always be yourself. Integrity and continuity are high on my list.”

'I see a glorious and wonderful future lying ahead for fashion'

“I feel inspired by being in places where you can find a lot of happy people. People smiling. Amsterdam is great for that; you can most definitely find it there. Not too long ago I was visiting this small but very busy restaurant. The guy running the place, being as busy as he was, still managed to shower his guests with attention and care. That to me is inspiring and I learn from that. Perhaps there are times I find the mood and attention more important than the actual product.”

The Future of Fashion
“I see a glorious and wonderful future lying ahead for fashion. It will remain an essential part of our existence, just like eating and drinking. I do notice a shift in how we go about it. We see a growing trend in cheap and mass production and I despise that. We need to be made aware that producing clothes has to be done in a responsible and qualitative sound way, simply because it is such a big part of our consumption.”

Published in the WFC 50 year anniversary book
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