Kings of Indigo - Tony Tonnaer (Founder)

Amsterdam-based Kings of Indigo (K.O.I) was founded in 2011 by Tony Tonnaer, whose sustainable approach informs all aspects of the denim brand.

Fusion Associates caught up with the industry expert, whose previous positions include a seven-year directorship at fair trade lifestyle brand Kuyichi, to discuss K.O.I’s DNA and plans for its first standalone store. 

Tony Tonnaer - Founder

Tony Tonnaer - Founder

Describe K.O.I in a nutshell.

I’m a big lover of American heritage brands but also Japanese ones, so you could say K.O.I is a modern fusion of these two influences, combining a bit of east and a bit of west to create a look that is heritage-based but wholly modern. Sustainability is a key aspect of the brand. We use lots of organic cotton, tencel, recycled wool and we’ve also come up with the so-called Triple R Concept: Recycle, Repair and Re-use, which we always adhere to. As part of this approach, we offer a complimentary repair service to give our customers’ jeans a longer life, and also invite them to hand in old jeans to be used in future K.O.I collections.

How does your sustainable approach inform the aesthetic of the brand – and the SS17 collection in particular?

Dry denim is the most sustainable alternative and we always incorporate it in our collections but there are so many other ways in which you can practice sustainable production and achieve fashionable results. For SS17, we explored panelling, which is an example how you can use recycled materials in an interesting way. We also worked with sustainable washes like laser and ozone washes and ice blasting as an alternative to sandblasting. It yields the same worn, slightly dirty look that a lot of consumers like but without damaging the lungs of staff. Every season we try to give the repair element a new spin; the use of ’90s patches has been doing very well over the last couple of seasons and it has a definite fashion edge to it.

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What’s the outlook for sustainable denim and what’s the biggest shift you’ve seen in recent years, for better or worse?

The old notion that sustainable fashion is uncool couldn’t be further from the truth. Technology has progressed a lot, making it possible to produce denim – both high fashion and basic styles – sustainably without having to increase prices too much. The ice blasting technique I mentioned earlier is just one example of a modern method that makes the treatment of denim more environmentally friendly. 

You launched the Red Light Denim line in 2015 as an extension of the Triple R Concept (Recycle, Repair and Re-use). Please tell us a bit about it.

It’s essentially a recycled denim range from Amsterdam (hence the tongue-in-cheek name) created using wholly sustainable materials made from a mix of post-consumer denim and organic fibres. Each season, we bring out new materials and styles, the most recent offering is made of recycled cotton, organic cotton and hemp. 

What jean fits sell well at the moment and what non-jeans pieces are popular?

Skinny will remain a staple but we’re seeing a gradual move towards straight and loose fits, too. Tops and jumpsuits in tencel are doing really well at the moment.

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K.O.I is sold in ten different countries. Do bestsellers vary greatly depending on country?

I’d say people are more experimental in countries such as the UK and Sweden, where we’ve noticed a gravitation towards looser fits. People tend to be a bit more conservative in Germany, where the skinny still rule, while we’re seeing something in between in Holland. 

Who’s the K.O.I customer, apart from being green? And what’s the balance between men and women’s sales?

We’re a democratic brand – we don’t design for young, rich or cool in particular. Anyone can find a pair of jeans in our collections. As for the male and female divide, it’s pretty even, though there’s been a 5% increase in women’s sales lately as so much is happening on the women’s side in terms of denim RTW and jeans trends in general.

You’ve amassed 330 stockists. What do you look for in retail partners?

It’s a diverse mix of stores, ranging from little multibrand indies to niche eco stores and large department stores, from mid market to the higher end of the spectrum. The key criterion is that they must understand the brand and its values, and hopefully being able to convey these to the consumer.

You’re planning your first standalone store. What can we expect?

It’ll open next year or possibly in spring 2018. We’re currently looking for a location but the concept is clear – it’ll be built in a completely sustainable way and we’ll offer our own ranges as well as a mix of product from other brands. They’ll either have to share our sustainable values or offer products in high enough quality to last for a long time, which promotes sustainability in itself.

How important is your e-shop?

Online shop is getting more and important, not that that it is taking over completely but more and more people buy online. I think it’s essential to sell both via physical retail and online. Consumers will get good advice in stores while you’re able to communicate specific brand stories online in a way that is very targeted.

Alex Pescott